Tag Archives: Beatles influence

Ladies and Gentlemen…Cliff Hillis!

This isn’t the first time Cliff Hillis has made it into Beatles Freak Reviews, but truth be told, he just keeps continuing to impress me every time he comes out with new music. My husband I got to see him last week at the CD release party for his latest EP.

A Beatle fan himself, you can easily hear the influence the Fab Four has had on Cliff, especially in the title track from his new six song EP – Many Happy Returns. And for those of you that are fans of all things pop-culture, Robbie Rist, the guy who played Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch, actually co-wrote another song on this album – Never In A Million Years.

Many Happy Returns was just released last week on June 9, 2017.  You can preview and download a copy at iTunes, Amazon or Spotify…or order a copy of the CD (just $6+shipping) from TallBoy Records. If you’re still not sure if you want it, just listen to the title track on the player below…

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Ladies and Gentlemen…The Weeklings!

weeklings-studio-2-cover

I thought I was doing a favor for a fellow publicist, but little did I know that she was doing me a huge favor! Thank you, Maureen, for introducing me to the music of The Weeklings.

Maureen asked me a couple months ago if I would be interested in doing an article on my Beatles Freak Review page about the new band she is repping. She explained that their new album, Studio 2, was named after the studio at Abbey Road where the Beatles did all their recording, AND that her band, The Weeklings, had recorded this new album (their second album) there.

I was sent a preview copy of The Weeklings: Studio 2, and I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. Slipped it into the CD player in my car and immediately wanted to start dancing. This album not only takes you back to the 60’s with it’s hand-claps and harmonica riffs, it does it in a new millennium style…STEREO! Add to that, that the last four cuts on this original album are the bands renditions of four very rare McCartney/Lennon songs, brought back to life for us old rockers and modernized for the new rockers. The album will be released on November 18, 2016, but you can listen to clips of the Studio 2 on Amazon and pre-order a copy for yourself.

The Weeklings are: Lefty (Glen Burtnik), Zeek (Bob Burger), Rocky (John Merjave), and Smokestack (Joe Bellia).lefty-zeek-rocky-smokestack

The Weeklings‘ CD release party and concert will be held on Friday, November 11, 2016 at the House of Independents in Asbury Park, NJ. You can get more information and tickets here. I’m really hoping to make this show myself. This is definitely a band I want to get up and dance to…

I decided to email some questions off to the band in hopes of getting more background information to write this post. As it turned out, both Zeek and Lefty decided to take on my questions and what ensued was so witty and charming, I decided to post the interview verbatim! So here it is, folks…The Weeklings!

1. Explain the name “The Weeklings”.  Not a very strong name…

From time to time many people ask what are Weeklings? Why Weeklings? Ugh, Weeklings, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pizza and said unto them ‘From this day on you are THE Weeklings with an ‘E’. An alternate theory is that not a Week goes by that the band doesn’t write, record or perform their music. –ZW
 
Zeek is lying. I think it’s pretty obvious from our Hulk-like appearances that we met at the gym. At the beach really, in Venice Beach in California, where we were all four working out. We thought it’d be funny, calling ourselves The Weaklings, since we are such buff, pumped up wham-a-jamas. But we are bad at spelling. So, we hadn’t realized we spelled our name wrong until the first record was already out. So we stuck with it. We thought about changing it to The Weeklongs, The Zeeklings, The Wing Dings and The Changelings, but we kept changing our minds and figured it’s easier to just go with the flow, ya know. – LW
 
2. There’s a lot of rock n roll history in your member’s roots. How did you all manage to all come together to form this band?
 
Lefty and Zeek have been a song writing team for many years.  The members of the band also worked together for years in different situations, including the Glen Burtnik ‘BeatleBash’ shows.  At one point we did a show of all very early Beatle material and discovered how great it was to perform that music as a simple quartet.  We then did several quartet shows and the band just fell together. – ZW
 
I can’t believe what a liar Zeek is. The true story is Rocky & Smokestack met at a convention for Supercomputing engineers (hackers really). Smokestack, being a software engineer at Intelligent Medical Objects and Rocky being a graphics programmer for Android development at Talas Analytics, Inc, they paired up, first recognizing each other as competitors but eventually getting to like each other’s arm wrestling finesse. In time this led to rock music, as it does, and they found both Zeek and Lefty strung out in a bar of ill repute. – LW
 
3. How long have you been together? And where is your band based?
 
2+ years now.  We are based in Asbury Park, NJ. – ZW
 
Wrong. We’ve been together since 1956 and are based in Sofia, Bulgaria. I cannot believe Zeek’s insistence on misrepresenting the facts! – LW
 
4. Your website refers to you as “a Beatles inspired power pop”.  According to your history, two out of four of your members have actually played with Paul McCartney and your bass player has played Paul McCartney on Broadway. Any other brushes with the Fab Four you’d like to mention?
 
Lefty also met both McCartney and Ringo.  We also connected with Ken Scott and Alan Parsons (both were engineers on Beatle sessions), as advisor before recording at Abbey Road. – ZW
 
Finally, Zeek makes some sense. Rocky’s played with Billy Preston & Klaus Voorman. Pretty much everyone’s played with Denny Laine. There are lots of über talented Beatle-affiliated cats around which Rocky & I have musically crossed swords with. Steve Holley, Denny Seiwell, Laurence Juber, Joey Molland, Father MacKenzie, Lovely Rita, etc. – LW
 
5. Listening to your first album, released in March 2015, is like stepping back in time… as if listening to a transistor radio in the 1960’s! Are all the songs originals by The Weeklings?
 
No, but we’re glad you asked.  Six songs are original, and six are Lennon/McCartney/Harrison songs that were not released by the Beatles.  Our goal was to mix the material together to create the excitement of an early Beatle recording. – ZW
 
Zeek’s right for once, as much as I hate to admit it. – LW
 
6. You’ve got a new album coming out called “Studio 2”, named after the now famous studio at Abbey Road where the Beatles did most of their recording. Where did you come up with idea to go to London and record there? Is there a Beatles vibe being in that studio?
 
It was Lefty’s bucket list idea to record at Abbey Road.  But it made sense, since we recorded several more very rare Lennon/McCartney/Harrison songs, that to our knowledge have never been covered.  What more appropriate studio could there be to do that?  There is a distinct Beatles vibe to being in the real Studio 2.  You could hear the sound of the records just being there, and we were constantly pinching ourselves.  Hopefully, you’ll hear it on our “Studio 2” record. – ZW
 
It was Zeek’s idea. –LW
 
7. The new album will contain four rare Lennon/McCartney tracks. How did you discover these tunes?
 
“Because I Know You Love Me So” – is from an off-the-cuff demo sung by Lennon and McCartney that appears on the Let It Be “Fly On The Wall” album.  We liked it and decided to write an arrangement. “You Must Write” and “Some Days” – these are taken from a 1960s Beatles rehearsal tape recorded by McCartney.  We became aware of this tape via Mark Lewison’s book (“Tune In”), where the original songs were mentioned.  The tape was actually previously released on CD but is now out of print.  We found the songs by trolling YouTube. 
“Love Of The Loved” – this is really not so “rare”.  It was recorded by Cilla Black and was a minor hit in the UK.  It is known to most Beatle freaks.  Our arrangement of course is very different from the original Cilla Black version. – ZW
 
What Zeek said. – LW
 
8. While recording in London, did you get the opportunity to play in any clubs? Or have you played in the U.K. prior to this trip?
 
We didn’t play any clubs (no time!).  The individual members have played in the UK, but not The Weeklings as a band. – ZW
 
We DRANK in the pubs, but didn’t play music in any, as we were too intoxicated. – LW
 
9. Will there be any touring to support the new album?
 
As much as possible.  We are currently planning our 2017 schedule to support the album. – ZW
 
I plan on touring local condos and other available dwellings in the next year. Yes, there’ll be much touring ensued and libations imbibed. – LW

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Ladies and Gentlemen…The Vals!

Maybe it’s just us Baby Boomers who are complaining, but where have all the good bands gone? What happened to the days when band members sat in studio corners and tour buses hashing out lyrics and cords for their next big hit? What happen to bands even playing their own instruments, singing their own songs and not relying on synthesized drums and auto-tune?

We were spoiled when the Beatles hit the scene and set the music industry straight when they insisted they write and sing their own songs! But somewhere in the past 50 years, this doesn’t seem that important to the people running the industry. Low costs and big profits are what they want. Let the fans download the songs…it saves them the cost of producing vinyl and CDs.

Add to all this the articles that have been put out over the past decade about the lack of good, quality opening acts for the touring rock bands. Even Ringo Starr has taken up the cause recently for smaller local bands, saying how the industry has made them actually pay to be an opening act (read the article here).

And who do I blame for this mess and lack of new talent? The media! Yes, the reporters who write about music…the Gillian Gaars, Matt Wilkinsons, Mikal Gilmores and Anthony DeCurtis‘ of the world! Where’s the beef, fellas? And I can’t leave myself out of this mess. As a blogger, I too have the power to introduce the world to new talent….

And on that note, I’m stepping up. Let me introduce you to The Vals with their “unashamed take on 60’s pop” and “comparisons to the days of Lennon, McCartney, Davies and Townsend”.

I was turned onto The Vals (from Belfast, Ireland) several years ago by Pat Matthews, owner of the internet radio station Beatlesarama!!! For readers who have been loyal followers of my blog since the beginning, I’m sure you remember me mentioning this band in the past. Two albums later, I still have hope that they will make their break into the U.S. market and bring with them the hope and inspiration that there are still bands out there with real talent, who write their own music, sing their own songs and play their own instruments! Bands like The Vals are our hope for the future of music…

I would have loved to have Skyped my interview with leader singer/songwriter Paul Doherty, but I don’t have a voice for radio. I’m going to leave the live interview to May Pang and Cynthia Neilson when the interview Paul on their show Dinner Specials with May Pang on Monday, October 17, 2016 at Noon (EDT).

Until then, here’s a short warm up interview as I ask Paul about The Vals’ history and their music…Enjoy! (Where it was possible, I linked songs to their respective videos that will open in a new window when you click on them). And check them out on iTunes.

 

1. The Vals website says there have been many changes in the group before it became the line-up that we see today. Can you tell us a little about the history of the group and about the name “The Vals”?
I suppose The Vals is my baby really. I have been writing songs for around 10 years and have been expressing these in a band format with friends for many years now. There have been lots of line-up changes. 25 in fact in the last number of years. I guess this is down to a number of things. With me writing the songs and music it can sometimes not be as rewarding for some musicians to play in terms of creativity or a lot of the times it might be too demanding. Sometimes also the style of music changes for an album maybe and it requires additional musicians or less. I have been very lucky to share the stage with some great musicians and continue to do so with the great band we have at the minute. Myself, Matt, Conor, Barry and Gavin have been playing some great shows of late and really nailing the sound that for years we found so hard to capture. Every show we play is like a really great night out and that’s how it should always be I think.The name of the band came from a friend of mine at a time when we were throwing ridiculous names around. One of the guys came up with ‘The Lords of Rhythm’ one day, that’s when I began to worry haha. I liked The Vals because it kind of harks back to a 60’s type band name in my mind.

 

2. There’s no denying the heavy Beatles sound in your music. When did the Beatles become such a huge influence on your sound? And are all the members of the band Beatles’ fans?
It’s funny, I love the Beatles but when writing songs I don’t think about them at all. I think influences just flow out when songs are born and in my case some of my biggest influences are The Beatles and a lot of the songwriters around at that time. I also like making music that appeals to me. When recording songs I like to incorporate lots of Meletron, stringed instruments even some traditional Indian music which can all be referred back to the fab 4. Vocally I do go for the whole John Lennon vibe, but that is for 2 reasons really. One is the love of Lennon’s voice and how it stands out in tracks, I loved that. When I was just a kid I remember his voice drawing me into music on the radio one day, then I heard it again and the more I did the more curious I got about who the Beatles were. That’s where the love affair began!Secondly I use double tracking quite a lot because I’m not a particularly good singer. When we started out as a band no one wanted to sing so I was kind of forced into it with the intention that someone would come along and take over once we found someone. That hasn’t happened yet as you can tell! ha.All recordings are done in my little home studio, nothing flashy, just a little room out the back of my house. I have a special piece of equipment though in the studio which is a varispeed unit from Tittenhurst Park (John Lennon’s old home). This unit would speed tracks up when recording and was there when he recorded Imagine. It was later left for Ringo when he bought the house from John in the mid 70s. It’s really special having that in the room when I record.All the other guys are Beatles fans, some more than others. Some rehearsals are either filled with lengthy discussions about The Beatles recording or song writing techniques while others have us playing Beatles songs at length. For our upcoming tour we have added a special version of Strawberry Fields to the set!

 

3. In 2008, you organized Valfest in Belfast as a “Peace and Love music festival”. It attracted the attention of Yoko Ono, who sent you a personal note. How did she find out about your festival and have you had any further contact with her? Have you been able to share your music with her?
I have been very lucky to have some correspondence with Yoko, all through the wonders of the internet. When I organised the festival a few years back we had some great people on board. We had Henry McCullough who was with Paul McCartney and Wings plus we had Eric Bell who was a founding member of Irish band Thin Lizzy. Word just spread on the internet which was incredible and there was a message one day from Yoko. To say it was a surprise was an understatement. It came at a time where I was having a difficult time securing the venue etc and it was causing a lot of stress. Yoko’s kind words gave me a real lift and from then on everything just flowed and it was a very successful night in terms of money raised for the chosen charity and also the response we got from people attending. I would love to have another someday soon!

 

4. The first track on your amazing first LP (Sticks and Stones) is titled “Too Many People”, the same name as a popular McCartney tune from his Ram album. Coincidence?
I discovered RAM very late and got a surprise when I saw this title. No one ever believes me though ha. I really love this song now but it didn’t have any influence on our track. This is one of the McCartney songs that could have slotted onto a great Beatles record in my opinion. Love it!The Sticks and Stones album kind of has that whole live jibe about it as we recorded the whole thing in 3 days in Germany. I remember I kept saying if the Beatles can do it in a day we can do it in 3!

 

5. Have The Vals had the honor of playing Liverpool’s Cavern Club? If so, when? And tell us what it was like?
Yes we have, many years ago. Twice actually in 2006 and in 2007.  It was a fantastic experience. We took everything in and really embraced all aspects of the Beatles story while in Liverpool. It’s great being in a place steeped with so much history and full of likeminded people who love The Beatles. When we walked in we were all in awe of the place and how it looked. I remember binging on the Beatles anthology shows prior to going. I would recommend anyone to visit who is  a fan, you won’t be disappointed. I was also very lucky to play in Hamburg a number of times and play in the famous Indra club. When we were on tour recently, myself and Steve Cradock from Paul Weller’s band were allowed into the basement of the Indra by a friend of ours and seen all the graffiti on the wall that the Beatles left during their time there. It was very special.

 

6. Your website says that in 2011 you collaborated up with Henry McCullough (famous for his 2 year stint playing with Wings and his guitar solo on McCartney’s ballad “My Love”). How did you meet Henry? And how much influence did he have on the song “Look To The One”?
The Vals played some shows with Henry around 2010 and during then we got chatting, got on really well and talked about the possibility of recording something together. I sent Henry a demo of a song called ‘Look to the One’ and much to my surprise he rang me telling me how much he really liked it. We hired a studio in Belfast and recorded Henry’s tracks in one day. I was blown away by how motivated he was in getting the right harmony to sing on the track and finding the right guitar solo that fitted. This was a guy who did it all with the likes of Paul McCartney but yet he had the time to make music with us local lads and was really loving every minute of it.  When Henry finished his parts he came downstairs and patted me on the back and said ‘Great song Paul, that’ll be a hit on the radio’. I felt about 10 feet tall and started to well up. It was a lot coming from someone like Henry. He was right; the song did wonders on radio all over and to this day still does. I put that done to Henry sprinkling his magic on the song.That day in the studio and the other occasions we were together will live long in my memory along with the old Wings stories, his musical knowledge and just the aura he had about him. He was kind, funny and an unassuming legend in my eyes. I loved that when we asked him what his favourite music was he said: ‘It all’. I learned a lot from Henry.7. Tell us the backstory about your Ode to football/soccer, “Pickepackevoll”…
Arnd, a good friend of ours has a very popular football TV show in Germany. We got talking about the show and I went away and wrote Pickepackevoll which is a segment of the show which is very well known where players score funny own goals or gaffes. We went on the show and played it live on national television. It was also used to raise money for a charity aligned with the famous football team Werder Bremen. Arnd brought us into the stadium to watch a game prior to the tv show and they played it in front of all the fans. It was one of the best experiences ever hearing it played in the stadium. Will never forget it. We were touring in Germany around the time of release and had people singing it back to us each night. Diversity is good sometimes!8. The Vals second album, Wildflower Way, was another great album with a very heavy Fab Four feeling to it the songs. But, the song “Suzie Reaches For The Sky” stands out in my mind along with the video that goes along with it. What was the influence for the song?
This is a song that everyone asks what does it mean or who is Suzie ha. Much to peoples amazement it is actually a song about a dog that lived in our street when I was a kid. It was a small dog but used to climb up on the small roof of the owner’s house and bark at soldiers as they passed (Belfast in the 1980s / 90s). I kind of took that idea and worked with it but it kind of took a different direction with the rest of the lyrics so I can see how people can’t see the whole dog story within ha. It has that whole 50’s vibe in places too which I love and grew up listening too. We always enjoy playing this live.9. The Vals have toured extensively, especially doing festivals throughout Europe? What countries have you played in? Do you have a favorite country/festival to play at?
We have been very lucky to play in lots of countries around Europe and take in a lot of experiences of both the audiences there and different cities / towns. It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite country / festival but favourite tour would definitely be a tour we did of Europe with Paul Weller. Paul is a real legend and just being around him and watching him perform every night was amazing. The venues for each were incredible: from the Admiralpalast in Germany to the Bataclan in Paris. We had a little stall after each show selling records and cds and loved chatting to people from each country and making a real connection with them.The festival we enjoyed most recently was the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival at home here in Belfast where we played alongside our heroes The Zombies! Those guys are incredible and were a joy to be around. That show will live long in the memory.

10. In what country would you say get the best reaction and have the biggest fan base?
I don’t think we have an overly big fan base but I think we are very lucky in having people who enjoy our music spread across the world. This is very humbling. In Germany we have had some really cool experience playing to millions on television there and playing some really great shows. Everytime we go there we get a great reception and it has become a second home almost.

11. Over the years, I’ve expressed to you several times (at least once a year), how much I would love if The Vals came to the U.S. to do a tour so I can see you live and share you with my friends. What’s holding you back from coming? And what do you need to happen to actually make the trip?
It’s always been a dream to come to the U.S. and play. There was an offer to come to New York many years ago which fell through but it is something that is on the list of things we want to do. All we need is a flight to get us there and venue who are willing to have us play. I hope we can sort something real soon!

12. What’s on the horizon for The Vals? And when can we expect a new album?
As mentioned I have built a little studio now so I really hope that I can start putting music out a lot more frequently. Without exaggerating I have collated about 100 songs which I am dying to record so I will have my hands full in the next while. The hope is to have something new out really soon. The songs all vary in style and sound so it always keeps things interesting. I really want to keep rolling songs and albums out as much as possible and continue to play live for as long as possible. It keeps me going.


For more information on The Vals, visit their homepage. You can also follow Paul Doherty on Facebook and Twitter.

To buy/download their music, go to iTunes.

 

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Guest Album Review: “Good Times!” by The Monkees

This guest post is written by friend, musician and Beatles freak Scott Erickson.  Thank you, Scott!

 

Good Times! is the brand-new studio album by The Monkees.  It’s been released in conjunction with the Monkees’ 50th Anniversary. The album contains several songs originally recorded in between 1966 and 1969, but were never completed or released.  It also contains several new songs written specifically for the Monkees but some of today’s most popular songwriters.  Produced and mixed by Adam Schlesinger (of the band “Fountains Of Wayne), it follows the format of the most successful of the Monkees albums.  A formula, in my opinion, sadly missing from 1987’s “Pool It!” and 1996’s “Justus”.

Before I give my overall review of the album, let me discuss it song-by-song
01 – Good Times (Harry Nilsson)
Very nice use of Harry’s demo.  If they recorded new parts for the backing track, they did an amazing job of matching the sound of the original track.  Really nice to hear Micky singing a duet with Harry.  The only real criticism I have, is that the song still sounds like an unfinished demo.  On the other hand, that demo feel adds to the overall charm of the track.  There are some odd vocal ad libs by Micky that have him sounding like he’s using his “opera” voice.  But, they pass by quickly enough to be ignored.  A really great way to start off the album.
02 – You Bring The Summer (Andy Partridge)
A bouncy, fun tune.  Some cool psychedelic guitar sounds.  Excellent vocals from Micky.  Very clear backing vocals from Peter and Nez.
03 – She Makes Me Laugh (Rivers Cuomo)
Catchier than a social disease.  I still can’t stand the lyrics.  But at the same time, this song holds up to repeated listenings.
04 – Our Own World (Adam Schlesinger)
For someone that needed to be brought up to speed on the Monkees’ back catalog, Schlesinger has written a first-rate Monkees song.  Catchy chorus.  Wonderful vocal from Micky (including a “Holly Hiccup”). Really nice Harpsichord work on this one.  I think this may be my favorite of the first four songs.
05 – Gotta Give It Time (Jeff Barry/Joey Levine)
The first of the true “unfinished” Monkees songs.  The first time I ever heard this song was on a VERY obscure 45 by a garage band called “Freddy & The Four-Gone Conclusions”. Originally produced by Jeff Barry in 1967, this song remained incomplete and unreleased until now.  Micky’s on lead again, giving a really ballsy performance. Crystal clear backing vocals from Nez.  This one is just a little party.
06 – Me & Magdalena (Ben Gibbard)
A very pretty duet between Mike & Micky. Honestly, I think I like hearing them harmonize more than I like the song itself.  It just seems to move at a very slow pace, and never really goes anywhere. My main complaint about this song is the mix itself.  Mike & Micky have voices that can blend really well (check out “Auntie’s Municipal Court” from “The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees” for the most perfect example), but that blend is sorely missing here.  It’s a pleasant enough song.  But really not one of my favorites on the album.  I’m interested to hear the “Version 2” iTunes bonus track and compare it to the album version.
07 – Whatever’s Right (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart)
A brand-new-from-the-ground-up recording of another unfinished tune.  This one is a Boyce & Hart tune that dates back to late 1966/early 1967.  Another powerhouse vocal from Micky that’s supported by great backing vocals from Micky’s sister Coco, Nez, and Bobby Hart himself.  If I didn’t know that this was a brand new recording, I’d swear that I could hear Tommy Boyce’s voice in the backing vocals as well.  Adam Schlesinger and company really nailed the sound of feel of the Boyce & Hart-produced tunes from the Monkees 1966 debut album. This is a standout cut, and probably the first song on the album that really feels like a classic “Monkees song”.
08 – Love To Love (Neil Diamond)
This track dates back to the same January 1967 sessions (held in NYC) that yielded “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and the original, withdrawn version of “She Hangs Out”.  The first time that this song appeared in the US was on the 1982 Rhino picture-disc compilation “Monkee Business”.  It was a horrible quality mono mix. In 2006, the multi-track masters for the song were found, and a brand new stereo remix was included on the 2007 “Headquarters” 2 CD Deluxe Edition.  While never one of Neil Diamond’s best offerings for the band (hence its remaining unreleased for so long), I wasn’t excited at all to hear that it was being included on the album.  After all, we’ve heard this song before. Then, it was announced that Davy’s vocals were going to be used, and the backing track was going to be enhanced with more instruments and backing vocals.  Well…  There was nothing done to the original song save for adding a scant amount of harmony vocals.  There’s been no additional instrumentation.  Oh yeah… we get to hear an alternate single-tracked vocal (the original was double-tracked) from Davy.  It’s nice to hear his voice on a “new” Monkees recording.  But this track sounds a bit out of place here.  It’s the first disappointing track of the album…
09 – Little Girl (Peter Tork)
… But it’s not the last.  In 1977, Peter performed this song (then titled “Sunny Side Up”) at CBGBs in New York City.  He introduced it by saying that he wrote it as “Davy’s follow-up to ‘I Wanna Be Free’ “.  So this song has been around since around 1966.  Admittedly, this new recording is an improvement over that old performance.  It’s just not a very good song.  It has some really nice chord changes. The melody is sweet and quirky, and the lyrics are also sweet… maybe a little too sweet.  Like “Love To Love”, this one also feels a little out of place.  As much as I hate to say it, this is one that I’ll probably skip when I listen to the album (after I’ve fully digested it).
10 – Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller)
This is just a fantastic track.  Alternately psychedelic rock, pop, and tin-pan alley, this song is all over the place in a good way.  It combines the best elements of vintage Monkees songs like “P.O. Box 9847”, “D. W. Washburn” and (dare I say it?) “Writing Wrongs” and blends them all together into a 3:30 mini-symphony of pop bliss.  Nez handles part of the lead vocals, and Micky handles the other part.  Production-wise, this song is right in Mike’s wheelhouse.  Truly a highlight of the album.
11 – Wasn’t Born To Follow (Carole King/Gerry Goffin)
The final “unfinished” song on the album.  This song was originally recorded during the sessions for “The Birds, The Bees, & The Monkees”, and the same backing track used here appears in its original unfinished form on the Rhino Handmade deluxe 3 CD Edition of BBM.  This is by far the most surprising cut on the album, featuring a brand new, absolutely wonderful lead vocal from Peter Tork.  I don’t think I’m too far off the mark when I say that I think that this is the best vocal performance Peter’s ever committed to tape.  Another absolute highlight, I feel that had this song been finished and released in 1968, it would not be nearly as good as it is now.
12 – I Know What I Know (Michael Nesmith)
On the few occasions that Papa Nez sits down and writes a real love song, he usually gets it right.  Previously released on his website as a solo recording, it fell flat for me, and I didn’t care for it.   This time, it took another producer to flat-out nail it.  Adam brought out the pure beauty of the lyrics and melody.  He kept the accompaniment simple.  A little piano, a little acoustic guitar, and an instrumental middle section with a Mellotron(!) string quartet. Nez’s voice is clear and strong here.  Based on the solo version, I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy this song.  But damned if it’s not one of my favorite tracks on “Good Times!”.  Finally, there’s a song here that I can actually say that I love!
13 – I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time) (Micky Dolenz/Adam Schlesinger)
Micky is fond of telling the story of how the Beatles threw a party for The Monkees in 1967, and including “….I’m told I had a good time” as a punchline.  He’s been telling that story for the better part of 20 years now, and I cringed when I read that it was being used as the title of a song.  But, horrible title aside, this is another song that’s just plain fun.  Considering the story of that party, the unmistakable “Sgt. Pepper” feel of this tune is hardly coincidental.  Bonus tracks (I haven’t heard yet) notwithstanding, this is a really fun way to close out the album.
I’m too young to be a first generation Monkees’ fan.  I “discovered” them in 1986 via MTV.  The very first CD I ever bought was “Then & Now… The Best of The Monkees”.  I’ve been a huge fan for the past 30 years (has it really been that long?).  I remember buying “Pool It!” in 1987, and liking a couple songs, but being disappointed with the album as a whole.  In 1996, the unthinkable happened; all four Monkees reunited for an album.  This time, there would be NO outside musicians.  Not only that, there would be no outside songwriters. All the songs would be written, and all instruments & vocals would be performed by Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike (who would also produce).  Unfortunately, the results were almost unlistenable.  In fact, the less said about “Justus” the better.  That’s why when the news about “Good Times” several months ago, I was interested.  But, I refused to get my hopes up. I think that was a wise decision.  While it’s not without its faults, I like this album a hell of a lot more than I had anticipated I would.  It is a very good, solid little album.  For the most part, the songs are wonderful little pop tunes.  There was a lot of talk in the fan community that this would basically be a Micky Dolenz solo project.  I’m thrilled to say that is not the case.  The entire group (including the late Davy Jones) is represented here.  Lead vocals are primarily handled by Dolenz (as was ALWAYS the case on every album), and are shared by Nesmith, Tork & Jones.  What really makes me happy though, is the amount of involvement from Michael Nesmith.  Nez has always liked to maintain some degree of control of whatever project he’s involved in.  But on “Good Times!”, he seems quite content to let Adam Schlesinger handle the reigns.  Not only that, Mike sounds like he’s very happy with, and quite proud of the results.  You can hear him singing harmony vocals on just about every song.  He’s really a part of this album, and he sounds great.  That brings me to another point. The vocals on this album are really top notch by everyone.  Even Peter Tork, who has never been considered a strong singer, comes out swinging for the fences this time around.  And what can be said about Micky Dolenz’s voice?  Good lord!  The man is 71 years old and his vocals are better now than they were 50 years ago. He’s got one of the best voices in Pop/Rock music.  He really shines throughout the album.
In summation, Good Times! is exactly the type of Monkees album that the group needed to leave as their legacy.  And it’s exactly the type of Monkees album the fans deserve.  If the Monkees and Donnie Kirshner had been able to reach the compromise where Donnie would pick the songs, but let the guys have a more active role in the studio, “Good Times!” is the type of album that would have been made.  Happy 50th Birthday to the Monkees… Let the “GOOD TIMES!” roll!

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Song & Video Review: “What’s It Like in Liverpool?” by Marc Kenny

Early this week, I was doing my usually daily stroll around my social media accounts when I saw someone had posted this video.  “What’s It Like in Liverpool?” is a song by native Liverpudlian Marc Kenny.

The song is catchy and fun.  The video is bright and lively with scenic shots of Liverpool and the Cavern Club.  So what’s my gripe?  I have to wonder if this song is just another attempt to capitalize on the proud home of the Fab Four?  Kenny’s biography says he’s been reading and writing music since the age of 9 and that while other kids at school were learning classical pieces, his parents bought him the Beatles music book.  I can’t argue with that, I did the same for my son.  But why write a song about Liverpool with lines from Beatles’ songs in it and with a video filled with Beatles related images from around the city?  If someone is so talented (and you only have to read Marc’s long bio to know how talented he claims to be), why resort to capitalizing on the greatest band in the world to become famous?

Then again, I have to wonder whether maybe I’m the only one that is even having these thoughts, since the video currently has over 4,000 viewings and according to Facebook, it’s been shared over 6,000 times.

Well, I do have to admit…I’ve hit the play button at least a half dozen times myself.  The song is very good, the video is also well done, and yes, Marc Kenny has got talent.  And for that reason…

I rate this song and video, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

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You can buy a copy of What’s It Like in Liverpool? on Amazon.com for $0.89 if you’d like to support Marc Kenny.  Or you can buy the studio and live versions, plus one other song here for $2.67.

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Book Review: “Ramones: An American Band” by Jim Bessman

I picked this book up several years ago at an online clearance sale.  My intent was for my husband to read it, since I really never dug The Ramones.  Then I found out that they were heavily influenced by the Beatles. And, there is no lack of Beatles references in this book! Even the story of them rewriting the lyrics to a John Lennon song and getting Yoko’s permission to record it.

Ramones: An American Band was published in 1993, long before Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, Marky, or any other Ramone wrote their autobiography. In fact, it was written prior to the band breaking up in 1996, so it’ll bring you right up to what was the present moment of the band at that time.

The Ramones are credited with creating Punk music. What a lot of people thought was just a joke band that would never last went on to become one of the greatest bands of all time. This is a band who was the influence behind the Sex Pistols, Debbie Harry and so many Punk bands of the 70’s and 80’s. And though they never enjoyed huge commercial success or even a #1 hit, Spin magazine ranked them the second-greatest band of all time trailing only the Beatles.

I’m glad I took the time to read this book and to get to know the Ramones. This book has made me want to pick up each of the band members autobiographies and get their individual views of how the Punk scene looked from the inside.

You can still buy this book online at all the major retailers, with used copies starting at $0.01.

I rate this book: 3 out of 4 Beetles!

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Book Review: “The New Norm: Lessons from a look-alike” by Mike Oltersdorf

book

The New Norm by Mike and Dan Oltersdorf came up on Amazon as a suggested read while I was looking at another book.  What attracted me to this book, besides the fact that this guy looks like my favorite Beatle, is that he has Parkinson’s disease.  I spent many years working in nursing homes as a nurses aid and I’ve seen the devastation that Parkinson’s can reek on someone’s body.  Trust me folks, Alzheimer’s has nothing on Parkinson’s.  My heart goes out to Mike.

Mike Oltersdorf didn’t always look like Paul McCartney.  It wasn’t until his late 40’s after gaining 40 pounds that people started to tell him his resembled the cute Beatle.  This lead to many years of him working as a celebrity look-alike and winning the Beatles Look-alike contest 12 times at Beatles Fest.  But nothing could prepare him for the Parkinson’s diagnosis that made him feel as if his exciting career was over.  Or was it?

This book is Mike’s (and his son Dan) story of how he managed to spin a new take on his life and how he found enlightenment from the lyrics of two Beatles songs.  And through these lyrics, he passes his gift on to the world to teach us all how to live the new norm everyday.

This book is just 80 pages, but packs a punch and ends with a worksheet to help you find your gift to share with the world.  Proceeds from each book benefit the National Parkinson Foundation, so even if you just buy the $0.99 Kindle version, you can know you’ve helped others, but I think you’ll enjoy Mike’s message.

You can order Mike’s book in paperback or for Kindle at Amazon.

I rate this book: 3 out of 4 Beetles!

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