5. Ela Minus – they told us it was hard, but they were wrong (Song): Originally I had this all teed up to be in my top 10 songs of the year then discovered it came out in 2020. This has all the good things we appreciate in a dance track – dark, moody, mysterious, atmospheric, incessant beat, buried vocals, etc. The Brooklyn based Colombian, knocked us out with one of our favourite tracks that we heard in 2021.
4. The Tragically Hip – Saskadelphia (EP): Growing up as a teenager in Canada in the early 90s it was practically a prerequisite to like The Tragically Hip. They are not a band I normally put on the stereo as their music is ubiquitous around these parts but when they released this EP of music recorded around the time of the Road Apples album, I was all in. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to hear them until I did. Another great entry into their legacy and hopefully not the last.
3. Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff (Live at Lollapalooza 2021) (Song) : I was never a Limp Bizkit fan, not even as a guilty pleasure. This video appeared soon after the heavy handed Woodstock 99 documentary that cast the band as having ruined the hippie esthetic. Looking like your dad (if he was one of the Beastie Boys), singer Fred Durst was in fine form by making fun of the documentary before tearing up the crowd. The music seems better with humour and nostalgia than it did in the late 90s as a lifestyle.
2. Oasis – Knebworth 1996 (2CD + Documentary): 25 years on from the legendary Knebworth weekend; the band released a documentary, concert films of both nights, and an album. Mainly featuring tracks from the first two albums + B-sides, the performance catches the band at their peak. The documentary starts off a bit slow but continues to build with each song with one highlight being John Squire joining the lads for a guitar solo on “Champagne Supernova”. Acting in stark contrast to the Woodstock 99 doc, this was all peace and love with plenty of cigarettes and alcohol.
1. The Beatles – Let It Be/Get Back (2CD edition + Documentary) – One of the most anticipated releases of the year was Peter Jackson’s extraordinary Get Back documentary on The Beatles making of the Let It Be album and sessions leading up to the famous rooftop concert. Remarkable to see classic songs written in just a few weeks with the highlight being Paul McCartney creating “Get Back” on the spot. While the Let It Be album is the lesser of the last few releases by the band, the second disc of alternative takes were helluva lot of fun to listen to and explore. Much more to be heard for those willing to spend the extra cash on the super deluxe edition.
Arguably, The Beatles’ Let It Be album released in 1970, is the fab four’s most controversial album. Recorded before Abbey Road but released after, it has long been associated with the documentary of the same name that filmed the fraught recording sessions that did not depict John/Paul/George/Ringo as the close knit group many assumed. Eventually, the tapes were left for Phil Spector to sort out which caused another storm in the group when orchestras and choirs were added to several backing tracks which niggled at Paul McCartney for so long that he eventually released Let It Be… Naked in 2003. Starting in 2017 with the Sgt Pepper album, Giles Martin has been reworking the last albums by The Beatles in newly mixed stereo editions tied in with unreleased alternative takes.
Musically, the songs on Let It Be are a curious bunch. The album contains three massive singles and another one of their most famous songs. The most famous single is the iconic McCartney sung title track that appeared to him in a dream about his long deceased mother. Strong in religious overtones, it is hard not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the track that seems much longer than it’s 4 minutes. Influenced by transcendental meditation, Lennon’s “Across The Universe” is reportedly one of his proudest lyrics that get amplified by the celestial strings and choirs. Starting off with “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”, the track adds the sung mantra “Jai Guru Deva, Om” before the famous “nothing’s gonna change my world” line that gets repeated several times.
The final track of the album is “Get Back”, a worldwide #1 single that grew out of a jam session. The song is carried by Ringo Starr’s chugging rhythm, some fine lead guitar playing from Lennon, and Billy Preston’s swinging Rhodes piano solo that is one of the most memorable moments on the album. To the hardcore fans, the single that is most remembered as one of the main arguments of latter day Beatles is McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road”. With the tapes left behind for Spector, he adds his wall of sound to Macca’s simple tune. While it does add a whole lot of orchestral gloss to the song, it also likely made it accessible to the older generation pushing the song to #1 in North America and acts as a wistful final moment for the band that would soon break-up.
The rest of Let It Be is more of a hodgepodge of tracks including “Dig It” and the folk song “Maggie Mae” that both clock in at under a minute each. Neither of George Harrison’s tracks are his best but “I Me Mine” focuses on egos which is an interesting comment in the shadow from the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney. “For Blue” is a fine bit of blues rock that gets lost between the orchestral flourishes of “The Long and Winding Road” and one of the band’s finest rock songs, “Get Back”.
The album tracks that do stand out include the first track, “Two of Us”. Seeing the band get back to it’s roots of Lennon/McCartney duetting into the same microphone, the track is reportedly about Macca and wife Linda but could easily be associated with his relationship with Lennon. As internal tenstions rise in the band, it’s hard not to hear their relationship laid bare in the lyrics, “you and me chasing paper, getting nowhere/on our way back home…. You and I have memories/longer than the road that stretches out ahead”. “I’ve Got a Feeling” uses tidbits of three different tracks that come together to form a belter, with Macca sounding like a preacher on the opening lyric and Lennon singing that “everybody had a good year”.
As it is, Let It Be is hodge podge of smash hit singles, a few good tunes, and several forgettable ones. It’s regrettable that this is the final statement from the greatest band of all time in that they released an album that feels mostly thrown together with a lack of flow in several spots. Still, it’s hard to dismiss an album with four of the band’s most memorable tracks. While Let It Be is a hard album to love, it’s also one that does surprise in certain spots with a few fine performances.
The two disc edition adds a second disc of alternative takes from the sessions and oddly enough, sounds like the more cohesive album. Stripped of the controversary and aura of the released album, the alternative takes sounds like a legendary band playing a few great songs together. Highlights include the chatter before Macca belts out “Let It Be” and a version of “The Long and Winding Road” that leaves off the Spector overdubs. “Across the Universe” appears in a Glyn Johns 1970 mix that also leaves out the gloss while “Don’t Let Me Down”, that was inexplicably left off the album, shows up in the version from the famous rooftop performance. The album tracks have a looser feel with “For You Blue” appearing earlier and fits in better with the tracks surrounding it. There is a joy on disc two’s performances that really carry it as a standalone product and one that is a helluva lot of fun to listen to.
Let It Be – 9/10
Let It Be Outtakes – 9.5/10
The Beatles along with Giles Martin (and Sam Okell), continue their 50th Anniversary releases with iconic Abbey Road having issued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (aka The White Album) in recent years. As with those releases, we have forgone the $130 CDN super deluxe edition and put our hard-earned money down on the 2-disc collection that has the remixed version on disc 1 and outtakes on disc 2.
The first side of Abbey Road veers from darker blues of the John Lennon tracks and harder rock songs to some of their most celebrated pop songs. Album opener “Come Together” is best remembered for its psychedelic lyrics about “ju ju eyeballs” and “got to be good looking cause he’s so hard to see”. The eight minute “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” mostly repeats the title of the song with a few added lyrics in mantra like fashion with various shades of affection and guitar effect.
McCartney takes over and shreds his vocals on “Oh! Darling” but also offers the much maligned “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. Similar to the charming “When I’m 64” from Sgt Pepper’s, this is a bridge too far with what Lennon called Macca’s “Granny music”. Ringo Starr’s solo composition “Octopus’s Garden” is a fine slice of childlike whimsey. “No one there to tell us what to do” is sure to appeal to the youngest of Beatles fans and a reason why they are beloved by both the young and the old.
The two big highlights come from George Harrison. “Something” is a traditional love song wrapped up in dreamy psychedelia. Harrison pleads “You’re asking me will my love grow, I don’t know, I don’t know” over a nice bit of Ringo drumming. Side two starts with “Here Comes the Sun”, a song that floats in on a cloud after the heaviness of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”
The next several tracks up the ante on Abbey Road. The palette cleanser of “Because” leads into “You Never Give Me Your Money”, the song that opens the medley of eight tracks all strung together. Starting with just McCartney with his piano it goes into a bit of old timey piano. “Sun King” is awash in a sunlit haze whereas “Mean Mr. Mustard” is more upbeat and introduces us to raucous garage rocker “Polythene Pam”. “She said she’s always been a dancer” is a lyrical highlight of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” before McCartney belts out the chorus to “Golden Slumbers” that magically spins on a dime to the thundering drums of “Carry That Weight”. “The End” rocks out with a guitar line later lifted by The Beastie Boys but also offers the classic line “the love you take is equal to the love you make” before a few moments of silence…. Then the lite ditty “Her Majesty” appears and secretly gets into your head for days.
As a whole, the first half of Abbey Road is very good rock record with a few ebbs and flows. What lifts it to greatness is the suite of songs on side two that don’t really sound like they should go together but are strung together so magnificently that it sounds like they were born as one. It’s hard to have hands type fast enough while exhilarating “The End” plays.
Unlike the anniversary editions for Sgt Pepper’s and The Beatles, the outtakes on Abbey Road don’t feel as essential. The drums and a big fat bass are pushed to the forefront on “Here Comes the Sun” and there is a rawer vocal on “Come Together”. The studio demo of “Something” with a prominent piano and more ragged vocal is really interesting but the outtake of “Octopus’s Garden” falls apart in under two minutes. There is simply no need to hear “Maxwell Silver Hammer” or “She’s So Heavy” in outtake form. An instrumental version of “Because” is pleasant but the outtakes of the suite of songs that make Abbey Road great just don’t live up anywhere near to the final product.
Abbey Road – 10/10
Abbey Road Outtakes – 7/10
Following up last year’s ecstatically received Sgt Pepper remix, The Beatles camp released their s/t 1968 double White Album also in remix form from Giles Martin. In mid-November the Celebration Rock podcast debated what tracks they would include if they cut The White Album down to just a single disc and neither host was happy with their choices. The sprawling double album has many hits, several misses and a few redundant tracks but without them all, somehow it doesn’t hang together as well.
On the new remix, tracks that in the past were easier to skip (to these ears) now have a new groove. “Glass Onion” has always been one of my least favourite later day Beatles tracks but here the background atmospherics are brought out to the forefront to add to the madness. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” greatly benefits from a more exhilarating chorus. “Wild Honey Pie” on the other hand is still completely unlistenable.
On the second side, “Yer Blues” has John Lennon really going for it in the vocal but “Cry Baby Cry” all the way on side four is the better of the two. The latter appears before the cut and paste “Revolution 9” that could have been cut out altogether. Ignoring the hits spread across the album (“Back In the USSR”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), the underlining memory of The White Album is that it’s challenging but going back and hearing it, many of the tracks are just terrific. Paul McCartney’s “I Will” is a pleasant pop song before Lennon’s “Julia” that is utterly beautiful.
Two of Lennon’s best album tracks appear here with “Dear Prudence” and the drowsy “I’m So Tired”. Non-singles “Birthday” is familiar to anyone who’s ever heard FM radio in their lives and vocal shredder “Helter Skelter” is a big part of late 60s dark crime wave. Everyone will have their random favourites with this writer’s being the jaunty Ringo Starr lead “Don’t Pass Me By” and the “Good Night” album closer that saw The Smashing Pumpkins Melon Collie years in the future.
On the three disc edition, the third disc is devoted to the famous Esher demos recorded at George Harrison’s home. A generous 27 tracks in acoustic form. The version of “Back In the USSR” with the double tracked vocals is superb, great musicians just banging around. “Mother Nature’s Son” sounds great and “Honey Pie” finds a new home as a campfire singalong. A few Harrison tracks appear such as the organ accompanied “Circles”, the angry “Not Guilty”, and “Sour Milk Sea”. Two Abby Road tracks also pop up in demo form – “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam”. Not really a disc to listen to all in one sitting but fascinating to jump around and discover different tracks. The six disc super deluxe edition offers a deeper dive into the valley of the White Album.
The White Album – 10/10
Esher Demos – 8/10