Introducing…

On December 10th 1964 Beatles fans across America were treated to the first long playing album of the The Fab Four in this country:

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No not that one! That one would come out ten days later. This album, Introducing… The Beatles (England’s No.1  Vocal Group) was rushed out by Chicago record label Vee-Jay, launching a months long soap opera of legal wrangling, backroom deals and giving birth to an underground counterfeit operation that lasted well into the 70s.

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The story goes like this: The Beatles recording company, EMI, had a top 20 hit in the UK with the song Love Me Do. But British acts weren’t selling outside of Great Britain. EMI subsidiaries (like Capital Records in the US), downright refused to issue these Beatles singles in the States.

Another EMI affiliate started shopping The Beatles around to other US record companies. Several labels passed before Vee-Jay records, known mostly for their R&B and gospel lineup, signed the deal.

Ironically, The Beatles were tacked on to the deal that Vee-Jay really wanted. There was a singer named Frank Ifield who Vee-Jay wanted to release in the US and the EMI deal made them except the Beatles as well.

Vee-Jay received both stereo and mono master tapes from the current UK Beatles album Please Please Me. Rather than  just issue the Please Please Me album, Vee-Jay released several Beatles singles in 1963… but none of them got any real traction on the charts.

Vee-Jay eventually settled on the track listing that became Introducing… and begin preparations for a July 1963 release of the LP.

Also during this time, Vee-Jay’s president got into some gambling debt and started pilfering money from the label to cover those. This threw the operation into turmoil and some shady business practices on the part of Vee-Jay got them into some trouble with the EMI and their contract was deemed null and void.

With the popularity of The Beatles now growing worldwide, Capitol Records decided it was time to jump on The Beatles band wagon. Capital announced plans to  release a Beatles album,  sponsor an advertising Blitz  to herald Beatlemania into the States and The Beatles  got a booking on The Ed Sullivan Show for February 1964. Vee-Jay, strapped for cash but sitting on this treasure trove of Beatles material in its vault, decided to rush out their album Introducing… just edging out the official Capital release of Meet The Beatles.

Within days Vee-Jay had ordered all three of its processing plants to start pressing the Introducing… album. Even though the pressing masters were assembled and the front cover was ready, Vee-Jay had not decided on a back cover for the album. They got around this problem by first duplicating the inner sleeve on the outer cover and, when those ran out, just printing a plain white rear cover with nothing on it! Finally official rear cover was designed and produced. It was just simple white with two columns of black text identifying the songs on the record.

Less than a week after Vee-Jay released Introducing… they were served with a restraining order. It seems that in their haste to capitalize on the latest Beatles hit, Love Me Do, they included that song and its B-side, PS I Love You, on initial runs of Introducing…, two songs did not have the rights to!

A version 2 was developed, replacing the two songs with Ask Me Why and Please Please Me, which they had already released as singles.

The legal battles continued through most of 1964, with restraining orders and injunctions issued by Capital, counter suits by Vee-Jay, and Vee-Jay furiously printing records in the lull periods to get around these legal problems.

Finally a settlement was reached in which Vee-Jay could issue any of the Beatles songs under its control in any way they saw fit into October 1964 at which point Capitol Records would regain control.

All these shenanigans amounted to lax consistency standards at dozens of pressing/printing plants resulting in numerous different label configurations on Introducing…

All together, it is estimated that there were just over 1.3 million copies of Introducing… released by Vee-Jay. The vast majority of these were in the monophonic format with less than 50,000 stereophonic copies printed and sold. The scarcity of original pressing of this album made it a ripe target for counterfeiters trying to make a fast buck on record collectors.

As early as the late 60s, counterfeit copies of Introducing… were showing up on the market. Most were fakes of the rare stereo version first pressing which included the songs Love Me Do and PS I Love You. This counterfeiting went on through the 70s, purportedly with mob connections attached. It is estimated that Introducing… was counterfeited millions of times over the years. Some estimates I’ve seen believe that there are at least 10 fakes on the market for every legit copy.

There were several “tells” that an astute observer could look for to separate the fakes from the real deal.

Originals had covers with glossy paper both front and back. The printing was sharp and clear and the sleeves were grey or brown cardboard with quarter-inch flaps holding the back side to the front side. The front cover photo had a shadow of George in the background on the right side of the record. Counterfeit versions often had blotchy printing on the rear cover, especially in the word “Honey” in the song title for A Taste Of Honey.

Label variations and disc printing of the vinyl record itself was even more telling. The album title “Introducing the Beatles” and the artist “The Beatles” both have to appear above spindle hole. If the title and artist are separated by the spindle hole, your record is a fake. Labels needed to be gloss or semi-gloss with rainbow colored bands and bright sharp silver print. The color band is especially important as many fakes have it ragged, offset or forgetting the color green all together. The dead wax of all originals is 1 inch or less in thickness, many counterfeits had more than 1 inch thick dead wax. Also in the dead wax were matrix numbers both scribed and machine stamped on originals where as counterfeits don’t have any machine stamping.

Finally, the biggest tell of all was in listening to the record. Due to the fact that the stereo version was most rare, most counterfeits pretend to be the stereo version. If your record does not say stereo on the label or does not play in stereo when the cover purports to be a stereo record, it is fake. Finally, an original is a pretty good sounding record! (even better than the corresponding Capital releases) The fakes I’ve heard sound like poo!

I have two copies of this album in the collection, one real stereo version and one awesome counterfeit. Can you tell the difference?

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Front covers

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Rear covers

There are many other variations too including some black label pressings.

The best of source I’ve found for identifying Introducing… the Beatles is this awesome site: http://rarebeatles.com/photospg/introvj.htm

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Cirque du So-Love

I had previously written a post about the remixed remastered reimagined versions of Beatles songs that were the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil production of Love.

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My wife had seen the production on a previous trip to Las Vegas. She had never really been a Beatles fan, but came back singing the praises of both the show and the music.

We recently had occasion, owing to a family wedding, to visit Las Vegas and Love was on our to-do list.

The specialty theater was near capacity on the Thursday evening we visited the Mirage casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sheer curtains trisected the stage and cables, ropes and ladders hung ominously over the black void just one row and one isle away.

Incidental music, while people were coming and going toward their seats, was familiar Beatles, but in instrumental form. The ushers expertly guided lost zombies to their proper rows, the lights dimmed and the fog machines started running full tilt. Characters emerged from somewhere off stage and hastened us all to welcome the production.

As the lights came down the experience begins with the familiar tones of the song Because. Actually it was just the familiar and lyrics, these were stripped bare of the music we’d all been accustomed to and really set the stage for the remainder of the production.

For the next 90 minutes dancers, acrobats, magicians and contortionists filled the stage, and the sky above, with one interpretation after another the 60s seen through the lens of this reimagined Beatles music.

As a Beatles fan, it was fun to try to pick out characters from their songs and other more obscure references about the band in the production. Of course Sergeant Pepper played a recurring role, as did Father McKenzie, the girl from She’s Leaving Home, Eleanor Rigby and Jude.

Many of the props reflected icons from the Beatle years, especially prominent items and characters from Yellow Submarine. Several Volkswagen Beetles were featured and at least one had a license plate that read LMW 28IF.

The show was fantastic and these little details made it especially thrilling for a Beatles fan. If I had it to do over again I think I would try to relax a little bit and not attempt to be a know-it-all… a Beatles who’s who scorekeeper as the thing was going on. There was a certain Wizard of Oz, pull the curtain back, attempt on my part, just trying to figure out how everything worked. It was a little like going to a magic show and trying to decipher the illusion rather than letting yourself get caught up in the moment.

In doing so I totally missed some of the more subtle experiences; the bubbles used in the Strawberry Fields segment smelled like strawberry for instance…

The bottom line is I would highly recommend this show to anyone who happens to find themselves in Las Vegas. Love has been presented in this theater twice a night for over 10 years now… who knows how much longer it will be in production?

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Ps… while in the Las Vegas area, armed with a car and some time on my hands, I hit up a few thrift stores looking for vintage vinyl. I managed to score a couple dozen mid fifties to early sixties Jazz records. I’ll likely blog about the cream-of-the-crop some other time but had an interesting experience with our TSA security trying to get them home. I got pulled out of security line and had to explain the odd image on the X-ray machine in my carry-on bag:

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Lucky for me the TSA agent was an old guy so he knew what a vinyl record actually was!

Ticket To Ride

Today marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles final ticketed live performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

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Although it doesn’t seem like it was predestined to be the end, the trials and tribulations of their 1966 tour took such a toll that the group decided unanimously to stop “the madness”.

Although there are bootlegs out there of the Candlestick Park concert, the only live Beatles have is the 1977 release the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. Selections off of this album were recorded in August 64 and August 65 at the iconic Amphitheater.

I have two copies of this album, both received as gifts.

My first copy was given to me by my friend Tiny (who is actually and above average size human being). My best friend in high school, Tiny and I went to Hawaii as two 18 year olds on a post High School fling before my enlistment in the Air Force. Less than 12 hours after arriving in Honolulu my appendix ruptured and I spent whole vacation in the hospital. Tiny was on his own until my parents arrived to take care of me and keep him company. He managed to find a used record store somewhere in town and got me this copy of at the Hollywood Bowl to try and lift my spirits.

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The second copy was given to me by my friend Chris. His father, Bill, was a music aficionado and had a great record collection. Several years after Bill died in a tragic accident, Chris inherited his father’s record collection and, in a stunning act of generosity I still can’t get over, turned them over to me! Bill’s copy is an oddball pressing from Uruguay.

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So tonight I’m going to kick back and listen to both copies of The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ll remember the kindness of friends and think about how lucky all those 40-some-thousand Candlestick Park attendees were to be at The Beatles final concert that night 50 years ago. They had a ticket to ride.

 

Goodbye Old Friend

He was ever-present. From my earliest musical memories; my sister’s hand me down Beatles albums, to some of the most recent music purchased, Sir George Martin’s fingerprints were on at all.

In the video era,  revelations on The Complete Beatles and more information on Anthology, George Martin was the gatekeeper to understanding my favorite band.

Even after the split and the band were trying to distance themselves from each other, he was Keeper of the Flame… working on solo albums, re-releases and compilations right up until the most recent re-imagining for Cirque du Soleil.

Now, with the hundred word stringer articles piling up in my breaking news feed and your name trending ever higher on search engines and social media… your Wikipedia profile already updated… I remember the joy and solace you brought to my life as the real 5th Beatle. Rest in peace George Martin, and thank you.

“I hope we’ve passed the audition.”

January 30th 1969, lunch time. It’s a Thursday.

You’re taking a stroll during your break from your office on Savile Row in London when you hear it;

“Everybody had a hard year
Everybody had a good time
Everybody had a wet dream
Everybody saw the sunshine”

You cast about trying to locate the source of this music. You walk to the corner and look both ways before you see a small crowd gathered outside of number 3, Apple headquarters.

“I said move over once, move over twice. Come on baby don’t be cold as ice”

As the crowd swells in size, traffic begins to snarl. Bankers huff and chuff through the crowd trying to get back to business. Office girls stand on tip toes and jump up and down with glee. It’s Beatlemania all over again!

“I do a road hog, Well you can penetrate any place you go, I told you so, all I want is you! Everything has got to be just like you want it tooooo. Because…”

Cars are abandoned, sidewalks are blocked, adjoining and buildings windows are thrown open. Maybe a better look can be had from inside one?

“I’m in love for the first time
Don’t you know it’s gonna last
It’s a love that lasts forever
It’s a love that had no past”

From your new top floor perch you can see them plain as day, The Beatles!

They haven’t played out live together for years, what is this? Is it a stunt? Is it for television? Are they practicing for a tour? Or is it all of the above?

“Don’t let me down!”

Now the authorities have arrived. They’ve blocked off the street and there dispersing the crowd which is steadfastly holding their ground. They’ve talked their way into number 3 and made it up to the makeshift stage.

“Sweet Loretta Fart thought she was a cleaner but she was a frying pan, yeah!”

The police are waiting, they’re watching but The Beatles aren’t done yet. They ripped through one final version of this awesome rocking number before bidding adieu and you were there to see it all!

“Get back, get back, Get back to where you once belonged. Get back Loretta… Go home”

You make your way back down the street and out in the crowd, you head back for the office. Your boss will never understand but you were there, you were there!

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December 7

So it’s been almost 10 years coming but I finally got a copy of Love, the mash up album of Beatles songs done for the Cirque du Soleil extravaganza in Las Vegas:

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Culling bits and pieces… and even whole songs… out of (mostly) the latter part of the Beatles catalog, George Martin and his son Giles put together what Rolling Stone called “the sweet side of Abbey Road extended to 78 minutes”.

The tracks were all remastered from the original Beatles master tapes and sound fantastic! Full tracks were teased apart, sliced and diced and cut and pasted back into very familiar yet distinctly different versions of Beatles classics.

The album starts with an ethereal version of Because with just vocals and moves on from there.

Highlights for me were the original impetus for the album; mashed up versions of Within You Without You & Tomorrow Never Knows, a high energy mashup of Drive My Car/What You’re Doing and The Word and a beautiful rendition of the While My Guitar Gently Weeps demo with the extra verse.

There were some surprises… inclusions of some of the more trivial Beatles tunes like Glass Onion and Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite while omitting the majority of pre-Rubber Soul material.

There are no drastic changes here, nothing really mind blowing. the mash-up novelty actually wears off pretty fast leaving you singing along to old favorites.

If listening to Love taught me anything it was just how truly outstanding the original Beatles recordings were.

October 5

31 years ago today I embarked on the longest music free period of my entire life.

The occasion was my induction into the US Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio Texas.

Beginning on that day we were stripped of all our war worldly possessions (including Walkman and cassette tapes), given uniform clothing, shaved bald and reprogrammed.

For the first few of those six weeks we were under constant supervision and training. As the days progressed we were given more and more latitude to carry out the orders and instructions we were given to the best of our abilities.

When not being marched or made to stand perfectly still we were trained how to do everything from how to hold silverware how to fold t-shirts how to scrub toilets and how to shine shoes.

At the halfway mark, we were presented a challenge: our training instructor would come to our dormitory first thing Saturday morning and do a full inspection. If all was in order we would be given a day of on base liberty to do with whatever we wished.

Luckily, my flight held it together and we were granted a day off.

Freedom!

We scattered to the four winds while remaining within the confines of the base. People went to movie theaters, played basketball, library books we read… and I found a stack of records at the community center.

There was a moderate selection of LPs and, for an hour at a time, you could take an LP into a small closet sized room, drop a needle on to the well worn vinyl, and listen through provided headphones.

I carefully perused the rack of records until my finger fell on the only Beatles album in the lot: the soundtrack to Yellow Submarine:

I had never been the further from home at that time in my life and, in this oasis of scratchy vinyl and crappy headphones, that record made me feel and close again to my friends and family.

Yellow submarine had never been among my favorite Beatle albums, a few good songs on side one and the original film score on side two…

but on that day it was!