#218 – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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#218 – Why Can’t We Be Friends? by War

War – Music is never tied to a certain year or era. A good song can cast a wide shadow across generations. Staying within our context of classic rock and pop, songs recorded by Elvis and The Beatles more than half a century ago are still the soundtrack for new fans making new memories in 2016. Since I fully expect this generation to be impacting the world a half century from now, it’s safe to say these songs will still be alive and well – with an excellent chance to live on through their children

Why Can’t We Be Friends? was part of my college soundtrack in 1975. But those are not the first memories that come back when hearing the song today. Instead it takes me 17 years into a future I would have never seen coming as a college student in Ohio. I can’t actually say I heard the song at the end of April in 1992, but there’s a word association with the title that takes me back to when I was living in Los Angeles.

If you were there, you’ll remember.

Time RiotFor me, “Why can’t we be friends?” easily flows into “Can we all get along?” It’s not a stretch to anyone’s imagination that both phrases say the same thing. The first was sung by the band War. The second was a statement made by Rodney King during the LA Riots in April 1992. Each one alone reminds me of the other. And since The Classic Rocker is about music and attached memories, here’s what I have attached to this song…

Subtitle: The LA / Rodney King Riots

In April 1992 I was working at The Improv Comedy Club on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. For another word association, this is a Dream Songs List and I had my Dream Job. Anyone involved in the comedy business knows about Budd Friedman. He started the whole concept of “comedy clubs.” Before opening The Original Improvisation in New York City with then-wife Silver, the only places to see comedians perform live were in theaters or resort hotels (think Catskill Comics). In an earlier era there had been Vaudeville.

Once The Improv got underway in the early 1960s, audiences could go to the small club (about 175 seats) on West 44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue for drinks, food and laughs. It was groundbreaking and the concept has been copied countless times around the world since. It’s also where I got my start in the comedy biz as the club manager during the late 1980’s. Thank you Silver!

John Lennon outside The New York Improv on W. 44th Street

John Lennon outside The New York Improv on W. 44th Street

Budd opened The Hollywood Improv around 1980 and by 1992 I was his assistant. To put it into classic rock terms, it was like being the assistant to one of The Beatles. And to make it even more of a dream job, I was also talent booker for the club. Yeah, I can name some pretty famous comedians I was fortunate to work with, but that’s not what this is all about…

I shared a two bedroom apartment in North Hollywood with my best pal Tim. He was in the rock music biz and I was in comedy, so there was a lot of loud music and laughs involved. We lived in the San Fernando Valley on Morrison Street and the drive to my office at The Improv was via Laurel Canyon Boulevard. I think it was only about eight miles, but with the morning traffic it would take about 45 minutes. My goal was always to get there before Budd, which was around 10 am.

The Rodney King Riots” started on Wednesday, April 29, 1992. Without going too far into a history lesson, King had been brutally beaten by four LA police officers for resisting arrest after a high speed chase. King was black and the cops were white. The scene was videotaped by a local resident and was brutal to watch. He was definitely out of line for taking them on a high speed chase to avoid breaking his parole and going back to jail, but didn’t deserve what the cops did to him. The trial became an issue of race and when the white cops were found not guilty, much of the black community exploded with rage. There were fires, looting, beatings and killings.

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I was at The Hollywood Improv that day. As usual, I would take off around 6 pm, grab something to eat and be back at the club that night for the show. I’d leave around 11 pm and head back to North Hollywood. But almost every night, instead of retracing my Laurel Canyon morning drive, I’d take Hollywood Boulevard because I enjoyed the bright lights and people walking around.

Yeah, that’s what happens when you’re a “city guy.”

But this night was different. I had gone to Tower Records earlier and bought a cassette of Paul McCartney’s Venus and Mars album. Since my very used (and very notorious lemon) Mustang Convertible only had a tape deck I needed cassettes if I wanted a good driving soundtrack. But there was something wrong with the tape, so I had to trade it in for one that worked.

Tower Records stayed open all night, so it was no big deal making the exchange after 11 pm. But because it was later and closer to my morning drive route, I skipped the Hollywood Blvd light show and took the faster (no traffic at night) cruise home via Laurel Canyon.

LA Riots 1When I walked into our apartment Tim was glued to the television watching live coverage of what was going on in Los Angeles since the Rodney King verdict had been announced. Angry mobs were running through the streets, buildings were on fire and stores were being looted. Much of the focus was on Hollywood Boulevard and included the stores and “lights” I would have passed if I hadn’t gone to Tower Records that night. I especially remember seeing the Fredrick’s Of Hollywood store in flames.

On Thursday morning I wasn’t sure what was going on, but since I hadn’t received a call from anyone at The Improv I assumed it was business as usual. After arriving at 10 am I asked some of the staff if the show would be cancelled that night. Everyone seemed worried (who wouldn’t be?) but the show was still on.

Daily NewsThe television and radio reported bad news all morning about violence spreading through different LA neighborhoods. Finally around noon Budd came in my office and said we were canceling our shows through Sunday night. Since we also scheduled for The Improv in Santa Monica, that meant contacting all the comedians we had booked for 14 weekend shows.

This was an era pre-cell phones, so it took a few hours to reach everyone in person. While I was making the calls, Budd and head chef Barry Minniefield nailed wooden boards across the front windows to prevent looters from trashing the place.

* And here’s an interesting note for music fans…

Barry was a contestant on Season 8 of The Voice (Spring 2015). I hadn’t seen him in at least 20 years and almost fell out of my chair when I recognized him singing Me And Mrs. Jones. He picked Adam Levine as his coach and gave new hope to everyone over the age of 50 that they could still be rock (and soul) stars. Thanks Barry!

The rest of the staff had already cleared out while I was working the phones. One dear friend stopped by my office on her way out and warned me to put the top up on my convertible before leaving. She’d heard on the news rioters were shooting at “white people” and I didn’t need to take any chances. Not that a canvas top would stop a bullet, but I’d make sure this “white person” wasn’t a clear target.

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That’s how nuts it was. This especially hits home looking back because our business was making people laugh regardless of color, nationality, sexual preferences or any other discriminatory labels. If you’re not “color blind” you’re in the wrong biz. In fact, you’re in the wrong era.

LA Riots 2Except for Budd, I was the last person to leave the club that afternoon. I had talked with all the comedians and walked next door to The Improv showroom and restaurant. Upstairs there was a smaller room (more like a loft) with a pool table and television where the comedians would hang out. Budd was sitting in a chair in front of the television watching live updates. He looked at me and said I should take off – and to be careful. My image of him was like the captain of a ship and can still picture him sitting there. Neither one of us knew what might happen within the next few hours.

Yeah, it was dramatic.

With the top up on my car I headed out of the parking lot on Melrose Avenue and drove toward Laurel Canyon Blvd. Out of my rear view mirrors I could see flames and lots of smoke from areas near downtown Los Angeles.

LA Riots 3Tim was already back in the apartment by the time I arrived. We thought it might be safer in The Valley, but sometime in the early evening we saw a live television report showing a liquor store on fire and being looted only about a mile or two away from us. We could smell the smoke from our balcony on the second floor. I called my cousin in San Diego and told her we were on our way.

We steered away from the liquor store area, but had to stick with residential streets longer than usual because police had closed off the nearest freeway entrance. Luckily we didn’t encounter any problems and a few hours later we were in San Diego. We stayed through the weekend.

My usual routine was to talk with Budd every Sunday about the week’s comedian schedule. By that time the California National Guard, the Army and the Marines had gained control. Business would be as usual and we drove back to Los Angeles Sunday night. I remember Army trucks parked along the streets when we got off the freeway.

I also remember watching Rodney King on television and his now-famous quote, People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?

LA Riots 1992Since I work in a business where very talented and funny people can take real life situations and find humor while still delivering a serious message, King’s statement was a source of healing inspiration. There was a benefit show at The Improv that week to raise money for Reginald Denny, a truck driver who had been pulled from the cab of his semi-trailer and beaten by a mob at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. The comedians were brilliant while talking about the riot, but not lessening or making fun of the situation. More than a few borrowed, “Can we all get along?” as a theme for the evening.

I remember Jim Carrey, who was starring on the TV show In Living Color walking on stage with a sign saying “Black Owned,” which is what many black-owned businesses had posted outside their stores to discourage looting. The great George Wallace talked about how awful the riot was, but also joked he got a new television out of it. It was a demonstration of the healing value of humor. Thanks Budd!

Comedians can lighten a dark situation. That’s why they are so important and needed in times like this.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? was running through my mind on the morning of February 9th. It fits into the subliminal category of Dream Songs, but whenever I hear it my thoughts go back to The Rodney King Riots. It was a scary experience and not at all like memories I have from 1975 when the song was released.

War was a soulful, funk R&B band I also associate with life on the streets in the inner cities. And though I lived for many years in both Los Angeles and New York, I really didn’t experience the streets they sang about in songs such as The World Is A Ghetto and Low Rider. The closest I came to it was in 1992, but I had the option of getting out of the way. Too many others didn’t.

Here’s a classic video of Why Can’t We Be Friends? by War.

To purchase Icon: The Hits by War with Why Can’t We Be Friends? visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

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#219 – An Old Fashioned Love Song

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#219 – An Old Fashioned Love Song by Three Dog Night

three-dog-night-4 – Not to be over dramatic, especially with everything going on in the world today, but for boomers on the edge of adulthood, 1971 could be described as an intense year. I’ve written about it from a personal perspective in past Classic Rocker’s and memory-wise it’s a magnet on my timeline.

We were two years past Woodstock. And Altamont in December ’69 threw a sucker punch at the peace and love of the Woodstock Generation, delivering a major hit. Rock music and attitudes were showing a darker side and even though The Rolling StonesSympathy For The Devil had predated both, it seemed more descriptive of the times.

Kent State had exploded in May 1970 and Richard Nixon was still President. I’m sure you catch my drift.

Vietnam and the military draft were hanging over the heads of U.S. males turning 18 or close enough to think about it. Some volunteered to go while others had no choice. Either way, it was a life-changer.

Once again from my personal perspective, rock music had a major growth spurt in 1971. Since this was before the advent of classic rock radio, the pop songs of The British Invasion years and psychedelia from The Summer of Love were gone from the airwaves. The biggest artists coming out of Woodstock, such as The Who, Sly and the Family Stone and Ten Years After were defining rock music rather than playing rock and roll. Even the acoustic harmony of Crosby, Stills & Nash had morphed into the electric rock harmonies of CSN&Y(Young) with the songs Ohio and Woodstock.

There had already been a major division between AM Top 40 and FM “underground” radio. By 1971 the difference was like night and day. If you were 18 and older, FM with Led Zeppelin, David BowieThe Stones, and the above mentioned “rockers” spoke to you. For the younger generation, AM with The Osmonds, The Jackson Five and The Carpenters… well, I don’t really know because I wasn’t listening.

In 1971 I graduated from high school and went to college. That definitely set the timeline magnet in my head, but the music that year gives it an unforgettable soundtrack. Without even thinking too hard I can name some of the albums that spoke to us as we listened. I’ll keep this short.

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The year started with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Actually, I received it as a 1970 Christmas present, but it lasted through the year and beyond. In the spring his former bandmate Paul McCartney with wife Linda came out with the underrated Ram including the song Too Many People. Another former bandmate John Lennon delivered his answer song later in the year with How Do You Sleep?

There was no Give Peace A Chance between the former Beatles in ’71.

Right before I graduated high school The Rolling Stones released Sticky Fingers. The opening guitar crunch and Bobby Keys’ sax on Brown Sugar still make it a must-have track almost half a century later. Then off to college and in rapid order came Alice Cooper’s Killer, Led Zeppelin IV (Stairway To Heaven), Lennon’s Imagine and what I consider the best album by The Beach Boys, Surf’s Up. This is when the underrated Carl Wilson seemed to take the helm and launched them into becoming America’s Band. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Student Demonstration Time and think back to what it was like in 1971.

Three Part Harmony

Three Part Harmony

Then Three Dog Night released An Old Fashioned Love Song. Say what?

I woke up with this song in my head on January 29th. Following the established trend of making it onto this Dream Song List, it has a catchy tune. And it’s stayed with me for a long time because I have never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’d heard it. So if anyone is interested, it falls into the subliminal category… yawn…

As that last comment should speak to you, it’s not a favorite song. In fact, it can serve as a magnet in my personal Three Dog Night timeline. When talking about songs from their early career vs. later years, this one marks a division as big as the one between AM and FM radio in 1971.

Pretty intense – right?

I remember my move from AM to FM during the time The Beatles released The White Album (actually titled The Beatles, but I’m sure you catch my drift). Along with discovering The Doors, Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company, Moby Grape and other underground bands, I also heard Three Dog Night. Their earliest hits including One, Celebrate, Mama Told Me (Not To Come) and Eli’s Coming, along with various album tracks made me and my high school friends huge fans. We went together to see them in concert three times before heading off to college in 1971. And never once during those shows did we hear An Old Fashioned Love Song. That would’ve been too pop – or AM – for teenaged wannabe rockers.

Another reason we thought they were so underground had to do with the older kids of our generation that also followed Three Dog Night. It was during one of their shows at Cleveland’s Public Hall that I smelled marijuana for the first time. I had no idea what that aroma was wafting through the arena until my pal Kevin told me. And to this day I still don’t know how he knew that. We were only 16 and didn’t smoke any – and I don’t remember having any desire to. But it gave Three Dog Night a mature hippie image in my mind and if that wasn’t underground for a 16 year old kid living in Ohio during the late ’60s I still don’t know what would be.

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And their music was great. It rocked with volume and three-part harmonies and was always a great show. But sometime after the 1970 release of their LP One Man Band, they seemed to shift direction when compared to the more progressive rockers. Almost overnight they became an AM staple and we moved on to attending concerts by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Alice Cooper and The Stones.

For some of my generation this division started even earlier. Joy To The World was the closing track on One Man Band and hit the top of every AM music chart. Yeah, I can look back and hear it’s pure pop. But it worked as almost a novelty song when compared to what they released before. As a comparison, I look at Hot Dog from Zeppelin’s final LP, In Through The Out Door. That one was country when compared to Whole Lotta Love and even the acoustic songs on their previous albums, but the difference that seemed to come out of nowhere is what made it work.

For me, it’s the same with Joy To The World.

But getting back to An Old Fashioned Love Song. A red flag goes up when you realize it was written by Paul Williams for The Carpenters. Both the songwriter and artists were AM staples and did nothing that ever spoke to me. In fact it was the complete opposite. Whenever I heard their (not brown) sugary tunes it meant someone was either listening to AM or I was hanging with the wrong crowd.

Three_Dog_Night_-_Captured_Live_at_the_ForumOkay, that’s a little intense – I know it.

So I’ll sweeten it up by saying I had been a big fan of Three Dog Night up until this magnet of a moment. They were the first band that turned me on to FM. I had all their albums through One Man Band and practically wore out my vinyl copy of Captured Live At The Forum. It was heavy and rocked.

Their concerts are still great memories, but we eventually went our separate ways – just like AM and FM in 1971.

Here’s a video of Three Dog Night lip-syncing to An Old Fashioned Love Song in 1971. Check out the embarrassing “letter sweater” and “old fashioned radio” sequences and I’m sure you’ll understand better what I mean…

 

 

To purchase Three Dog Night – The Complete Hit Singles with An Old Fashioned Love Song – and some great songs we heard on FM – visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

Interview with Scotty Moore

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Moore-685332 – Scotty Moore, the legendary guitar player who make his mark on rock and roll playing the ground breaking licks behind Elvis Presley on his Sun Records hits, passed away on June 28, 2016. I was fortunate to have interviewed Scotty in 2002 when he was touring through the rockabilly universe with former Stray Cat stand-up bassist, Lee Rocker. It was an honor to talk with him – and just as much of an honor to learn our conversation is still posted on Scotty’s website.

Here it is…

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Playing Rock’n Roll Guitar For Elvis And Beyond

Interview with Scotty Moore by Dave Schwensen

When it comes to naming the true pioneers of rock guitar, you can trace the roots all the way back to the rockabilly guitar licks heard on classic hits such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “That’s Alright Mama.” If you haven’t guessed, (or need some rock’n roll educatin’), these are all early songs by the King of Rock’n Roll, Elvis Presley. But something else they all have in common is the man playing the groundbreaking guitar breaks – Scotty Moore.

Scotty and ElvisStarting with Presley during his early touring days and through his stints at Sun Records and RCA, Moore’s guitar was crucial to the sound that shook up the music world. He combined elements of country picking and R&B with enough wattage and recklessness to be a major influence on players such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

After all these years, Moore is not only still playing the licks that made him famous, but he’s also on the road thrilling live audiences. Teamed with former Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker, their tours have earned critical and fan raves throughout the country.

“I can’t believe I’m talking to a living legend,” I groveled during an exclusive interview with Moore.

“Well, thank you very much,” he laughed. I immediately wondered if he had also influenced Elvis’ politeness as well as the music.

“I spoke with Lee Rocker earlier,” I said, hoping my name-dropping skills might get e past the ‘fan’ stage. “He told me how much fun you’re having during these shows.”

“Well, yeah, we have fun when we work together. We do some of Lee’s stuff and some Elvis tunes, of course. Some Blues… and whatever pops out, I guess.”

“Did you ever dream you’d still be playing rock’n roll guitar in 2002?” I asked.

“Well, I hoped that I would be!” he laughed.

“I didn’t mean YOU!” I said“Of course we knew you’d still be here. I’m talking about the music. The songs you started out playing on with Elvis back in 1954. What if someone had told you then that fifty years later you’re still going to be playing these songs and everyone is still going to be into it?”

“I would’a gone, WHAT?!”

“It must be quite flattering for people to tell you they’re still listening to what you’re playing. You have really been an innovator.”

“It is very flattering,” he answered, “and the thing I feel the most proud about is how the music has held up all these years. I mean people still want to hear the early stuff. The Sun (Records) stuff, some of that even.”

scotty_elvis“Your guitar solos on those early songs have just influenced all the great guitar players that followed this style of music,” I noted. “Rock’n roll, rockabilly, country, blues… When they talk about their influences, your name comes up all the time.”

“As I’ve said before, someone will ask me, ‘Who influenced you?’ And I’d say anybody that played the guitar. I didn’t know back then. When you listened to the radio, they didn’t tell you who the players were and maybe it’d be months or years later I’d find out somebody’s name that played on a certain record that I liked.”

“How did you learn to play?” I asked. “Was it from listening to the radio?”

“Basically,” he answered. “Just hearing things then sitting down and trying to figure them out. I had three brothers and my dad who all played string instruments, but I… Well, there’s 14 years difference between me and the next brother up the line. Until I got to 9 or 10 years old, or old enough to see what was going on, they were gettin’ married, joining the navy and leaving home. I told lots of folks that I think I’m just hard headed. I felt like I missed out on something.”

“It doesn’t sound to me like you missed out on too much,” I said. “Do you ever reminisce about those early Sun Sessions with Elvis?”

“Oh yeah. They were fun,” he laughed. “All of the work we did together… Aw, the travel. The travel is always the worst part of the business.”

“What was it like traveling with Elvis back in those days? I think I’ve seen movies and documentaries where you’re all piled into one car.”

“Well, in the very beginning we were. And as soon as we started making a few bucks we bought a couple Cadillacs,” he said. “We also traveled in a Fleetwood Limousine. It wasn’t a stretch, but it was a legit limousine.”

“Very nice,” I commented.

“That helped a lot,” he continued. “But when you were talking about the music earlier, in the back of my mind I was thinking that Carl Perkins, he put the best label on all of it. He said it’s ‘feel good’ music. It feels good when you listen to it and it feels good when you play it and sing it. It just feels good.”

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“I understand you and Lee Rocker keep the show pretty loose,” I said.

“Oh yeah!”

“You give the audience what they want.”

“We try our best,” he agreed. “Lee’s great and the other guys he’s got with him are all good too. It’s a good little group.”

“When you were doing the early recordings, you were really stretching the envelope. No one had made the sounds you were making on the guitar.”

“I didn’t realize I was, but I did stand on the edge of a limb all the time,” he answered.

“You didn’t think about it?”

“Didn’t think about it,” he said. “Always tried to play something that I thought fit the particular song we was workin’ on. Not just the notes. I tried to make it mean something to that song.”

“So you had your own ideas on how the songs should sound,” I noted.

“I didn’t know that. I look back now and on some of those things I say, ‘How’d I do that?” he answered with a big laugh.

“I remember reading an interview a few years ago with Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones,” I said, needing that ‘name-dropping fix.’ “He was talking about the second guitar break on the recording of ‘Hound Dog’ and said it sounded like you just took off your guitar, dropped it on the floor and it got the perfect sound. He said he’s never been able to figure out how you did that.”

“I don’t know either,” Moore laughed.

“That’s a huge compliment,” I continued. “And every time I hear that song, that’s what I think about. How did you get that sound…?”

“Ahh… I was actually pissed off to tell’ya the truth.”

“No way!”

sm-and-elvis-live-3“It was just… Sometimes in the studio you do it too many times and you go past that peak. Like three takes before was really the one you should use. That was it. We had done the thing, (“Hound Dog”). I think it was printed somewhere that we did it about forty or sixty… I don’t know, give or take. But if someone was counting it off, just a couple notes and we stop, that’s a take. You know? ‘Take Two.’ But I was frustrated for some reason and in the second solo I just went, BLAH,” he laughed.

“Now there’s a real musical explanation!” I said.

“Yeah!” he laughed louder. “BLAH!!!”

“Well it worked and it lives on today,” I laughed“A lot of it still sounds fresh and new.”

“And it’s just one of those things that I play,” he said. “And I play it back to people the same way, but each time it will come out just a little bit different. It’s just one of those… You know, you just hit it perfectly the time you did it.”

“When you did these Elvis songs, you guys were recorded playing live – as a band – in the studio. Right?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Elvis was signing as you were playing and every thing was happening in one room,” I continued.

“That’s the only way,” he said.

“Do you still think that’s the best way?”

“Absolutely. Yeah.”

“What new projects have you been working on?” I asked. “Have you been recording with Lee Rocker?”

“Well, I did a couple of things with Lee a couple years back when he had his Big Blue group together.”

“What I want to know is how you feel about the recording technology today, compared to what you started out with. Is it easier?”

“Some of it is,” he answered. “Some of it I like. Unfortunately, everything in music comes along and it’s taken too far. All the digital computer stuff was designed to restore old records and stuff, and it was just fantastic and wonderful for stuff like that.”

“Do you feel it takes the life out of the recordings?” I asked.

“Yeah. Yeah…”

“Because those Sun Recordings just come alive,” I continued.

Scotty Studio“Well, I’ve got a little studio here at home and I can sit down and mix something. And mix it ten times in a row. And each time I want to change this or that – just a little bit – it won’t be something massive. It just jumps out at you. But the idea is when I like it, I can say I did that. That damn machine didn’t do it. I did it. You know? That’s one reason I headed into engineering way back… I got interested in it and when Elvis went into the army I got into that side of it. And I really enjoyed it because I could play all the instruments then.”

“You went into engineering for quite a while,” I noted.

“Yeah. I did that for years and years – and I’m still doing it. Just not on a daily basis.”

“When Elvis came out of the army, did you go back with him?” I asked.

“Not like full time. ‘Cuz he never went back on the road until he went to Vegas. We did two or three charity shows, a couple TV things when he came out, then he went right into the movies. Head on – ya’know?”

“You were part of his 1968 television come back special.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you go with him to Las Vegas after that?”

“No,” he answered.

“Are you having as much fun today as you did back when you were starting out?” I asked.

“Yeah, I really am,” he laughed. “Like I said, other than the traveling part of it, I think I’ve had more fun in a lot of ways.”

“Why would that be?” I pried.

“Well, for one thing, I can let somebody else worry about if there’s enough gas in the car to get to the next gig!” he laughed.

“I guess the average person wouldn’t think about that part of the rock’n roll lifestyle,” I added.

“Yeah!”

“What was it really like in those early days with Elvis?” I asked. “Was it really crazy with those crowds and screaming girls? Was it too much? Or was it too much fun?”

Scotty and Elvis Live“It was fun then,” he said. “It was enjoying the smaller venues where you’re closer to the people. Up to a thousand seater’s and stuff like that. When we started getting really big we got into the bigger places. It was, you know, 20,000 – which compared to some of these concerts today is nothing. But the noise got so loud, we’re talking about… There were no big sound systems. We had a microphone for Elvis, maybe one on the bass and sometimes that was it!”

“There were no stage monitors back then to hear yourselves play,” I added.

“Yeah! I still don’t care that much for’em. Count out ‘one, two, three four’ and that’s it, you know? But the only way I can explain it is if you dive into a swimming pool, the phasing underwater – the rush of the water. Well, the crowd would get so loud that your ears would close up and you hear that… phasing noise.”

“Man, I never heard it put that way,” I said.

“There was a reporter with us and I thought the boy was gonna faint. He was talking about the noise. And I would refer to DJ, (Fontana – Elvis’ drummer), playing the drums. He would watch Elvis like a hawk. Elvis loved for him to accent stuff just like you would… Well, DJ did play for strippers back in his younger days. And I told this guy, “Well, we’re probably the only group in the world led by an ass! I was talkin’ about Elvis’ movements,” he laughed loudly.

“I’m sure you were very close to Elvis back then,” I commented.

“Oh yeah, we were like… Well, all of us were just like a bunch of brothers really.”

“How did Elvis handle this early fame?” I asked. “Was this really exciting for all of you, or was there a lot of pressure?”

“He handled it very well,” Moore answered. “But to be honest with you, I don’t know… You see the ‘Comeback Special’ thing was the last time I saw him and worked with him. And I don’t know who or what got him on the downgrade. At that point he was fit, he was in great shape, felt good and he was looking forward to gettin’ out and doin’ some tours. He wanted to do a lot of things. He wanted to get back out in front of the people. That was his thing.”

“I was going to ask if you were close with Elvis up until the end…”

“No.” he answered thoughtfully. “I’ve been asked that many times and I just say he could get in touch with me easier than I could get in touch with him because I’d never know if he’d get the message.”

“Okay, I know you have to get going. But I just want to say it’s been an honor talking with you,” I said sincerely, not caring if I was groveling or not. “I’ve been a big fan for a long time.”

“Why, thanks.”

“And just keep rockin’ and having fun,” I added, “because you’re THE MAN!”

“Okay. Great!” he laughed loudly.

*

Scotty appeared with Elvis on television’s 1968 Comeback Special and you can find footage on YouTube and other sites. I’ve chosen to celebrate Scotty’s rock and roll legacy with a much older – and rarer – clip below. He’s backing Elvis and playing a mean lead on Blue Suede Shoes from The Milton Berle Show in 1956.

RIP Scotty Moore – you rocked it!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

#220 – Don’t Stop Believin’

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#220 – Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey

Journey – Let’s say you’re in Hamburg, Germany in December 1962 and hanging at a local bar with some pals. It’s a Saturday night around 2 am and not as crowded as it was at midnight, but there’s still a cool vibe going on and a great jukebox.

Four guys walk in.

They’re not from the neighborhood and their hair and the way they dress make it obvious they’re musicians. They have a couple girls with them, but seem more interested in relaxing and making some new friends for the night. After a couple hours of drinking, laughing, talking about the city, singing along to the jukebox and telling you and your pals about their band, they leave when the bartender finishes “last call” at 4 am.

You remember the name of their group, The Beatles, but don’t really expect to hear about them again. After all, there are a lot of live bands playing the area clubs and not all will go onto huge success.

But then a few months later…

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Okay, as The Classic Rocker I’ll never compare any group to The Beatles. But I will compare situations.

10

“Before they was…”

A lot of fans wish they had seen or met The Beatles in Hamburg before they were famous. That would’ve been the case in December 1962. They’d had their first British record success with Love Me Do a couple months before and had recorded the follow-up, Please Please Me, which was due for release in January 1963. It would change their lives forever. Instead of playing smaller local clubs, they would move into theaters, sports arenas and stadiums.

It’s the dream for every rock band. But as mentioned, not all go on to that that type of success. I’ve met a few that did and many that didn’t. The deal is, you never knew which way they were going at the time.

Thanks to an excellent memory (I’ll never deny it) and the internet I’ve pinpointed the exact dates the above scenario happened to me – only with a different future superstar group. We hung out together for two nights in my neighborhood hangout and I remember the second night was a Sunday.

Oh yeah – I almost forgot to mention this part – the “unknown” band was Journey.

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I’ve mentioned in earlier Classic Rocker’s about The Palladium on West 14th Street being one of our go-to concert venues in New York City and within walking distance of my apartment in Gramercy Park. Our local hangout was called The Honey Tree and also where I worked as a bartender. Later I became the manager and turned it into a weekend comedy club that completely changed my career path, but that’s a different story for another time. It was only six blocks north of The Palladium on the corner of 20th Street and Third Avenue. The Gramercy Hotel, where some of the rockers would stay, was just around the corner and next to the famous iron-gated park.

Journey played The Palladium on Saturday, June 9, 1979. The next night they were in Passaic, New Jersey – only about half an hour away. They stayed both nights at The Gramercy Hotel.

I’d heard of Journey, probably through advertising for The Palladium show, but knew nothing about them. They’d had a couple albums out that didn’t really predict their future level of success. I didn’t know any of their songs, the members, or even what they looked like. And since this was 1979 and we all pretty much looked the same with faded jeans, t-shirts and long hair, when they walked into The Honey Tree around 2 am following their show at The Palladium they were just another group of guys hanging out on a Saturday night.

Steve Neil

Straight and Curly

My girlfriend at the time was more into New Wave, so there was no recognition on her part. But Tim, my best pal and resident rock and roller, had a musician’s radar. I’m positive he started talking with them first about music and pretty soon we were all having a blast hanging out together. I particularly remember talking with Steve Perry and Neil Schon because of their hair. Steve’s was long and straight while Neil’s was more of an Afro.

I remember they told us they were a band called Journey and had the local (Palladium) gig earlier that night. That alone was pretty impressive, but nothing out of the ordinary since it seemed there were shows almost every night. When they left we wished them “good luck” with the band and that we’d be waiting for them to hit it big.

But we didn’t have to wait long to see them again.

Logo

I had this shirt!!

On Sunday night following their New Jersey show, they came back to The Honey Tree for another night of hanging out. This time they brought us a bunch of t-shirts with the Journey logo. They had no “star” attitudes or anything close to it. They were just guys in a band and since we’d had fun the night before, they were up for it again.

I remember later that summer giving one of the t-shirts to my younger sister. I’m not sure if even she had heard of them at the time, but I told her she might someday. Even if she didn’t, it was still a cool shirt.

About six months later we heard about Journey again. They had a #1 song in November 1979 with Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’. After that they didn’t play The Palladium again and were on their way to filling stadiums.

Their 1981 song Don’t Stop Believin’ (did they drop the “g’s” on all their song titles?) made my Dream Song List on January 24th. It’s been more than a few decades since it became a stadium rock standard, but is still one the best known and top-selling hits from these “guys” that hung out with us for a couple nights in New York City – also more than a few decades ago. It goes down in the subliminal category because I don’t have a copy on my digital playlist and hadn’t heard it recently. Maybe if they had given me a copy of the record instead of a t-shirt that would be different… ha!!

Final impression? They were good guys and we had some laughs. I could also recognize “who was who” when their videos started playing in heavy rotation on MTV a year or two later. I’ll admit anyone with a similar experience of hanging out in 1962 with a certain up-and-coming band in Hamburg would have bragging rights over me, but it’s still a very cool story. Now if I could just find where my sister put that shirt…

Here’s a video of Journey performing Don’t Stop Believin’ during a sold-out area tours in the 1980’s.

To purchase Journey’s Greatest Hits with Don’t Stop Believin’ visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

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They say it’s your birthday (again)!!

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11885210_10206750047483724_1164378672389296806_n – Guess I should have saved my past birthday posts after the number of years writing The Classic Rocker. It would’ve been like another mini timeline of where, what and what the heck was I thinking! With today being this year’s birthday, here’s the experience (and it was a good one!)…

This really happened and even I wouldn’t dare make this one up.

Today is my birthday. Last night at 11:30 pm I’m standing in line to buy beer. No one in front of me was carded. I got to the counter and the guy asked for my ID. I told him I was “flattered” and it was my birthday.

I also checked to make sure there were no hidden cameras and I wasn’t being “punked.”

The guy said something about my hair (still got it!) and something else. I wasn’t really listening because I was pumped up and psyched-out about this newsworthy anti-aging event. I gave him my driver’s license.

Seriously – his eyes popped out and he goes, “Holy shit!!

He asked about health tips and I told him to only drink light beer. But then he rang up the beer and charged me for it?! I reminded him it was my birthday! He said I still had 30 minutes before the big day, so I (happily) paid up.

I’m good for another year… ha!!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

#221 – The Waiting

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#221 – The Waiting by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Heartbreakers

Waiting around & breaking hearts

– My apartment in New York City was eight blocks away from The Palladium on East 14th Street. It used to be named The Academy of Music and one of the venues promoter Sid Bernstein – yeah, the same Sid Bernstein who put The Beatles on stage in the middle of Shea Stadium in August 1965 – showcased many first wave acts of The British Invasion. Included in a long list are The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The KinksHerman’s Hermits and The Rolling Stones.

I remember a girl in my neighborhood who grew up in the area. I can’t think of her name and probably won’t remember until after I hit “publish” on this article. But she was about ten years older than us, so that would’ve put her in her mid-30’s.

I only mention the age factor because she was our local historian about The Palladium. As a teenager she had seen every “name” pop/rock act that had been a pin-up poster on her bedroom wall. It was easy for her since all she needed to do was walk a few blocks from her parent’s apartment and buy a ticket.

One night she showed me an 8×10 autographed photo of The Rolling Stones. It had to be from 1964 or ’65 and she told me about waiting for them outside the backstage door after a concert. Each had signed the photo and she wanted me to look closely at Brian Jones‘ autograph. We were doing this in the late 1970s or early 80’s and the guitar player had died in 1969. All the other autographs were dark and clear but Brian’s had faded away and was almost gone.

I only mention this because it was one of the many cool stories she had about our local rock hall. It always remained a bit of novelty because we didn’t hang around there all the time, but when a good act was at The Palladium it was only a short neighborhood walk to the box office… uh, I mean the backstage door.

East 14th St. Manhattan

East 14th St. Manhattan

My experiences at The Palladium were thanks to a very good friend who had been an “insider” member of the backstage crew. Thanks to Louie I could bypass the box office and go ticketless through the backstage door.

Louie was a LOT older than us, but never acted like it. As 20-somethings we would call him our “oldest friend” and believe me, it wasn’t a lie. He was the type of character you would be lucky to meet at least once in your life and proved to all of us on a regular basis that age was only a state of mind.

Louie had worked behind the scenes for Hollywood movies, Broadway shows and many live venues throughout Manhattan. One of them was The Academy of Music. Whenever I wanted to see a show, I just asked Louie. He’d make a quick phone call and give me a name to drop at the backstage entrance. I could always take a date (and I always did). After the lights would go down we’d slip through a door behind a curtain at the side of the stage and find a couple open seats.

Even if it was a sold-out show, like the night KISS introduced original drummer Peter Criss‘ replacement, Eric Carr and all 1,300 seats, which was a small venue for the stadium rockers, were filled. We still sat on the aisle steps in the mezzanine and no security chased us out thanks to my Louie connection. And believe me, in The Palladium even that was close to the stage. I remember Gene Simmons doing his fire-blowing routine and I swore I could feel my eyebrows being singed. I could hardly see Dick Clark and some of the other celebrities that were sitting in more comfortable balcony seats.

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In the late 1970’s and early 80’s I was trying to get a grip on the New York music scene. It was very different from my college days in Ohio just a few years earlier.

When I moved to Manhattan it was with boxes of LP’s by The Beatles, The Stones, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, BTO, ELO, CCR and other favorite rockers. But my first New York girlfriend had no problem making me feel ancient because of my musical tastes. To upgrade my status with her friends and other neighborhood music fans I was gifted with albums by The Cars, Blondie and Talking Heads. Okay, we all know they weren’t bad and have gone on to become worthy classic rockers on today’s airwaves, but to my ears in the late 70’s and early 80’s they weren’t really… well, rockers.

It was New Wave.

Punks waiting around

Punks waiting around

The punks were around also, like The Ramones at CBGB’s a few blocks south on The Bowery. But just walking by that club and taking in the street scene outside made me feel ancient. I didn’t realize the excitement I had missed not risking my life by going inside until picking up a Ramones greatest hits CD in the 1990’s.

And seeing them would’ve been just a short bus ride down Third Avenue from my apartment.

I’ll admit I missed more great shows at The Palladium than I saw. One of them was Meat Loaf. Louie happened to be hanging around backstage after his concert and told me later “Meat” was too out of shape to be a rock star. Between songs he would run off stage near where Louie was standing and suck on an oxygen tank to catch his breath. Louie told me he should spend his afternoons on a treadmill instead.

I also missed Van Halen and another group called The Cockroaches. The latter band was being hyped as a last minute schedule addition and tickets were only being sold on the day of the show. It was within a day or two of my birthday and as a present, my girlfriend was planning to spend $60 on a microphone. Though I never played The Palladium, I was performing on a regular basis with a pal doing a quasi-Everly Brothers / Simon and Garfunkel act in the smaller clubs in The Village. I always complained about the microphones, as Billy Joel sang in Piano Man, that they all “smelled like a beer.” So her idea was to give me my own mic to take to the clubs every night.

It was a great gift and one that lasted years. But on the other hand…

It turned out tickets for The Cockroaches were $30 each. That was a big chunk of change at that time and even though rumors were heavy it was actually a big-name group doing a small venue show instead of a stadium, she passed on the offer and took her $60 to a West 48th Street music store to buy a good microphone.

The Cockroaches turned out to be The Rolling Stones. Yeah, I know…

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After a couple of New York years maneuvering my ears around New Wave, punk and even a couple visits to disco-haven Studio 54 (another girlfriend’s bright idea), hearing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was a needed dose of rock energy. Damn The Torpedoes in 1979 was a great album and the song Refugee was definitely one that deserved to be “turned up loud.”

I only mention all this because sometime around 1980 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played The Palladium. I called Louie, made my connection and had a couple choice seats on the floor level. Their performance reminded me of what I really liked about rock music and they were the “new wave” of that scene. Their music seemed directly descended from The Beatles and The Byrds, with a healthy added dose of Southern Rock.

Tom Petty

The waiting was over!

The Waiting was on my waking mind on January 11th. It goes down on the Dream Song List as subliminal because I can’t remember the last time I’d heard it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the song. I do, but it just hadn’t turned up on my digital playlist in way too long.

I honestly don’t remember if they played The Waiting that night at The Palladium since it didn’t come out until 1981 and they had moved onto much bigger venues. Then again, maybe I’ll just start saying they did – what the heck. It’s quite possible the band may have been using smaller venues to premier or work on songs for their next LP, Hard Promises, like a lot of great rock acts would do before taking new material into a recording studio.

But when I hear Tom Petty I don’t think about his stadium tours, Rock Hall credentials or even as a member of the super group The Traveling Wilburys. I can go back in my mind to that smaller venue within walking distance of my apartment, going through the backstage door and slipping into empty seats after the lights went out. I also had a blast at a real rock show. It beat the heck out of disco mirrors, spiked hair and whatever punk and New Wave stuff that was happening down the street(s) from where I lived in Manhattan.

Check out Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “no frills” rock video for The Waiting.

To purchase Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits with The Waiting visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

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#222 – Happiness Is A Warm Gun

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#222 – Happiness Is A Warm Gun by The Beatles

Beatles 1968 – In 1968 FM radio was still a relatively new way to hear rock music. Before it was considered mainly talk/news radio and boomers had their ears glued to AM Top 40 local stations for the pop hits. Listening to FM was considered “progressive” and the first time we could hear deep album tracks over the airwaves. As a Midwestern teenager I wanted to hear the edgy new songs that I imagined were normal listening over the radio dials in San Francisco, New York and other out-of-my-broadcast-range rock music havens.

I’m pretty sure Happiness Is A Warm Gun was the first song I heard off The White Album.

There were no number one hit singles on this double album released by the one-time mop tops who had morphed into more mature and insightful songwriters. They had maintained their expected dominance at the top of the music charts that summer and early fall with the first release by Apple Records, Hey Jude b/w Revolution. Their first Apple 2xLP release was crammed with songs that were distant departures from what we had been hearing from the group only a few years earlier.

The White Album was released on Friday, November 22, 1968. Mentioning the same date in 1963 will bring back memories and images for boomers of President Kennedy and Dallas. It will always be an event during our lifetime where we immediately remember where we were when we heard the news.

November 22, 1963 was also the release date of the Beatles’ second UK album, With The Beatles.

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We went from watching JFK’s funeral on black and white television to hearing The White Album in only five years. The changes our generation experienced within that time span is not just astounding, but also mind-boggling.

I specifically remember that Friday in 1968. I was fifteen years old and still too young to have a driver’s license. And since I had a “late” summer birthday, that meant I was younger than many of my friends who had hit the age of sixteen and were independent from bicycles, chauffeuring parents, or begging rides from other friends. If I didn’t have someone picking me up to go out on a Friday night, I was stuck at home.

1.John_1Since my friends either had dates or were license-less like myself that Friday, I tuned in the FM radio. Actually, I had commandeered the radio from my grandmother when I realized my AM transistor model that had carried me through the mid-1960’s pop music explosion was no longer adequate for my maturing rock tastes. Fortunately, grandma was always happy to spoil me and never asked for its return. Unfortunately, it was available to me only because she had just moved near us during the 1967 summer riots in Detroit.

My grandfather had passed away unexpectedly about 15 years before, so she was on her own. Grandma worked in downtown Detroit and had a small apartment next to the Detroit River on Jefferson Avenue. She was a real “city girl” and didn’t own a car, so traveling was always by bus or taxi. But with rioters trying to burn down her city, the constant sirens and alarms, and armed police and troops stationed on the roof of her building and in the park next door where I played as a kid, she had no choice except to leave. The last time I checked her building for my own nostalgia a few years ago it still looked like a war zone.

I tuned her FM radio into WMMS in Cleveland. The station has gone down in rock history for being progressive and a launching pad for new artists in the 70’s and 80’s. But in 1968 it was still an experiment against the Top 40 format. It didn’t really mature into the popular Buzzard Radio (North Coast fans and rock historians know what I’m talking about) until a couple years later. So on November 22, 1968 you never really knew exactly what you would hear or even if the station would still be on the air.

George HarrisonAs a first generation fan I know a Beatles song when I hear one. That evening the deejay played Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Without even hearing the title or name of the group, it was obvious. John Lennon sang lead and the backing harmony by Paul McCartney and George Harrison (“Bang bang, shoot shoot“) was as distinctive as their answering vocals on Twist & Shout, You Can’t Do That, You’re Gonna Lose That Girl and plenty of others.

But it certainly didn’t sound like a song you’d hear from the Fab Four or the psychedelic Beatles. It was different and I had to have a copy. The deejay said the song was from their double album officially titled The Beatles (we hadn’t seen the “White” cover yet) and had been released that day.

So to raise the excitement another notch, I decided I had to have it that night.

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My first move was to call the record store at our nearest mall, which was about half an hour away. Yes – they had it in stock. Second step was to find someone to drive me before it was sold-out (always a concern with new Beatles albums). Since my friends armed with driver’s licenses were too popular to sit home on a Friday night without a date and wouldn’t consider me as a third wheel riding in the back seat, I was shut down big time. Finally, after what was undoubtedly one of my best long-running performances as an annoyance factor, my mom gave in. She would drive me to the mall and wait in the car while I ran in and bought the album – with my own money, of course.

So on the first day of its release, I spent Friday night at home listening to The White Album as many times as possible. And with 30 songs it took a big chunk of time just to listen to it once all the way through.

Ringo StarrIn my opinion, Hey Jude, Revolution and The White Album introduced us to the final chapter of the Beatles. This was as big a gap between Sgt. Pepper as Sgt. Pepper was from I Want To Hold Your Hand. Happiness Is A Warm Gun is a great example of the differences. I’ve read too many supposed insightful interpretations about what Lennon was singing about including drugs, lust, meditation and other personal events at the time (he had left wife Cynthia for Yoko Ono that year). But in an interview he said it was based on a magazine cover shown to him by producer George Martin.

It was a play on the popular Charlie Brown cartoon and his dog Snoopy.

Happiness is a warm puppy.

Turning the subject to a warm gun – meaning someone had just shot something – was a twist of sick humor. That was just the type of thing that would inspire Lennon, who also had a sense of humor that wouldn’t exactly be considered politically correct today.

I woke up with Happiness Is A Warm Gun twisting through my mind on the morning of January 1st – New Year’s Day. I’d like to claim the sound of popping fireworks from celebrating the night before were an influence, but that’s not the case. The song is still a regular on my digital playlist and stayed with me after hearing it the day before. There was nothing subliminal about this Dream Song memory.

Paul McCartneyAs mentioned, it took a good chunk of time to listen to the two LPs all the way through. Plus we had to hear it a few times before learning we could pick up the stereo needle to skip over Revolution 9 and know we weren’t missing anything. It’s a classic album even though some music critics and even producer George Martin said it could have been cut down to make one fantastic single album. But as boomers know, it wouldn’t have been the same.

As Paul McCartney said in The Beatles Anthology

“It’s great, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles ‘White Album’ – shut up!”

As mentioned, there were no hit singles off The White Album. That means there were also no promotional videos. I looked on YouTube for anything – outtakes, bootlegs, whatever – for an audio of Happiness Is A Warm Gun but found nothing I would even consider posting with this Dream Song listing. And even though there are many fans of the movie Across The Universe and there is a video of that version… Well sorry, it ain’t The Beatles.

To purchase The White Album visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

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For your next event make the ’60’s FAB!

Beatles Program

For details visit BeatlesProgram.com