Friday, January 29, 2010

Gary Pig Gold

Written by Gary Pig Gold
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 18:25

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO SMiLE: Brian Wilson’s Teen-age Symphony Leaves Home …At Last.

by Gary Pig Gold


Historians, both socio-musical and otherwise, must certainly agree that 1966 was, in oh so many ways, a pivotal year. A most productively glorious indeed twelve months which gave birth to, in the twelve-inch, long-playing sweepstakes alone, the Rolling Stones’ Aftermath, Face to Face from the Kinks, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and, as Spring had barely turned to Summer, both the Beatles’ Revolver AND the Beach Boys’ landmark Pet Sounds.

If there was ever a more fertile and downright inspiring period in popular music, then I for one would certainly like to be made aware of it. Now, concerning that lastly above-mentioned album in particular, its primary creator (as in composer / arranger / orchestrator / key vocalist and producer), a just-turned-twenty-four-year-old wunderkid

from the decidedly un-with-it Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne named Brian Wilson, quickly dared to follow up that 1966 masterpiece with nothing short of his band’s most influential single release ever: a groundbreaking three-minute-thirty-four slice of day-glo proto-psychedelia known as “Good Vibrations.”

As difficult as it may be to appreciate after over four decades of its being humiliated out of the mouths of countless soft-drink and sports-car jinglers – not to mention those increasingly irrelevant B. Boys themselves – “Good Vibrations” was instantly hailed (by Ike Turner to Paul McCartney, and most everyone of musical merit in between) as one of the greatest rock and roll recordings ever made. In fact, as it hit chart tops the world over by Christmastime of ’66, the words “genius” and “Brian Wilson” were suddenly being used increasingly within the same breath …only to be anxiously followed with whispers of “and I wonder what he’s gonna do next!”

“I’m writing a teen-age symphony to God,” is how Brian most boldly replied at the time to such inquiries. “I’m doing the spiritual sound, a white spiritual sound. Religious music. That’s the whole movement. That’s where I’m going.

“It’s going to scare a lot of people,” Brian promised. “Yeah, that’s where I’m going. And it’s going to scare a lot of people when I get there.”

So sessions were duly booked at all four of his favorite studios about town, a beautiful chorale prelude christened “Our Prayer” was recorded to open the album, now tentatively titled Dumb Angel, then the Beach Boys (without Brian) embarked on a whirlwind European tour after being named The World’s Number One Vocal Group by London’s prestigious New Musical Express. Back home, lyricist Van Dyke Parks was enlisted to apply suitable verbal

dimension to Brian’s increasingly adventurous tone poems while no less than the Beatles’ former press agent was hired to prepare eager listeners around the globe for the release of an album which, in the always brilliantly blunt words of Brian’s drumming brother Dennis, would be “so good it makes Pet Sounds stink.”


Then 1966 slipped into 1967, “Good Vibrations” was well on its way to selling a second million copies, Capitol Records ordered 400,000 album covers and full-color booklets printed to house the forthcoming album – now enigmatically retitled SMiLE – and gigantic ads were duly placed in all the music trade papers to announce its gala release, “coming soon.”

But as precious months continued to creep by with nary a fresh peep out of The World’s Number One Vocal Group, questions were soon being asked. Firstly, and in retrospect most damaging of all perhaps, Mike Love began asking Van Dyke Parks why he was being asked to sing refrains such as “over and over, the crow cries uncover the cornfield.” “Frankly, I don’t know what those words mean,” Van Dyke infamously replied, and soon after bolted from the project altogether. Meanwhile, the Beach Boys launched a $225,000 lawsuit against

Capitol (whilst at the same time negotiating to form their own record company), studio sessions were increasingly being disrupted as Brian’s own bandmates urged him to quit “fucking with the formula” which had, up to that point, awarded them an astounding twenty-three Top Forty-friendly hits, and then that June, just as the Boys bailed from a headlining appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival, Capitol rushed out instead a little record called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sensing his – and SMiLE’s – time had just passed him by, Brian quietly retreated from the studio, from his band, and eventually from the entire world. It seems that much ballyhooed teen-age symphony had ended up scaring its very creator the most of all.
Over the decades to follow however, SMiLE would just not wipe itself off the face of the earth. Even before bootleggers began hunting down, pressing, then distributing bountiful collections of original session tapes inside colorful mock-SMiLE sleeves, the Beach Boys themselves had reconstituted and released several of the great lost album’s key tracks, and even continued to perform tantalizing segments of the opus on stage well into the Seventies and beyond. Acclaimed musical historian Domenic Priore lovingly compiled and published a 264-page scrapbook chockfull of SMiLE clippings, notes, photographs and essays in 1988 and then, five years later, twenty full minutes of SMiLE itself were teasingly included within the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of The Beach Boys box set. Soon enough countless Internet sites and newsgroups began virtually appearing, solely dedicated to discussing, debating and yes, making available for download hours upon hours of additional long-thought-lost SMiLE recordings (which could then be assembled in various ways right there at home, image
leading only to countless further ruminations upon how pop’s greatest puzzle could have – would have – possibly been assembled …”if only.”) Yes, the symphony had entered its middle age as, without question, the most widely known unknown, unreleased album of all time.

Meanwhile, its chief architect himself had little if anything to say on the subject, other than to dismiss the entire project as being “unsuitable” or, even less convincingly, “too ahead of its time” …as if such a caveat had ever concerned a creator the caliber of Wilson before.

Then, strange things began to happen. Brian was overheard singing one of the most crucial SMiLE pieces, “Heroes and Villains,” at an informal gathering of friends and family one Christmas, and then the song – along with its landmark companion piece “Surf’s Up” – was actually performed in public as part of 2001’s All-Star Tribute to Brian Wilson at Radio City Music Hall. In the wings, Sir George Martin led the assembled multitude in a rousing standing ovation.

Properly invigorated, and gently encouraged by his musical director and band leader Darian Sahanaja, Brian spent the following months slowly but surely not only reacquainting himself with all three movements of his original masterwork, but preparing to perform it in its entirety on the concert stage prior to actually recording it anew. Why, even Van Dyke Parks was called in to provide lyrics for passages of melody left uncompleted in 1967, only to rightfully find himself right there in the audience alongside the ubiquitous Sir George (plus Paul McCartney, the Beatles’ biggest Beach Boy booster ever) as SMiLE made its world debut February 21, 2004 at, so appropriately enough, London’s Royal Festival Hall.
imageToday, footage from not only this landmark performance but of the rehearsals and recording sessions themselves form the climax of the stunning Brian Wilson presents SMiLE documentary. Expertly directed by Brian’s biographer and long-time friend and confidant David Leaf, this remarkable film also offers a wealth of previously-unseen vintage stills and interview footage from the original SMiLE sessions and participants, and even includes Brian’s haunting solo performance of “Surf’s Up” for Leonard Bernstein, originally filmed as part of CBS Television’s Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution special in 1966. Also now available for the world to hear at long, long last on Nonesuch Records, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE brings this entire tale to its logical, if totally unexpected conclusion. While the original Beach Boys’ ever-golden voices, not to mention the band’s ingenious recording engineer Chuck Britz, are certainly to be missed by any listener of this CD even remotely
familiar with the bona fide Sixties SMiLE, it is absolutely astounding to realize this forty-seven minute modular song cycle not only sounds totally contemporary today, but at times somehow, positively, futuristic.

The mind – not to mention ears – must truly boggle then at what would have transpired had this magical mystical music been unleashed on schedule in January of 1967, as opposed to 2004. I, for one, can only imagine.

“It’s quite a relief. We finally did it,” the man himself recently exclaimed, finding it quite hard to believe even himself. “It was like a legendary kind of lost album for thirty-eight years, and now the SMiLE dream has been realized.”


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Last Updated on Thursday, 27 August 2009 22:05

The Beach Boys - The Brother Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gary Pig Gold
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 18:31


The Beach Boys’ BROTHER Years

Yes indeed, it goes without saying that Brian Wilson and his familial band full of brothers, cousins and friends have enjoyed a career quite unlike any other across the annals of show business. Scoring a local hit in 1961 straight off the mark with their very first little indie single, then soon after placing a sophomore release into no less than the hallowed Billboard Hot One Hundred – and all at a time when the majority of the band still had to be home in time to attend class the next morning – The Beach Boys, it could be argued, really started their marathon run at the very tip-top, suicidally crash-dove towards oblivion a few short years later, and only then slowly but surely began their struggle up the ladder of ever-lasting fame, fortune and, ultimately, all-American glory …and just in time to score an invite to play the Reagan White House, need I remind anyone.

Which just all goes to show, I suppose, that blood surely is thicker than any critic’s ink, what gets around (from town to town) comes around and that, most obviously, Brian Wilson near single-in-handedly created a body of work which can surely withstand the most brutal scourges of both time and fashion. To prove that point, even Mike Love’s current touring “Beach Boys” [sic!] can still draw a healthy enough crowd on any given Saturday night, weather and authorities permitting.


To prove that point, even Mike Love’s current touring “Beach Boys” [sic!] can still draw a healthy enough crowd on any given Saturday night, weather and authorities permitting.

That’s why it’s sometimes hard to fathom that there was indeed a time, roughly between 1966 and 1975, when The Beach Boys truly hit rock ‘n’ roll bottom and were forced to really, really hustle their sunkist butts long and hard to keep everyone’s musical and financial heads above water, proverbially speaking. Bleak, sorry years when this once Beatle-caliber band were reduced to hauling their act out on the road and into midwestern VFW halls alongside that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. A pitiful period when their latest brave creations were routinely being scorned in favor of those from The Archies and even Grand Funk Railroad.

This was, in fact, a harrowing era when (as no less a numbers man as Bruce Johnston Himself continues to recall) America’s Band could scarcely draw two hundred paying patrons to a series of gala performances within the very heart of New York City.

In a word then? Yikes!

Of course any other combo with half its wits intact would’ve called it quits right about then – or at least ditched the “Surfin’ Safari” stagewear for starters. But The Beach Boys were more than just another pop group, weren’t they? They were a FAMILY, first and foremost, and rather than remain one-upped by their musical neighbors so to speak, this musical household doggedly set about getting their affairs back in order, persisting along this rugged path for year after endless year …even when all around seemed hapless, hopeless, and far, far from harmonious. On any level.

imageActually finding themselves without an American recording contract at the dawn of the Seventies, and with their guiding musical light apparently more interested in snoozing than writing, arranging, singing and/or producing, Carl and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, and even those afore-mentioned Mike and Bruce guys had no logical choice but to settle down to some good old-fashioned, decorum-be-damned hard hard work, lest they find themselves forever tossed upon the scrap-heap of One Hit Wonderdom. So first of all, every Boy still awake and mobile began by bringing the audio mountain to Mohammed, constructing a working studio directly beneath Brian’s Bel Air bedroom (not that that helped motivate their big brother much in the long run; nice try, though). Then they boldly formed their own record company and, crazier still, set about writing and recording a string of albums which form not only the mysterious, mythical candy core of The Beach Boys’ vast sea of tunes,

but in retrospect actually hold much more than their own against such bally-hoo’ed, Nixon-vintage contemporaries as the Eagles, Doobies, and even that Buckingham/Nicks-model Big Mac.

Chronologically speaking, the initial Brother Records albums Sunflower and Surf’s Up remain among the most universally cherished records on the planet, and both contain their fair share of Brian Wilson treasures for the ages – “This Whole World” and “Til I Die” most particularly – which rank easily amongst the very best Our Hero has yet to offer us all. Meaning, must I say, they’re some of the greatest musical works ever created by man or beast. The two junior Wilsons blossom forth on these albums as well (“Long Promised Road” and “Feel Flows” prove Carl learned his lessons fully whilst attending all those Pet Sounds and SMiLE sessions; Dennis, conversely – as always – forged his own musical identity within Sunflower somewhere between the cock-rockin’ “Got To Know The Woman” and the heart-drenched passion of “Forever”). Meanwhile, that then-new 16-track technology at work throughout allowed the band to layer on those heavenly, heavenly harmonies as never before. Or, in truth, since. “Cool, Cool Water,” to mention just one, contains chorale cascades which will continue to astound the ear today, three decades (and countless attempts at recreation) since they were first meticulously piled onto tape.

Suffice to say, the music The Beach Boys made in the very early Seventies remains amongst their very, very best, and no listener out there, discriminating or otherwise, should let these sounds slip past unheard a single minute longer.

Despite the odd (in more ways than one) moment thereafter however – and again, I cite such B. Wilson concoctions as Holland’s notorious Fairy Tale “Mt. Vernon And Fairway” plus the entire proto-punk Beach Boys Love You album – the band’s post-1972 output is, well, spotted indeed. Still, works of total wonder are to be found even on such universally poo-poohed efforts as 15 Big Ones (just listen to the slap-happy vocal counterpoint which ends “It’s O.K.”), Keepin’ The Summer Alive (with its B.T.O.-on-the-beach title track co-written by, you guessed it, none other than Randy Bachman) and even the lowly M.I.U. Album (…awrite awrite, so I for one believe “Hey Little Tomboy” to be a hunka hunka fluff of near Jonathan Richman pedigree).


Nevertheless, with a band as diverse and musically all-encompassing as The Beach Boys, one just has to take the good with the not-quite-so-good: after all, these characters have always been, if nothing else, totally fearless in the way they conduct themselves both inside and outside of the recording studio. Besides, one must also remember that this music was being created and released back in the glorious days when rock ‘n’ roll bands were not only allowed to be adventurous, but could even get such fits of fancy released and often promoted to the public at large. (…um, expecting a Fairy Tale to magically appear upon the next Beyonce CD? Don’t hold my breath!)

Proving once again that still waters do indeed run so, so deep, The Beach Boys’ Brother Years sonically document a band – and a family – in quite desperate creative and emotional upheaval, yet producing some of its best if least-known work despite (or is it because?) of such all-around adversities.

For awhile then at least, without a doubt, the family that Sang together STAYED together.
For awhile.

Listen, listen, listen…




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Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 September 2009 10:49

A Fab Forty PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gary Pig Gold
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 18:37


Gary Pig Gold presents A FAB FORTY

Has it really been four-and-a-half decades already since television’s greatest-ever talent scout took a chance on a brash young musical novelty act from far-off Britain? Yes, even to those who weren’t extremely tuned into the 2 / 9 / 64 “Ed Sullivan Show,” the look, spunk, and above all sound of J, P, G & R continues to ring within eyes and ears this whole world over.

But nobody needs ME to tell them that.

So instead, I thought I’d pick a mere forty of my favorite Beatle tunes of the moment, and tell you all why I think they’re so, well, Fab. Of course, your mileage – not to mention choices – will differ, but that’s half the fun of listening and listing, isn’t it?

…and, with the supreme Beatle ballad “Ask Me Why” on its original flipside, perhaps the greatest one-two career launcher in poppy-rock history.

As you’ll soon realize, John is my unapologetically favorite Beatle, and he was positively on fire throughout my fave Fab album, With The Beatles. Elsewhere upon same, “Not A Second Time” and “All I’ve Got To Do” were pure Smokey Robinson-worthy young Lennon gems, while Paul’s “All My Loving” – not to mention George’s first-ever (!!) ditty “Don’t Bother Me” – also helped make the band’s second album an end-to-end unbeatable beat group classic.

Arguably the very pinnacle of the band’s studio concoctions …before they started getting altogether too magically mysterious for their own good, that is. And STILL the greatest fade-out(s) ever committed to CD to boot.

Both Everlys notwithstanding, The Beatles hear-by invent alt. country and, coupled with “Eight Days A Week,” produce in the process their first of many 1965 North American chart-toppers.

If you hadn’t already realized during its previous thirteen songs, Revolver had just forever re-written musical history right before your very ears.

The undeniable State of the Art, 1964-model. Listen closely for the driving bed of bongos, not to mention that stellar George M. vs George H. piano-guitar solo (…and not a bad li’l movie they stuck after it either!)

Lennon truly was pop’s Picasso, compositionally-speaking, and only The Beatles could’ve made it successfully thru this dizzying mini-History of Rock ‘n’ Roll with the help of only three or four tape splices.

Stripped of all its Pepper down to the rhythm track alone, as the Anthology 2 version demonstrates, we realize how great a tight little band The Beatles really were …even after a whole year off the road!

…and this totally Pepper-free hum-ringer must’ve been even more fun to record than “Birthday,” “Hey Bulldog,” or maybe Lennon’s Ninth (“Revolution”).

Along with “Hello Little Girl,” the nascent Lennon and McCartney’s keenest Buddy Holly re-write ever …though you must admit Billy J. Kramer, as opposed to them Beatles, recorded the definitive rendering.

The first feedback on record, as John once claimed? Link Wray might just have something to say about that. But there certainly was nothing finer to be heard over Christmastime 1964 …and that’s the truth.

The album-opener to start all album openers ...or, as producer-extraordinaire Sir Big George Martin would so aptly characterize it, “a potboiler.” Why, even the other George’s wholly-Hamburg-drenched guitar solo lives up to Paul’s proto-Dee Dee count-in!

Add the lads’ always-shimmering three-part barbershop chorale atop John’s loving tribute to the late, very great Del Shannon’s trademark major/minor way with a song structure, and you have the album-closer to end all albums. At least.

14) I’M DOWN
Meanwhile, Paul gamely wrestles Little Richard to the studio floor …whilst telling Jerry Lee the news.

This raw diamond, which along with “Misery” Squeeze particularly built a whole vocal career after, truthfully deserves much more notice after four decades spent languishing upon the underside of that original “From Me To You” single.

And on the subject of Great Lost Beatle B-sides, this big-bass and Clavioline-driven sing-along has aged so much better than its Summer of Love topside, “All You Need Is…” …now what was that word again??

Wherein Lennon caps his Fab career with a slyly-subtle slice of Liverpool funk. And, as always, Ringo positively shines.

So frequently poo-poohed coz Brian Epstein could only buy its way up to Number 17 on the hit parade. Yet as no less an authority as Raymond Douglas Davies has always attested, The Beatles’ vinyl debut nevertheless pricked up all the right ears all over Britain during that otherwise uneventful winter of ’62.

…and I guess it is, clocking in as the not-so-quiet Beatle’s long long longest Northern Song ever. Still, I can so much more easily hear it closing Sgt. Pepper rather than that other epic production “A Day In The Life,” can’t you? No?? oh, well…

Somehow telepathically (though monophonically) linked since ’63 with Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” as two of the most deeply touching agoraphobic studies of all time.

Here our heroes, lead again by John, toss off one of the greatest deceptively-arcane musical throwaways of the era with one harmonica holder tied behind their backs. Plus George says it all with the last twelve-strung note of his guitar solo, as usual.

The crowning jewel which, rightfully so, took Beatlemania global …and opened B. Dylan’s ears especially to a certain misheard phrase in the bridge, just as importantly it turns out.

The most beloved song ever written to a sheep dog? Irregardless, it is that most infrequent instance of a McCartney composition which is perfectly, regally understated in both arrangement and execution. Hence its rare, pure, and simple (got that, Paul?) charm.

The boys gamely take on the twin late-’65 titans of the Stones and Stax …and, wouldn’t you know it, cross the line with flying colours.

25) ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Spector version, btw!!)
So maybe its words do flow out endlessly, but what a tune! (no doubt inspired by George’s most-melodious “Inner Light” being completed that very same week).

Beatles meet Byrds.

What happens when you take your guitar, and Donovan, to India with you. And then one of your playmates won’t come outside. Superb drumming as well …by Paul this time though!

Hey! A Beatle samba, with an actually complete lyrical narrative along the way. Before John fell off Dylan’s deep-end altogether with “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” mind you.

Can you think of any other song, Fab or otherwise, that can employ a word like “opaque” – not to mention a fuzz-toned bass – and get away with it?

Paul’s ever-cute cleverness pretty near capsized the Peppery proceedings in all too many places, but for these two-minutes-forty-seven he’s kept keenly in check.

The first heavy metal song, as John once claimed?

Until Apple Corps get around to compiling all of the band’s great goonish Christmas recordings on one shiny disc, there’s always this inspired chunk of Brian Jones - saxed lunacy readily available on a compilation and/or file-sharing trough near you.

Beatles beat Byrds!

George was only… how old, when he helped create this delightfully mock-Marvin (as in Hank of the Shadows) Hamburg set-stretcher?!!

Finally! The first McCartney effort to hold its own against a Johnsong.

Barely-in-tune British doo-wop …and the greatest Beatle backside since its first cousin “This Boy.”

Similarly suspect in the vocal pitch dept., but it’s about as close to, yes, heavy metal as these four comparative short-hairs ever got during the once-swinging Sixties.

Metal doesn’t even begin to describe the veritable wall of Epiphones which took less than three minutes to raise even Peter Fonda from the near-dead.

39) HELP!
Sure, the movie’s a clinker, but the song is as harrowingly autobiographical as anything on Pet Sounds …AND you can frug to it!

When all is said and sung, however: GOTTA have cowbell...


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Last Updated on Thursday, 27 August 2009 23:25

Gary Pig Gold Meets The Beatles...only Somewhere Else PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gary Pig Gold
Thursday, 27 August 2009 08:32

Remember to click on the photos and album covers to find tons and tons of Beatles products and rarities in itself.

Gary Pig Gold Meets The Beatles
….only Somewhere Else.

Being eight years old in the Toronto suburbs of 1963, I was at the perfect age – and in the perfect place – to, yes, Meet the Beatles. Because by the time “those four youngsters from Liverpool” hit the Ed Sullivan Show on 9 February 64, my friends and I had already spent the past six months familiarizing ourselves with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s initial A-sides via Ontario’s mighty CHUM 1050-AM Radio.

In other words then, the British Beat had no reason to invade Canada. It was invited

Unlike with our big neighbors to the immediate south you see, each of the Beatles’ earliest discs garnered automatic release on Captiol Records of Canada, beginning right at the beginning with “Love Me Do” in February of ’63 (the version with Ringo on drums, by the way!), and the Canadian Beatle Discography boasts many other rare slices of vintage vinyl totally unique to the genre, and as a result extremely collectable.

For example, the Canadian Beatlemania! album not only sported an identical cover and track line-up, but was released the very same week With the Beatles was in the UK (making it the first Beatle album released anywhere within North America), and its twelve-inch Capitol Canada follow-up, the Twist and Shout album – # 1 on the Canadian charts for ten weeks in early ’64 – was in fact the very first “big record” I ever had the pleasure to have owned.

And what a remarkable record it was: Fourteen action-packed tracks featuring all four – “count ‘em”! – of their first UK 45 top-sides, plus a generous helping of Cavern-baked covers from that homeland debut album Please Please Me. Being too young then to know, and still too young to care if nary a Beatle wrote each and every note or lyric herein, Carole King’s “Chains” stacked so easily around Len/Mac’s similarly George Harrison's “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” Bacharach and David’s “Baby, It’s You” seamlessly followed John and Paul’s “P.S. I Love You” on T & S Side 2, and the magnificent Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go to Him),” which kicked off this entire collection, continues to this day to hold more than its own against any Beatle composition you or even I could mention.

And while Lennon’s wholly larynx-bursting “Twist and Shout” completed the first Beatle album in Great Britain, the ever-inventive Canadian Capitol chose to close its namesake long-player with none other than – wait for it – “She Loves You.” Take that, Sir George Martin! (and tell Dave Dexter, Jr. the news.)

Meanwhile in the seven-inch division, “Please Please Me” actually hit the CFGP Top Forty in Grande Prairie, Alberta in April of ’63, while two of Capitol Canada’s most unique couplings, “All My Loving”/”This Boy” and “Roll Over Beethoven”/”Please Mister Postman,” sold sufficient (smuggled) copies to reach even the American Hot One Hundred a year later. Also, the U.S. Tollie label “Twist and Shout”/”There’s a Place” 45, which soared to Billboard # 2 in April of 1964, was an identically-formed Canadian Capitol Top Ten much, much earlier.


The moral of this absolutely Fab story then? Good music IS good music, and shall forever remain so, regardless of the size, format, packaging, advertising budget or even country-of-origin of the item in hand.

And of course, any discussion of Good Music that doesn’t contain multiple uses of the word “Beatle” is a discussion I just must immediately bow out from.


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Last Updated on Thursday, 10 September 2009 09:42

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