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9 Things You Probably Don't Know About The Beatles

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Today is 09/09/09, and you know what that means!

The big Beatles: Rock Band release. (GET IT? Number 9, number 9, number 9...) To get you in the mood, here are 9 rather obscure facts about those four lads from Liverpool that we bet you don't know. (Nein?)

1. Before Lennon/McCartney there was McCartney/Lennon

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If you pick up a Beatles album today, you'll notice the songs are credited to Lennon-McCartney, in alphabetical order, thanks to a longstanding agreement between the two songwriters whereby each would get full credit no matter who came up with the tune or lyric first. But this alphabetical listing was not always the case. The credits on their first album, Please Please Me, list the eight original compositions to McCartney-Lennon. One reason for this could be that Paul McCartney wrote "P.S. I Love You" and "Love Me Do," the first two songs on the album. The McCartney-Lennon credit would appear twice more on McCartney's 1976 live album, Wings Over America, and once again on 2002's Back in the U.S., albeit much to Yoko Ono's disapproval.

2. The Ed Sullivan Show was not The Beatles' American TV debut

Picture 2For that matter, CBS can't really claim bragging rights, NBC can. Yes, it's true: NBC scooped CBS, as The Beatles made their American television debut on NBC's evening news show, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, not The Ed Sullivan Show, nor Walter Cronkite's evening news. Although virtually unknown in America at the time, the band was causing mass hysteria in England and all three U.S. television networks sent camera crews to film their November 16, 1963, concert in Bournemouth. NBC used the footage in a four-minute segment on November 18th, but CBS waited until November 22nd to air the story during its morning newscast with Mike Wallace. The network planned to air the story on its evening newscast as well, but just hours after the Beatles story was broadcast, Walter Cronkite broke the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. On December 10th, Cronkite aired the Beatles segment during prime-time, which set into motion the Beatlemania that culminated with their February 1964 performances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

3. Eric Clapton almost replaced George

zap_claptonAnd then there were three... For five days in January of 1969, the Fab Four were a lonesome trio. George Harrison, the "quiet Beatle," as the media called him, decided to bow out after months of personal differences with his fellow bandmates. A serious songwriter who penned classics like "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," Harrison felt he was being ignored by Lennon and McCartney, who played his tunes with little enthusiasm. On January 10, 1969, Harrison finally had enough and quit the band. His announcement caused John Lennon to quip, "If he doesn't come back by Tuesday, we get Eric Clapton." Harrison, of course, came to his senses, and returned to the band on January 15th, allowing The Beatles to move forward with their recording of a little-know album called Abbey Road.

4. The initial album cover for Yesterday and Today was banned

602px-The_Beatles_-_Butcher_CoverThe Beatles' tenth Capitol album was unique not only for its rare mixes of tracks from Rubber Soul and Help, but for its controversial "butcher" cover. The original album artwork featured the four smiling members of the band dressed in white butchers' overalls covered with mutilated plastic baby dolls and slabs of raw meat. Original copies of the "butcher" cover were eventually pulled and replaced with a more fan-friendly photograph of the band. It was rumored that the Yesterday and Today cover was a response to the way Capitol Records had "butchered" their previous albums. Today, copies of the original album cover are in high demand and have been sold for as high as $10,500 at auction.

5. "She Said She Said" was inspired by an LSD trip with Peter Fonda

During a break from their American tour in late August 1965, The Beatles rented a house in Beverly Hills. Although the Spanish-style mansion was hidden from plain view, their address eventually became public knowledge and the LAPD had to be called in to ward off eager fans. Since it was impossible to leave home, the Beatles played host to dozens of musicians and actors, including the then-unknown Peter Fonda. The entire band, excluding Paul McCartney, dropped acid with Fonda. According to Lennon, the drug-induced Fonda kept telling the band, "I know what it's like to be dead" and "You're making me feel like I've never been born." Lennon would later use both phrases in the lyrics to "She Said She Said."

6. Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana

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It was Bob Dylan who introduced the Beatles to marijuana at the Delmonico Hotel in New York on August 28, 1964. The boys knew Dylan from a mutual friend and just assumed John, Ringo, Paul and George had smoked before, given their "I get high" lyrics in "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Dylan was unaware that the lyrics are actually "I can't hide," and was later informed that none of the Beatles had ever smoked marijuana. Guess Bob thought it was high time to change all that.

7. Paul McCartney met Yoko Ono before John did

Yoko Ono claims to have been introduced to John Lennon by a mutual friend at her November 9, 1966, art exhibit in London. According to Yoko, she had never heard of the Beatles and had to be told who John Lennon was. However, Paul McCartney, likes to tell a different story about how she and John met. It was late 1965 and Yoko had knocked on Sir Paul's door. She was helping John Cage, a personal friend of McCartney's, with a book he was working on, and wanted to include some of the Beatles' work. Paul declined her offer, but suggested that she see Lennon. Yoko took Paul's advice and Lennon wound up giving her the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word" from Rubber Soul. The lyrics were later reproduced in Cage's book Notations.

8. Yes, there was a "Fifth Beatle," and he was the inspiration for their mop tops

Picture 3The "Fifth Beatle" has become synonymous with people who were at one time closely associated with the Fab Four. But for fifteen months in the early 1960s The Beatles were, in fact, a quintet. Stuart Sutcliffe, an abstract painter and art school buddy of John Lennon's, was the original bassist for the band during their heady Hamburg days. Paul McCartney never thought Sutcliffe was talented enough (read: Paul was envious of Sutcliffe and Lennon's friendship). Although it was Sutcliffe and Lennon who named the band The Beatles (they were both fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets), Sutcliffe eventually left the band in August 1961 to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. The "Fifth Beatle" never lived long enough to see his former bandmates become an international success—he died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. Sutcliffe's tenure with the band, albeit brief, had a lasting effect on their image. He was the first to wear the famous "mop top" hairstyle, which Lennon and The Beatles adopted in Sutcliffe's honor shortly after his death. (In the photo, Sutcliffe is at the far right. Notice the band's original drummer, Pete Best. Ringo would not join the band until August of 1962.)

9. Let It Be was not their last album

Although it was released in 1970, a year after Abbey Road, Let It Be was actually recorded in early 1969, making it officially their penultimate album. Originally conceived as a back-to-roots record entitled Get Back, the band was unhappy with the version mixed by producer Glyn Johns and temporarily shelved the album to work on Abbey Road. After the success of Abbey Road, studio tapes from the Get Back sessions were given to the legendary Phil Spector. Spector created a new version of the album and finally released it as Let It Be in 1970. McCartney was upset with the finished copy, particularly Spector's mix of "The Long and Winding Road," which Paul had originally conceived as a spare piano ballad. It was the beginning of the end for The Beatles and the band broke up shortly before the album's release. In 2003, a new version of the album, titled Let It Be"¦ Naked was released. According to McCartney, the album's stripped down sound was what he had originally intended for the album.

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5 Legendary Keyboards (and the Songs They Made Famous)
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[This post was originally published on August 4th, 2008]

These days, there's no distinguishing one keyboard from the next because all they really do is act as computer trigger devices. But in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even the early 90s, keyboards and their manufacturers were known for signature sounds. Here are five of my favorites:

1. The Mellotron

Though not nearly as famous as the others on this little list, the Mellotron is perhaps the coolest keyboard ever invented. Like our modern-day keyboard controllers that trigger computer samples, the Mellotron was really nothing more than a sample trigger-er, too. But because it was invented in the early 60s, the samples were actual tape loops! By depressing a key, a keyboardist was putting a tape of, say, a choir, or a violin section into motion on that particular pitch. So each of the 35 keys had its own, distinct, 8-second tape loop ready to play in the belly of the keyboard. Mellotrons never really caught on, though, because they were a) always breaking down, and b) the tapes, just like cassette tapes, lost their edge over time. Imagine playing an 8-second cassette tape over and over in a loop for hours on end. Think about how quickly scratches and hiss would take over.

But it was and still is one of the most musical of all early keyboards. Its sound is unmistakable, heard here on the two very famous excerpts below.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" by the Beatles. (The opening flute quartet is classic Mellotron at its best.)



"Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues. (Those lush strings aren't real! Well, technically they are, but as sampled and played back on the Mellotron.)



Be sure to check out "And You and I" by Yes, as well as "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin for more great Mellotron.

2. The Hammond Organ

HammondB3.jpgOriginally intended for churches, the Hammond line of organs, invented by Laurens Hammond in 1934 and manufactured by his Hammond Organ Company, became very popular in the 60s and 70s with rock and blues bands, especially the Hammond B3, pictured here. Whether you know the Hammond or not, you definitely know its legendary sound. Check out the examples I've picked here and revel in that "a-ha moment."

"Amsterdam," by Coldplay "“ One of my favorite songs by Coldplay. Listen how the Hammond coming in under the piano just opens the whole song up and takes it to another level.



Ah, yes: "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum. Can you imagine how different the song would feel if the chord progression and tune were plucked out on, say, a piano?



The Hammond completely defines this great Steve Winwood song, "Gimme Some Lovin":



3. The Minimoog

Minimoog.JPGA lot has been written about Bob Moog and his Moog Music empire. One cool fact, which often gets forgotten, is that the Minimoog is actually monophonic, which means it can only play one note at a time. You can't even play a simple C major chord on the Minimoog, let alone accompany yourself with the left hand plucking out a bass line on the lower part of the 44-key synth. It's also one of the first keyboards to feature the now ubiquitous modulation and pitch-bend wheels.

One of my favorite examples of the classic Minimoog is the following solo in Pink Floyd's song "Shine on You Crazy Diamond."



4. The Synclavier

synclavier.jpgAlong with the Fairlight synthesizer, the Synclavier, made by New England Digital in 1975, was one of the very first keyboards that allowed musicians to sample sounds and store them in on-board computers. In fact, if you're an old fart like me, you might remember Stevie Wonder showing off this very sampling ability on his Synclavier in an episode of The Cosby Show (the one where the kids get into a car accident with him).

One really amazing thing about the Synclavier, other than its ability to sample the human voice or anything within a microphone's range, was its amazingly high sticker price. Costing upwards of a quarter of a million dollars (much less than the price of my parent's 3-bedroom apartment in Center City Philadelphia purchased around the same time), some Synclaviers even fetched closer to half-a-million.

Other noteworthy facts about the Synclavier: It was created at Dartmouth College by the team of: Sydney Alonso, who developed the hardware designs, Cameron Jones, who developed the software, and Dartmouth faculty member and composer Jon Appleton, a musical advisor to the project.
Other than the Cosby episode, which I can't find on YouTube, if you'd like to hear the Synclavier in action, check out one of the most famous samples in music history below (the gong at the beginning of "Beat It," by Michael Jackson):



5. The Fender Rhodes

rhodes.jpgAll I have to say is: the theme song from Taxi, and you should instantly know the sound of the Fender Rhodes. Ubiquitous throughout the 70s and 80s in dozens of maudlin ballads (which we'll sample momentarily), the Rhodes is named for its inventor, Harold Rhodes, who was a piano teacher before joining the Army Air Corps during WWII. It was there that he was asked to provide musical therapy, bedside, for the wounded and wound up inventing a small keyboard using aluminum pipes from the wings of B-17 bombers.

The pipes created such a pleasing sound, and Rhodes' therapy sessions became so well-known, he received the Medal of Honor after the war. Soon he was manufacturing a larger version, and, over time, new, improved versions. Eventually, the Rhodes was bought out by Fender, which is why people forever call it the Fender Rhodes.

In addition to the below clips, the Rhodes can be heard up and down Chick Corea's Light as a Feather, Miles Davis' In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, as well as on most of Weather Report's albums and Herbie Hancock's, too. It was a jazz-fusion staple for a couple decades there.

"Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel



"Angela (Theme from 'Taxi')" by Bob James



Ed note: The gorgeous Stevie Wonder keyboard pic (on the homepage) is by Al Satterwhite, via kalamu.

Check out past On Music posts here >>

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Shazam, Shlemiel, Shlimazel
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I've used Shazam on and off over the years to I.D. songs I either forgot the names of or just never knew. But the real test of any music recognition software is whether or not it can tell me what's playing on a classical music station. This is where you really need the app to come through because, let's face it, it could be 30 minutes or more before the piece ends and the radio announcer comes back on to tell you. Sadly, every time I've tried, the app has come up empty. I've even tested it with well-known pieces, like Barber's Adagio for Strings. Instead of coming back with at least "The theme from Platoon," Shazam says the piece is "unrecognized." What would Samuel Barber say?

Deciphering classical music presents a lot of challenges. For starters, recordings are indistinguishable when you're talking about a 12-second sample size. For example, there are more than 200 recordings of Beethoven's 5th Symphony! Not quite like learning the beat of a B52s song, is it?

Tempi vary wildly from recording to recording and, as I understand it, it's the tempo/beat mapping that Shazam is really working off of. But technology will improve, rest assured. The Shazams of the future will surely be able to not only distinguish between Mozart's Requiem and Berlioz's Requiem, but the hundreds of recordings of each. Until then, well, I guess the beat goes on...

Have any funny or interesting experiences with music recognition software? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out all the ON MUSIC posts here.

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