Back when I was thirteen I hated going to school and I hated life in general and my only relief was listening to records. (Not much has changed). Fortunately, I happened to enjoy like many others, the music of The Beatles. And of course, my love for their music carried on even after they split up in 1970. Looking back on these formative years before I decided to become a full-time musician (that happened in 1975) I chose a pretty good group to satiate my audio needs. Four magical musicians who were always busy releasing new music. How they did that so consistently I knew not? Clearly, they were given a gift I couldn’t even dream of. And I was ok with that. I was born here to listen. And that I did.
Well, along comes 1974 and I am bombarded by so much great Beatle-related music it is overwhelming; unlike today where we are puked on every nanosecond with all kinds of musical media. Back then though, records felt finite. They had a “get it while it’s hot” sort of commerce; coming at us at a pace where you were really left plenty of the time to absorb the music and its artwork all the while making the whole listening experience an integral part of your lifestyle.
The music certainly did not seem disposable. But I digress. Anyway, getting back to 1974. It occurred to me recently as my continuous iPods play in the background that 1974 was one of the most interesting years for The Beatles after their break up. The year brought the official dissolution of The Beatles partnership (they all signed the final papers in December of 1974) but it also saw all four Beatles. working on outside projects as well as their own. A very productive year to say the least. To be more specific:
Starting in May of 1974 John Lennon produced Harry Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats. The two were seen causing mayhem in and around Los Angeles but in between they put together a quirky album that received mostly good reviews. On the album, they co-wrote the Caribbean sounding Mucho Mungo / Mt. Elga and covered a wonderful Jimmy Cliff song, Many Rivers To Cross, the string part of which was sort of lifted and used on Lennon’s song #9 Dream that would come out later that year on his excellent Walls and Bridges album.
On Pussy Cats we are treated to two slightly creepy, melancholy ballads by Nilsson, “Don’t Forget Me” and “Black Sails” as well as a few humorous pieces i.e. the domestic “All My Life” and the lamenting tale of a wartime veteran, “Old Forgotten” “Soldier. Soldier” showcases the unfortunate destruction of Nilsson’s beautiful voice; though his scratchy vocal is the perfect vibe for the song. It’s horrific to think his throat was apparently bleeding throughout much of this production. Sadly, his once melodious tones would never recover. There is also a noisy arrangement of the Bob Dylan classic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and a few other cover songs including “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Rock Around The Clock,” (probably inspired by the popularity of the 50’s TV sitcom Happy Days) and a very live-sounding version of the fun 60’s pop hit “Loop-De-Loop.”
Pussy Cats only rose to number 60 on the Billboard charts but most significantly it marks a period in Lennon’s life known as “the lost weekend”.
Shortly after in September, John Lennon would release his album Walls And Bridges to mostly good reviews and it contained his first number one hit “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” featuring his new friend Elton John on piano and vocals. Elton also appears on the Beatle-esque song “Surprise – Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradise).”
The album opens up with the stop and go – catchy and funky horn laden “Going Down On Love,” and immediately we recognize Lennon’s production is more refined and clear here than his previous release Mind Games (which I love by the way). The album contains many classic John Lennon tracks. He revisits 1971’s “How Do You Sleep?” with the song “Steel and Glass” subtly attacking ex-manager Allen Klein and himself instead of Paul McCartney who he made up with around this time.
John Lennon’s vocals are wonderful throughout and he stretches his singing approach to extremes. “What You Got,” (a funked up track) shows Lennon exploiting his amazing rock and roll voice and then sweetens the ears with his comforting ballad “Bless You,”(a very laid back song that is uncommonly jazzy for JL). Another oddity is John Lennon’s first instrumental piece, “Beef Jerky,” which seems to be written around a riff lifted from the Paul McCartney song “Let Me Roll It.”
A cryptic mid-tempo co-write with Harry Nilsson peaks it’s way into the collection entitled “Old Dirt Road” as well as two deeply self-reflected numbers: the dark “I’m Scared” and the Sinatra-esque “Nobody Loves You.” This would be Lennon’s last album of original material until 1980’s Double Fantasy album. Also, in 1974 John Lennon would perform live with Elton John at Madison Square Garden (after Elton won a bet that Lennon’s single “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” would make it to number 1) and contribute vocals to Elton John’s re-make of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” In between, he found the time also to record most of the tracks for his Rock ’n Roll album that would be released in 1975.
Paul McCartney was busy the same year. His “Wings” album Band on The Run was released in December of 1973 and became a major hit throughout 1974. For the most part, it was considered McCartney’s best album at that point and contained the hits, “Helen Wheels,” “Band On The Run,” and “Jet.” Even Lennon who was not prone to throw any praise on his former bandmates claimed that this was “good Paul music.”
The history of Band on The Run has been thoroughly covered elsewhere suffice to say. Beatle engineer Geoff Emerick recorded it in Nigeria with just Denny Laine, Linda and Paul at the helm. Orchestral overdubs were later completed at Abbey Road studios. In tandem to the release, three videos were made for the songs: “Jet,” “Mamunia,” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five,” with a fourth video (not tied to Band On The Run) for the smoking hit single “Junior’s Farm,” backed with the fine country flavored “Sally G,” released in the fall of 1974.
As if this comeback was not enough for Paul McCartney he found the time to produce an excellent record for his brother Mike in mid 1974. The resulting album simply called McGear has Paul writing most of the music (his brother as lyricist), producing, arranging and working side by side with Denny Laine, Linda and a young, new guitarist named Jimmy McCulloch. For more info this album you can check out my review of it here… McGear
Meanwhile, George Harrison had his first live tour in the USA in 1974 sharing the stage with Indian master musician Ravi Shankar. During rehearsals, George Harrison developed laryngitis and this carried on throughout the tour and subsequent studio recordings. To make matters worse the audience was not really prepared for half an hour of Indian music. They wanted Beatle George. Consequently, the North American tour came to an end in December. In-between though Harrison formed his own record label called Dark Horse and worked with the fusion group The LA Express.
The songs George Harrison recorded with The LA Express seemed to reflect his marital problems with his then-wife model Pattie Boyd. Though a number of the songs were quite good (the slippery “Maya Love,” the reflective “So Sad,”the rock instrumental “Hari’s On Tour,” and the excellent “Far East Man,” (co-written with Ronnie Wood). Harrison’s voice was ragged throughout and this is especially noticeable on his single “Dark Horse,” which reached Billboard’s top 20 and quickly disappeared.
The album was initially not well received though it has grown a bit in stature with today’s penchant for “raw” sounding recordings. (Note: on the gatefold of the album Harrison quotes a line from one of his favorite movies, “The Producers.” It’s a movie he will quote throughout his solo years in interviews.) 1974 also saw the release of “The Place I Love,” by the duo known as Splinter (Bob Purvis and Bill Elliot). This was the first album to be released on Dark Horse records and it was produced by George Harrison who also plays multiple guitars, percussion, Moog and performs backing vocals on many of the tracks.
George Harrison goes under the names Hari Georgeson, Jai Raj Harisein and P. Roducer. It was recorded at Harrison’s U.K. studio in his Friar Park Castle. The album featured a number of excellent tracks; “Gravy Train, China Light, Drink All Day (Got To Find Your Own Way Home)” and “Haven’t Got Time.” Though the album received favorable reviews it unfortunately only reached 81 on the Billboard charts. It was finally remastered for CD in 2022. In my opinion, the overall sound of the album is a warm-up for George’s 1976 release 33&1/3, not his 1975 release Extra Texture.
In mid-1974 Ringo had success with his album Goodnight Vienna. A competent follow-up to his critically acclaimed 1973 album Ringo. Again the music was pristinely produced by Richard Perry and featured many of Ringo’s friends. Elton John and Bernie Taupin contributed to the album with the excellent song “Snookeroo,” (it should have been a hit single in my opinion) and John Lennon wrote the absurd, bouncy title track as well as played acoustic guitar on the first single “Only You.” Harry Nilsson joined throughout with backing vocals and contributed to the song Easy For Me.
The second single from the album which was The Hoyt Axton penned “The No No Song,” hit number three on the Billboard charts and went to number one in Canada. The great New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint contributed the jazzy song “Occapella” while Ringo once again co-wrote with Vinnie Poncia two fine tracks “Ooo Wee” and “All By Myself.” Bassist Klaus Voormann and keyboardist Billy Preston also add their great musicianship on various tracks. Ringo completed a video for the single “Only You” and also found time to produce and co-star with Harry Nilsson in the campy horror movie Son Of Dracula. Ringo plays drums on the semi-hit single from the movie soundtrack, Daybreak written and sung by Nilsson.
It was clear by the end of 1974 that The Beatles‘ partnership had truly come to an end. The four brothers had their own agendas and a reunion was improbable. George Harrison stated that he would be in a band with John Lennon but not with Paul McCartney. John Lennon was open to the idea of a reunion if it was organic. Paul and Ringo vaguely commented on the idea, though I would suspect they would have been up for it. I can only imagine what the results would be. Most probably an album of all excellent songs but nothing groundbreaking. They did most of their innovative work back in the sixties. But one thing is for sure, they never forgot that the song is king. For this, I will always be grateful.
Check out John Tabacco’s own brilliant music catalog.
Why 1974 Was Such A Busy Year For The Beatles article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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