1970 was quite a year for a Long Island boy of nine. Having come off the exhilarating whoosh of the 1969 Mets World Series win and watching man first land on the moon (yes, I believe they did), only to be greeted by the disintegration of one of the greatest bands of all time—my heroes, The Beatles. “‘Let it be, let it be,’” I would hear my first-generation Italian grandmother repeat in her authentic foreign accent that I will never forget. “What is this ‘Let it be’?” She did not understand, but my mother did. After all, she had bought me the “Let It Be” 45 RPM single in March of that year, and I played it to death along with its surreal and highly comical B- side track, “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).” I had absorbed the Abbey Road LP only a few months earlier in the fall of 1969—by May of 1970, the full Let It Be album dropped and it served as instant host to more wonderful DNA songs that I knew and loved immediately. And this time, there was a film to go along with the new songs that I could see on its release in my local movie theater.
I saw Let It Be at the RKO near the Commack Arena (where some of the double-album Frampton Comes Alive! would be recorded in another five years), together with my fifteen-year-old cousin Louie John—he was the one who had previously introduced me both to The White Album and Abbey Road, while also showing me what a hickey looked like—and his slightly younger and very bright sister, Diane. At the time, I did not quite understand that this was considered a final documentary of the Fab Four. It seemed to me more like a casual rehearsal of some sort—there were many close-ups of Paul McCartney, and I could finally see how Ringo Starr had set up his drums. That, in and of itself, inspired me to take the art of drumming a lot more seriously—and it also convinced me that it was easier to sit and play than to stand! At any rate, the movie showed me that The Beatles were cool enough to perform on a roof and I dug it. Meanwhile, there was talk at the same time of a solo McCartney record also then hitting the charts and that peaked my interest as well.
I remember sometime in June, walking with my dad through a big department store in Smithtown called Billy Blake’s and passing by the record section. It was there my eye caught a glimpse of McCartney, with his baby Mary nestled in his warm winter jacket. My father head off to wherever while I checked out the album, which was priced around $7.98. I was mesmerized by the other side of the record sleeve (considered the actual front of the album), featuring Linda McCartney’s now-iconic photograph of some cherries and a bowl of cherry juice on a long white strip. What could that image mean? I tracked my father down there in the store and, mustering up all the sincerity and courage I could, asked him if he would buy me the album. I had no money of my own at the time, and I very rarely asked for anything except for maybe the odd Hot Wheel (back when they were still actually made of metal). To my surprise, he said, ”Yes.” Now, I must tell you that I never got along with my dad; and if he knew I was going to pursue a career in music back then, I doubt he would have purchased that album for me. I guess when he saw the friendly-looking McCartney on the cover with his child, he probably thought to himself, “That looks wholesome enough for a young boy to listen to.” Whatever the case, he bought the record for me—and I could not wait to get back home and hear it.
Paul McCartney’s first solo album
Nine-year-old happiness soon ensued for me upon the first listen. I remember immediately humming along to the first cut on the album, “The Lovely Linda,” and how I marveled at the length of the tune. A mere 43 seconds! That led into “That Would Be Something,” which was stupid-catchy, followed by the rickety instrumental “Valentine Day” with its bendy guitar part and its popping drum sound. That was followed by the relaxed and warm sounding “Every Night.” McCartney always had a gift for singing syllables instead of words, and this song was no exception. I always loved that about his songs—pure melody.
The LP’s atmosphere then changes, as we are greeted by the memorably Hawaiian-sounding instrumental titled “Hot as Sun.” This little track would eventually gain lots of attention when used as the theme to a kid’s cartoon show aired by NY’s regional TV network WPIX on Channel 11. There is a short little musical tag at the end of this track that Paul had titled “Glasses.” It is actually a recording of wine glasses being rubbed along their respective rims, the sound of which always transports me to another dimension—only to be shattered by a cute yet indecipherable piano-and-vocal fragment that is abruptly edited in as the track’s outro. A few decades later, I would find out it was an excerpt from a song Paul he had written for Frank Sinatra called “Suicide.” (Side note: I find it interesting that two songs written by McCartney, each of which were never officially released on a proper album, contained the word “suicide.” The other of his songs to also contain that word was “That Means a Lot” from the Beatles’ Help! album sessions back in ’65. Huh? And this from the so-called cheeriest Beatle!)
The next track on Side One is the fragile, melancholy, and effortlessly melodic waltz “Junk,” which nonchalantly sneaks its way into the listener’s ears for only 1 minute and 54 seconds. Soon after, we are then introduced to a more playful musical ride with “Man We Was Lonely.” This song always and still strikes me as a variation on the Beatles’ opening track from the Let It Be album, “Two of Us‚” except Linda is singing harmony with Paul—and that’s a good thing! Her amateur tone makes the song that much more homey and welcoming. It’s a family sort of tune and that’s a big part of Paul’s whole persona.
Side Two opens up with a sexy sort of funky tune called “Oo You.” Not much of a song here actually, but Paul’s guitar and vocal parts rock. That is followed by “Momma Miss America,” an instrumental in two parts. I was fascinated with its musical form. It was the first time I really thought about how music could be stitched together conceptually through an edit. In fact, this song became the basis of a tune that I would write eleven years later called “Nowhere to Run.” The next song—seemingly about a boy and his mom and aptly titled “Teddy Boy“—was catchy and even a touch mournful to my younger ears, but the lyrics were a bit too confusing on my first listen. It was instead the shifting melody and chords that grabbed me. Another instrumental followed—“Singalong Junk”—and this track was a mellow reprise of the waltz-driven “Junk” from the album’s first side—innocently played and primed for me to sing along with!
Of course, the most famous tune on this album (surprisingly not released as a single at the time) is “Maybe I’m Amazed.” This was another of what I consider “DNA songs”—a.k.a., a song that you feel that you already knew deep down in your bones right away upon hearing it. Paul’s vocal here reached new heights, and the guitar solo was extremely memorable alongside the tune’s distinctive ascending piano riff. I loved it right off the bat. That’s an innate McCartney gift—he seems nearly without fail to have no problem channeling these tuneful gems. The last track, “Kreen-Akrore,” was a movie for your ears—some kind of prehistoric soundscape with heavy breathing, muffled drum grooves, and jungle noises insinuating a dark, hot scenario that used to creep into my nightmares and scare the hell out of me. All in all, the album kept me amused and singing through most of fifth grade. I could clearly hear it was not a Beatles record, but I enjoyed it just the same. McCartney is damn charming.
As the year progressed, word trickled out about how a triple album by George Harrison was in the works. Its release date was set for the fall. That was exciting news to me, and it successfully preoccupied my thoughts during most of the many dull moments cast my way at school. I remember it was sometime in Late Octobra—no, wait, that was the name of a song and album I released over two decades ago! Okay, so it was actually sometime in late November. I was outside in the backyard, and my mother called for me from the house. I suspected it was for dinner; but as I looked toward the kitchen, her head popped out of the back door and she held in her hand something that looked like a big book. She gave out a teasing laugh, and quickly went back inside. All I saw was a blur because my vision was starting to go myopic on me. I was excited, though, because I got a feeling I knew what it was.
It would be a great Christmas. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed on the morning December 25 when I unwrapped my first triple album ever. I just stared at that gray cover of Mr. Harrison, sitting among some bizarre elf statues and thinking, All Things Must Pass. Boy, now that was a thought I had not considered too often. It was Christmas, and things were looking up—no time for any downers. I unwrapped a few more presents (some fun commercial game-type stuff) but my mind could not stop fixating on George’s provocatively titled record. When I could excuse myself without seeming rude, I slid quickly into my room; shut the door; and opened the box, containing three mystery collections of spinning wax vinyl. Each record was cased in its own paper protector, each color-printed in different shades of purple with song lyrics printed on one side. And then there was the poster. I had the perfect place for it—right in front of my bed! I would wake up with my blurry eyes each day, and see George looking back at me like some sort of Jesus figure. At that point in my early Catholic life, I was still being sent to Catechism—soon enough, though, I started to have my own doubts about religion. That poster of “the quiet Beatle” kept me at bay until the next month of January 1971, when I received John Lennon’s December 1970-released debut solo record, Plastic Ono Band—but more on that later.
The opening track on Side One of All Things Must Pass, “I’d Have You Anytime” sounded so lushly laid-back and exotic. It was co-written with some cat called Bob Dylan (I thought it was pronounced Die-lan). I dug the track right away. Then came the next song, “My Sweet Lord,” with which I was already familiar as it was the first single issued prior to the album’s release. This song was being played everywhere. The Hawaiian guitar parts were memorable enough, and the production did have a communal/spiritual vibe to it that I found warming—I really did believe George wanted to “see” the Lord. And no, I did not make the musical connection between the chorus and The Chiffons’s 60’s hit “He’s So Fine” for which Harrison would eventually be sued for subconsciously plagiarizing it.
The next cut (“Wah-Wah”) was just the kind of rock song that I wanted to crank to eleven, even though my cheap stereo system was not able to carry the sonic load. That would have to wait until I was able to later access my father’s more sophisticated stereo system downstairs—on that rare occasion when everyone was out of the house but me. While “My Sweet Lord” was already so wildly popular as a single before this triple album came out, it was that single’s B-side—and the fourth and final track on Side One, “Isn’t It a Pity (version one)”—that really drew me in and spoke to me. The loping feel in the opening guitar chord sequence still brings a chill to me in the saddest of ways. This song is a sort of dirge with a memorable melody, played against a tense harmonic climate and bathed in meaningful lyrics. It left a deep impression on me. To this day, I still think it is one of George’s best compositions—it’s his “Hey Jude.” In fact, there is a sound byte of George and Paul going over this tune back around 1968 or so—and one of the guitar lines found in the final mix seems to have been made up by Paul. He certainly sings that specific melody. But I digress.
The album proceeds with an array of classic George Harrison tunes, all of which have remained stuck in my mind. Side Two opens up with an instantly recognizable guitar riff that carries the ultra-positive song, “What Is Life.” No surprise it was the second single to be released. That’s followed by the sweet “If Not for You” (that Dylan guy is a pretty talented writer), and then another pleasantly countrified song “Behind That Locked Door.” The vibe is then completely disrupted by the brass-heavy explosiveness of “Let It Down”—a real bipolar juxtaposition between the two tracks, and even within this song’s own structure and composition. I was immediately drawn to the sound of that E-major seventh chord that George Harrison uses in the relaxed and ethereal verses, only to then be sonically pummeled by the bombastic chorus. (I actually saw Dhani Harrison perform this live on some TV show a few years back. His band rocked it, and he sounded and looked just like his dad!) Side Two then closes with the subtle, odd time signature-filled “Run of the Mill”—a track that I found out many years later was written by George Harrison to Paul McCartney.
Disc Two (or Side Three, to those of my fellow vinyl aficionados) opens up with the mysterious “Beware of Darkness,” which was a fairly intriguing listen for the 9-year-old me. I recently saw Sheryl Crow perform this tune; it was wonderful, but my favorite version comes from the 1971 live triple album, The Concert for Bangladesh, when Leon Russell comes in on the third verse. His cranky blues voice is just killer! Classic. Moving on, “Beware of Darkness” is followed by the comparably light and upbeat melancholy of “Apple Scruffs” with its minor 6 chords (love that harmony) and the expressively overblown and compressed harmonicas. At the time, I did not know what an “apple scruff” was but it sounded good. That was followed by the bizarre English tale, “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” (a title taken from many of the phrases etched all around George Harrison’s castle in Friar Park, England).
Next is the snarky and gospel-like “Awaiting on You All,” which has always reminded me of the chorus in the 1971 Carpenters’ hit, “Superstar”—coincidentally written by the aforementioned Leon Russell together with both Bonnie Bramlett and husband Delanie Bramlett of Delanie & Bonnie fame (a group that George Harrison himself wanted to sign to Apple Records back in 1969). The side then closes with this ambitious album’s title track, “All Things Must Pass.” Possessed by a resigned, wise but ultimately hopeful inner spirit, this classic remains a timeless piece. Who knew that in December of 2001, I would be singing this song with The Ed Palermo Big Band backing me up at the now-defunct NYC club called The Bottom Line. Mr. Palermo apparently had a love for this album, and so it was a no-brainer to perform it in homage to George Harrison’s passing in November of that year.
The listener moves on now to Side Two of Disc Two (or Side Four, in “vinyl talk”). We are first presented with the sneaky, chromatic boogie of “I Dig Love.” Its stereo, echoed toms bouncing from left to right in the sound spectrum was a great production idea that I would use later in some of my own tunes. “I Love Dig”—yes! Another deep track follows, and that would be “The Art of Dying.” This song was published at one point in a book of compiled Beatles’ solo music called The New Songs of George, Paul, and Ringo. (No John, for some reason.) I remember I had started playing around with the guitar and had yet to really learn how to play any chords. I saw the A-minor fingering box at the beginning of this song above the opening lyrics in this book, and I placed my fingers on the guitar frets in the exact position of the tablature.
One strum and “BAM!”—I was off to a new world. Wow! So that’s an A-minor chord, I remember thinking to myself. I had no idea what those boxes were for. A life-changing moment, for sure. As far as the rocking feel of the song, I loved Eric Clapton’s lead guitar work on it (just as tasty as Clapton had been on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” back when the Beatles recorded the track for the 1968 album The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album as I referenced it earlier in this article) and George’s lyrics made me think—at that point in my life, though, I still had no idea what he was singing about. All I knew was that he was a shy but rather deep guy, and also my mother’s favorite Beatle. A “version two” reprise of “Isn’t It a Pity” then follows (my favorite song on the album, even across both versions), and then the side closes with the more overtly religious “Hear Me Lord,” a song with a reasonable plea that any abiding Christian would understand.
At that point in my life, I did not question much in regards to religion. I only knew that I had to attend religious instruction each week, and that made me miss the great Saturday morning cartoons that I read about in the comic book advertisements. Nevertheless, that two-foot by four-foot poster from the album of George looking somewhat Christ-like that I now had hanging on the wall in front of my bed still haunts my memories.
The third disc in the set (Sides Five and Six on Album #3) contained some instrumental jams that have just not much interested me over the years. The short, tape-warbling circus-like ditty “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” was the only memorable and fun thing that I could latch on to across these sides. Then again, I had only first been introduced that year to pepperoni on sandwiches—so having a jam track on the album named “Thanks for the Pepperoni” underlined some early and downright serendipitous resonance between nine-year-old me and this special music that has stayed with me.
Meanwhile, the Christmas 1970 present from my Aunt Millie was none other than Ringo Starr’s 1970 release—Sentimental Journey. I truly did not know what to make of it. It was not a Beatles-sounding record, and it took me a few listens to try to appreciate it. It had more in common with the Frank Sinatra albums my parents would listen to, which I secretly liked but would never admit to them. The song that immediately hit me was “Blue, Turning Grey Over You.” I absolutely loved the tune—especially its exciting big band arrangement, done up expertly by the great Oliver Nelson—and Ringo Starr’s vocal performance on it was sincere and fun. That arrangement has inspired me ever since.
I also enjoyed late great Bee Gees brother Maurice Gibb’s production of “Bye Bye Blackbird” (a great Tin Pan Alley track that Ringo Starr recorded decades before Paul McCartney gave it a whirl on his own 2012 pop standards album, Kisses on the Bottom, along with Chico O’Farrill’s take on the Cole Porter classic “Night and Day.” They were the only two tracks that I would continually listen to from that album. My nine-year old taste for the other standards was not yet developed enough to really appreciate the other recorded songs.
Certainly, Ringo Starr was ahead of his time putting together a record of classics culled mostly from the ‘30s and ‘40s—while the always under-appreciated Harry Nilsson would attempt this same kind of album in 1973 with A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night alongside onetime Beatles publicist-turned-producer Derek Taylor and frequent Sinatra arranger Gordon Jenkins, it would be another thirty years or so before fellow British rock icons Rod Stewart and fellow Beatle “Macca” would follow in Ringo’s footsteps—not to mention that Dylan fella, who wound up releasing three albums of standards of his own over the past decade. (Note: Ringo came out with a fine country album called Beaucoups of Blues in September of 1970 but it was not on my radar until late 1971.)
Once again in 1970—early December, to be precise—my mind was blown when I heard some DJ on WNEW-FM Radio describe John Lennon’s new Plastic Ono Band record as “the end of John Lennon.” The DJ had played some of the album on this commercial FM radio station, and I guess the screaming at the end of the album’s opening track “Mother” and the mammoth list of denouncements that Lennon sang out in the song of “God” made this guy very upset. I could understand that reaction from an emotional point of view—but until I had the album in my hands and the lyrics in front of my eyes, this was just another great solo Beatles album to own.
Now the big thing for me on this record was John Lennon’s use of the word “f*ck” in the folksy and somewhat Dylan-esque “Working Class Hero.” I’m not sure how my father found out about it, but when my mother bought me the record he was clued in on that song and angrily scribbled out the word (it happens twice in the song) on the lyric sheet that held the vinyl. His pen left a permanent mark on the grooves but it somehow did not make the record skip. I knew something was definitely going on with this album if it moved my father to go out of his way to try to ruin my copy. Songs were apparently more powerful than I had ever thought!
At any rate, Plastic Ono Band was a shocking album to my ears. The opening of “Mother,” with the slowed-down peal of England’s Big Ben bell, scared the hell out of me. The lyrics that he wrote and sang about his mom and dad were far from anything that I could relate to myself, but the song stuck in my head instantly—most notably his screaming during the song’s long fade. Pretty heart-wrenching stuff. The second track, “Hold On,” was a cool song to sing even though it mentioned John Lennon’s muse, Yoko Ono, by name and I did not know anything about her at the time other than that she was Japanese and married to John.
The next tune, “I Found Out,” was the nastiest and filthiest-sounding song on the album. I loved it. With frequent Beatles friend and collaborator Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo Starr himself on drums, they really made that track groove. The lyrics were also great—Lennon’s bit about seeing religion “from Jesus to Paul” (a sly nod to McCartney, of course) was clever, while the image of a man “sitting there, with your cock in your hand” remained a mystery to me for at least another year or so. Ha!
The song that closes Side One, “Isolation,” was (and remains) a beautifully sad and angry tune enhanced by Lennon’s double-tracked vocals that are just the right amount of “not” perfect. Chilling. I was fortunate to sing this song once with my group, Mostly Moptop, in a concert at Five Towns College on Long Island. The melody sits right in my range, so I nailed the vocal. I felt like John Lennon for that brief moment—and my friend Anthony Pomes, the “Lennon” of Mostly Moptop who sat and played on my drums during that performance of “Isolation,” often tells me that he felt just like Ringo at that moment as well.
Side Two opens up with John Lennon’s unrelenting piano pounce on “Remember.” It’s a typically bitter and caustic number, with a descending harmonic line reminiscent of Lennon’s 1968 Beatles era “Cry Baby Cry” that is then lifted by its more optimistic and thoroughly singable bridge (or as Lennon and McCartney would always call their songs’ bridges, the “middle eight”). The unexpected recording of a large explosion at track’s end—a nod to the Guy Fawkes Day celebration that takes place each year in the UK on November 5—was the icing on the cake. I love the sound of explosions, anyway—within reason, of course. The next song here on the album then fades up slowly into a beautiful, sparse, and delicate—classical, almost—number called “Love.” It features the album’s co-producer (and “Wall of Sound” rock music legend) Phil Spector on piano alongside Lennon’s singular voice—so bare, so personal.
I found it interesting that Spector basically produced this album with Lennon while also producing alongside Harrison on All Things Must Pass—particularly since each album sounds so vastly different from the other. Lennon’s album was dry and direct, while George’s positively reveled in its largely live atmosphere. I had no idea who he was at the time, but his name was there in place of George Martin’s on the Let It Be album, so I guessed he must be a pretty well-respected producer! Little did I know how radically that perception would change over time . . .
Next in line on this brutally brash masterpiece is the almost absurdly primitive “Well Well Well,” a beastly rock song that showcases Lennon’s study of Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy. (Again, something I knew nothing about back then—but I later found out!) All nine-year-old me knew was that I liked to scream, and this kind of music now gave me license to do it myself. If Lennon said it was okay to scream on a song, then I was all in. My mother liked it, actually—she thought it was funny! I heard it played in a supermarket once; just killed me, as people around me were buying peaches and toilet paper!
The next tune on the album’s second side sounded like a variation on another Lennon song that I had already heard earlier around 1968—that song was “Julia.” On this new solo album track “Look at Me,” Lennon used the same sweet and somewhat questioning finger-picking guitar playing technique that he had learned from Scottish folk singer Donovan back when he was studying Transcendental Meditation alongside the Beatles and others with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the small city of Rishikesh over in India. The line “Who are we?” always filled me with the enormity of reality and existence. Just thinking about it—even now, as I write this—brings tears to my eyes.
That leads us to the penultimate track on Lennon’s album, the one that many regard as the jewel in the crown—“God.” For me, this song became the essence of John Lennon. Not afraid to be right in your face, with a voice that was immediate and profound. It opens with this lyric sung twice: “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” It sounded pretty heavy, but I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. I needed a while to really understand; after all, I had no one to talk to about this record in school. As the tune progresses, Lennon then goes on to indict a bunch of people that I read about in history class. (He even takes a swipe at some folk singer icon named “Zimmerman,” whoever he might be.)
By the time Lennon got to Jesus and The Beatles, it really shook my foundation on a few levels. Here he was, trouncing on The Beatles! Sacrilege! I did not get that. Denouncing Christ? Well, that was just sinful. Or was it? Deep down inside, I had always found religion, saviors, saints, and the so-called “rules” that govern the masses all a bit dubious to me. Until this time, no one I knew ever really questioned anything. John Lennon did, though, and this song fanned the flames of my already-smoldering suspicions.
That last section of “God”—where Lennon sang lines like “I was the walrus – but now, I’m John” and “And so, dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on. The dream is over”—made me a cry a deep cry when I encountered that moment in this remarkable song. It still moves me to this day. It was weird. Lennon was so opposite to George in his beliefs, and so much more emotionally hungry and raw than Paul, that it genuinely threw me for a loop. I loved them all, but this was the first collection of post-Beatles solo material that unlocked existential feelings of despair and anger that I never knew I had; definitely a life changer for me. The last moments of Plastic Ono Band, a short song called “My Mummy’s Dead,” is just a simple variation on the nursery rhyme tune “Three Blind Mice” that Lennon already sort of mimicked back in the Beatles with the “Love Love Love” refrain from 1967’s “All You Need Is Love” and again in the chorus of his 1970 solo hit, “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).” The lyrics here are simple, clear, and very sad. I did not want to hear it. I was already sad enough when “God” ended. I would have just left it off the album, or placed it in another track slot.
And there it was. What a way to enter into the 1970s! The Beatles being blown apart was tragic, no doubt—but that left space for a lot of other great music to be released. And for a naïve nine-year-old Long Island kid like me who loved to sing, this was manna from heaven. This decade—the Seventies—would go on to produce, in my opinion, some of the greatest music the world has ever known. I would not be disappointed. My musical path throughout the ‘70s continued on in ways that I would continually recognize as vivid and real—for me, it was often about just cutting through the heavy societal foliage to see the road ahead. And on that road, The Beatles would be my first guides.
– John Tabacco
Big thanks to Anthony Pomes for his proof reading assistance and input.