“PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison”: A Total Farce

This weekend I’ve been attending Abbey Road on the River, a mega-Beatle fest at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort. My wife and I have had a great time; I got to meet Pete Best, the Beatles original drummer, and Ron Campbell, who did the animation for both the Beatles animated series and Yellow Submarine. The tribute bands have been a mix of the good, the bad and the hysterical, but that’s OK, I’m used to bad Beatles imitators (and honestly, my standards are probably unrealistic).

A truly surreal experience, however, was being exposed to the “East Coast Premier” of the DVD PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, a 90 minute crock of horse manure, posing as a documentary. We saw it in a room with about 50 people; a steady stream left throughout, and to the credit of those who remained, there was audible laughter at times.

The premise of the film is that George Harrison, after having survived a knife attack in 1999, recorded an audiotape that reveals, in a very detailed narrative, that Paul McCartney really was killed and replaced by a double in 1966, and that this historic audiotape was then mailed to an obscure company named Highway 61 Entertainment, to which Harrison had no previous connection whatsoever. The film offers the voice as George Harrison without any collaborating evidence, and the audio quality, despite it supposedly being from an 11 year-old audiotape, is as clear as if it had been recorded in a studio yesterday. Also, instead of having the amateur, stream of consciousness form that you might expect from a sickbed confession, what we get is a polished, chronological account of a very convoluted, and not very believable, conspiracy to simultaneously cover up (while at the same time revealing), the truth of McCartney’s death.

Since Harrison is supposedly the person relating the series of events (which include the English Secret Service, over a 35 year period, repeatedly threatening to kill the surviving Beatles if they did not maintain the fraud), you would expect that “common knowledge” facts from the history of the band would be accurate – and you would be mistaken.

This George Harrison does not know that: both Rubber Soul and Revolver were released prior to November of 1966; that the Beatles never actually recorded the Capitol release Yesterday and Today, and that the “Butcher Block Cover” for the album was actually released into circulation, and that in any event, it too was released prior to November of 1966. This George doesn’t know that John had divorced Cynthia and married Yoko, and that Paul had married Linda Eastman, months before Abbey Road was released. This George also believes that the Let It Be sessions occurred after the Abbey Road sessions.

There are other logic-defying assertions from this Harrison, such as that a witness to the fatal crash in 1966, after threatening to reveal the truth in 1993, is maimed and reconstructed as – get ready for it – Heather Mills! No matter that Mills was born after November of 1966 (and remember she successfully carried a child to term in 2003, 38 years after supposedly witnessing the crash). The film is full of “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments, which is where the Beatles experts in the audience found the most humor.

One thing I found disturbing was the venom that this George directed at John, the “new” Paul and poor Ringo. The George Harrison narrating this movie is not a very pleasant person, and he makes the other Beatles out to be either deranged or stupid. He also doesn’t sound much like the real George Harrison, and he sometimes lays on the Scouse so thick that it sounds more like parody than mimicry.

What is clear after having sat through this cinematic fiasco is that the director, Joel Gilbert, clearly only has a superficial knowledge of his subject matter, which is curious, since he went to such lengths (and expense, I imagine) to create a movie that claims “insider” access to the individuals and events depicted. It seems to me that if he had allowed even a cursory proofreading of the script by a real Beatles fan, many of the silly errors could have been corrected, which which have made the film, if not plausible, at least not so easily exposed as the fraud it is. His failure to do so reveals Gilbert to be a sloppy movie-maker, who has apparently wasted a lot of someone’s money, and quite possible destroyed whatever standing he may have had in his industry.

In short, PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, is a poorly conceived and executed attempt to exploit Beatles fans that will fail because the director couldn’t be bothered to do his homework. As a result, few true fans of the Fab Four will find his work credible, and I suspect that it will soon be relegated to the ash heap of hysterically bad movies. I suppose for this I should actually be grateful.


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Remastered Beatles CDs Totally Worth It

So, here I am, almost 40 years into my obsession with the Fab Four, getting to know the band as if it were for the first time – and loving it.

For Christmas this year, I received the Beatles Remastered Stereo Box Set. The set includes 13 remastered Beatles’ CDs, plus Past Masters, a collection of Beatles’ singles and other recordings that were never included on their LPs. It also contains a DVD documentary on the making of each Beatles’ album.

Listening to the remastered discs is somewhat like discovering the Beatles all over again. The new clarity of these recordings peels back the layers of each track and allows the listener to hear each instrument and vocal part individually. I’m hearing instruments that I never knew were there, because on previous releases everything just blended together.

For example, Paul doesn’t use his bass guitar on “I Will,” he sings each note instead. For all these years, I had no idea, but with the use of earphones, I heard it distinctly (and then did internet research to confirm my discovery). Crazy.

Having gone through the discs once, here are some things this experienced Beatles connoisseur discovered:

In Glass Onion, John sings “here’s another place you can go – where everything froze.” I had always thought it was grows.

During a rest in Don’t Pass Me By, Ringo gives himself an audible eight count.

Another lyrical correction from Happiness Is A Warm Gun: “…lying with his eyes while his hands were busy working overtime.” I had it as flying.

Also in Happiness Is A Warm Gun, in the line “…down to the bitch that I left uptown,” I thought it was just John double-tracked, but now I hear someone else singing backing vocal, too.

Paul shouting “wooo…” and “come on…” in the background of Birthday is much more noticeable.

In Yer Blues, “…girl you know the reason why” is not just John double-tracked, someone echoes John in the background. Other unidentifiable background shouting. There’s also a overlaying of two different lead guitar solos in this song.

The background laughter, talk & shouting is much clearer on “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter.”

The end of “Long, Long, Long” is really eerie.

There are strange sounds on bass side early in “Cry Baby Cry.”

The voices and sounds in “Revolution 9” are much more easily distinguished.

The use of echo on Sgt. Pepper is much more obvious.

Ringo plays maracas on a lot of Beatles songs.

I became aware of the use of drumsticks as a percussion instrument on “Do You Want To Know A Secret?”

Ringo’s overdubbed Arabian drum accents are easily noticed on “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.”

McCartney’s walking bass on “Honey Don’t” really comes through.

I’m sorry, John, but it sounds even more like “I Buried Paul” on Strawberry Fields Forever now.

“Baby You’re A Rich Man” is a lot of fun to listen to.

Someone says something at :22 of “All You Need Is Love.” I could make out the word “change.”

Listening to George Martin’s film score from Yellow Submarine really brought back memories. I had forgotten how beautiful “Pepperland” is.

Everything about the “Let It Be” album sounds better remastered. The ever-present studio chatter is much clearer – for example, after “Dig A Pony” (one of the rooftop numbers), Lennon can be easily heard saying “My hand’s getting hurt…too cold to play a chord.”

When I was copying the Past Masters CD to iTunes, for some reasons, the titles of disc 2 were imported in Japanese. Strange.

A final note: the DVD documentary is only about 40 minutes long, but it’s very well done. It covers the making of each Beatles album and includes the recollections of John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin. It’s stylishly produced, and interesting to watch.

So, now I’m heading back for more doses of Fab Four. You should, too. After all, a splendid time is guaranteed for all. And on this promise, the Beatles always deliver.

My Top 20 Christmas Songs

Christmastime is here, and in honor of the season, I’m going to do a few Christmas lists. The first one out of the gate are my twenty favorite Christmas songs:

1. I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake. From Christmas 1975 – Lush, gorgeous music paired with a biting, cynical message (“Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell; The Christmas you get you deserve.”) Not exactly uplifting, but awesome nonetheless.

2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko. A sentimental favorite. I’m a huge Beatles/Lennon fan, and this is typical John, reminding everyone that there’s much to be done.

3. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurle Ravenscroft. If there’s a recurrent theme in this list, it’s that we carry our childhood around with us forever. I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated version, not that sin against nature that Jim Carrey foisted upon us), and I’ve even memorized most of the Suess script. BTW, did you know the guy who sang this was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spokescharacter? Heeee’s Great!

4. Frosty the SnowmanJimmy Durante. Another throwback to my youth. This version is from the animated classic, which so impressed me in my youth that I eventually went out and got myself my own cute blonde girl and married her. How’s that for influence?

Karen

Laurie

5. 2000 Miles – The Pretenders. I’m a big fan of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, and I love her contribution to the Christmas season.

6. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney. My Beatles thing influencing me again. Bouncy, upbeat, hopelessly optimistic. In short, perfectly Paul.

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan. This is a really great folksy mashup  of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings. I wish it was played more often on the radio.

8. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin. The definitive version by the always smooth, slightly intoxicated Dino.

9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland. This is a sad song anyway, but when Judy sings it, it’s got a tragic, almost heartbreaking feel about it. If you’re a potential holiday suicide candidate, stay away from this one.

10. Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson. The original version, and for me the signature tune of the Christmas season.

11. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives. Another childhood memory, this time from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Whenever I hear this song, I don’t think of Burl Ives, I think of Sam the Snowman.

12. Christmastime Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio. From the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the Peanuts gang is skating. Whenever I hear this song, in my mind I also hear the sound effects from the cartoon. Weird.

13. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole. The definitive version from the definitive voice. Classy, smart and timeless.

14. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Bobby Vinton. When my mom tucked me in every Christmas Eve, she let the small radio play next to my bed so that I could listen to the news bulletins tracking Santa’s movements across the globe (I always dozed off when he was up around Newfoundland). For some reason, this version of this song was always on that station, and thus became welded to my childhood Christmas memories.

15. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen. Proof that you can be cool and rock Santa Claus. I wonder: Did Clarence ever get that new saxophone? Good stuff.

17. The Little Drummer Boy – Harry Simeone Chorale. Another memory from the radio next to my bed on Christmas Eve.

18. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee. It was only very recently that I actually saw a picture of Brenda Lee for the first time. I had always imagined her looking like Sandra Dee. You cannot imagine my disappointment.

Sandra Dee

    

Brenda Lee

18. White Christmas – Bing Crosby. Bing’s original rendition is ancient and perfect.

19. O Holy Night – Mario Lanza. A voice from the heavens, crazy powerful and booming, almost compelling you to “fall on your knees” and ‘hear the angel voices.” Perhaps the greatest vocal performance of all Christmas songs.

20. Silver Bells – Elvis Presley. The King, doing his Christmas thing. A bit bluesy, all Elvis. Thank you, thank you very much.

21. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Steve and Eydie did a few Christmas songs that I like, and I inadvertently left them off the list, until reminded by the intrepid Melissa Smith. Curiously, though, I can’t think of Steve & Eydie without being reminded of the Sinatra Group, an SNL skit that was a send up of the McLaughlin Group. Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson do a great job, with the late, great Phil Hartman as ol’ Blue Eyes.

Have a swinging Claus-Day, Jack.