Tag Archives: Music History

In search of the Holy Grail of Rock: the 5th Beatle

John, Paul, George and Ringo have become saints, as far as popular music is concerned. During their 8 year recording history, they have performed feats comparable to slaying dragons, converting the faithless and heralding in a new era of rock and roll. But just as the true identity, nature, and location of the Holy Grail has consumed the lives of crusaders and scholars alike, The Beatles have their own much disputed holy icon: the 5th Beatle. As I am not one in any place to declare the true member worthy of the title, I will display the candidates and in turn let you decide. Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

Left to right: George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, and John Lennon in Hamburg, Germany


  1. Stu Sutcliffe: Stu was John Lennon’s best friend from art school and a brilliant painter. When John was getting his small skiffle-rock group into shape to be a serious band, he found he needed a bassist. This is where Stu came in. He didn’t play bass or know anything about playing music, but he had just won a fair amount of cash in an art show, and was the only one John knew who could afford a bass. With some major convincing, he was able to get Stu on board, reassuring his friend that he didn’t need to know how to play: bassists just stand in the back anyway. Stu was the bassist when the band started making a name for themselves playing in Hambug, Germany. Towards the end of their stint, it became clear that his playing just wasn’t befitting the band they had become, and he was the first to say it. Paul McCartney, then one of the lead guitar players, took up the bass (which is why if you listen closely, Paul’s bass parts often sound like a frustrated lead guitarist playing bass. This is because it is.)  Stu died from a brain aneurysm in 1962 after leaving the group to return to his painting.


Left to right: Paul McCartney, John lennon, Pete Best, and George Harrison

Pete Best:  you’ll recognize a similar vein here… when the band that would become the Beatles started getting serous about rock and roll, they needed a drummer. Not unlike any other young band, they weren’t looking for a drummer as much as a guy who had drums, which were expensive and hard to come by in 1950’s England. They found their man in Pete Best. Pete had a new set of drums, could play them well, and his loving mother owned a small club in Liverpool that they often played at. Pete, like Stu, was on board with the group as they played the club scene in Hamburg, often sharing the stage with a band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes who had a drummer who went by the name of Ringo… As they boys returned to England and began to look into prospects of recording and making it big they ran into a problem: Pete was a great drummer, but didn’t share the same vibrant personalities and humor as the other 3. He was a great drummer, but not a great Beatle. He was much more dark, moody, and introverted. this drove the girls crazy, but at this point, they had been transformed into the clean-cut, charming and humorous nice-boys we know today. Not being able to dump a friend themselves, the Beatles asked their Manager, Brian Epstein, to do the dirty work for them: a decision that really hurt Pete, and that the other Beatles regret.  

Sir George Matin on left, at the mixing board with Sir Paul and Ringo.

Sir George Martin: Sir George Martin was the recording engineer at the small EMI label that agreed to record the Beatles. He knew nothing about rock and roll, and the band knew nothing about recording, so in their mutual discoveries, greatness ensued. George had some very good ideas about how to record things, and either wrote or was very involved in the writing of the orchestral scores that were overdubbed onto many of the Beatles most well-known tracks.

Brian at George Harrison's wedding to model Patty Boyd

Brian Epstein: Brian made the Beatles. He was the owner of a record store in Liverpool who was asked if he had “My Bonnie”, a cut of an American vocalist Tony Sheridan backed by some English band from Germany called the Beatles… he didn’t but was always willing to meet the demands of his clients. He decided to look these “Beatles” up, and found they were playing regular lunch hour shows at a local club. He stopped in, saw a show, and fell in love. He offered the boys his services as a manager, and got them on the train to success. It is of his doing that the Beatles, then with messy hair, bad additudes, and clad in leather, came to have matching “Beatle cuts” and dress in matching suits, putting on the charm they are so famous for. Without Brian, the Beatles would not have been the Beatles we came to know, and very well might not have been heard of at all.

Billy Preston in the studio, 1972. One cool dude.

Billy Preston: Preston was a VERY soulful organ player who got signed to the Beatles record label (Apple) in 1969. Long story short, he was a great guy and the Beatles took to him quick. He sat in on their Let it Be and Abbey Road albums, providing the organ work. He can also be seen and heard during the Beatles last live appearance together: their concert atop the Apple office in 1969, which can be seen on their “Let it Be” movie and subsequently on youtube.

Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Brett, Uncategorized


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All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan v. Jimi Hendrix

All Along the Watchtower is the song you here in pretty much every montage about the sixties. Most of us immediately think of Jimi Hendrix wailing on his guitar when the song is brought up. I, for the longest time, even believed that Jimi Hendrix had written the song. I was dead wrong. And if you believe that Hendrix wrote Watchtower you are as dead wrong as I was. It’s lyrics appear to have their roots in Isaiah 21: 5-9 turned into basically an epic poem by master songwriter/storyteller Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan recorded All Along the Watchtower in November of 1967 and Hendrix began recording his cover less than three months later releasing it about nine months after Dylan released the original version of All Along the Watchtower. The rest is history.

Before we go any further here is a *short* list of some notable artists and groups who have also covered All Along the Watchtower:

Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica, Bobby Womack, Brewer and Shipley, Bryan Ferry, Calvin Russell, Chris de Burgh, Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Dionysis Savvopoulos, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Giant Sand, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Jeff Healey, John Mellencamp, Josh Charles, June Tabor, Lisa Gerrard, Michael Hedges, Mountain, Neil Young, Paul Weller, Phil Lesh and Friends, Phish, Richie Havens, Sal Valentino, Spirit, Taj Mahal, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dream Syndicate, The Killers, The Persuasions, TSOL, Turtle Island String Quartet, U2, Van Morrison, Widespread Panic, XTC plus everyone ever who may have thought it nice to pay tribute to either Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix.

Without also listing the countless movie scenes etc. that All Along the Watchtower has graced with it’s presence, it is pretty easy to say that it is a very prolific song.

I personally enjoy Dylan’s voice and harmonica, some people though, are averse to “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. While I appreciate both, one of the major reasons Hendrix’s version of Watchtower blew up and Dylan’s didn’t might have been Dylan’s excessive use of both “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. Another reason could be that the album on which the song appeared, John Wesley Harding was released in 1967: the same year that saw the debut of the Grateful Dead, the supergroup Cream, Hendrix’s rise in America, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Beatles’ Srgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band, and tons of other rockin’ psychedelic tunes which can often eclipse a low-key (although awesome) roots-country album by an artist who really prefered to stay on the down low.

Those who are curious about taking their appreciation of “Dylan voice” to the next level can check out his “Nashville” voice here at Selective Listening, though, I warn you in the same way the people at Chinese restaraunts warn you about how spicy your food is about to be… we know that’s what you ordered, but you don’t understand this is really freakin’ spicy… You are sure?…*sigh*…alright have it your way… click here

Hang on for a second though- Bob Dylan is a folk hero and song writing legend. He deserves as much respect for writing the song as I feel Jimi Hendrix does for enhancing it.

It’s like Bob made an awesome kid who would eventually go on to achieve great things. Jimi Hendrix just adopted him, took away his goofy harmonica and taught him how to play a mean electric guitar. Seriously, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in his cover of All Along the Watchtower is regarded by many to be one of the greatest guitar solos ever. From about 1:42 – 2:49 Hendrix executes a guitar solo, as artistic and beautiful and expressive as any piece of art laying around in any art museum ever.

Dylan even admitted to being overwhelmed by Hendrix’s talent and musical abilities and even went so far as to say:

“I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”

Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower was so unbelievably amazing, that now when Bob Dylan plays his own song, he plays Hendrix’s version as a tribute to Hendrix. Tell me that doesn’t sound like some kind of weird Chuck-Norris-type joke. At the end of the day though, it simply is Bob Dylan’s respect and admiration for Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower that makes this cover so great, perhaps even the greatest cover song of all time.


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Music: Your Daily Dose – Sergei Rachmaninoff Quote

“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music”

Though it has not been expressly stated at any point in the short life of this blog, we try to be inclusive of music in all of its forms and manifestations. This is an absurd undertaking, yet, this is okay. This quote explains why this is okay and why in a thousand eternities we will never be without something to write about at Selective Listening.

Sergei Rachmaninoff is widely regarded as one of the last great Romantic composers in Russian music. The size of his hands were bested only by the immense breadth of his freakish memory and virtuosic piano skills. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s large hands actually contributed a great deal to his unique sound and abilities by allowing him to play much larger chords (as in distance between keys on a piano).

One reason his compositions are so popular today is because of the powerfully immense chords throughout his writing.

Fun Fact: Rumor has it that DCI fan-favorite Carolina Crown will be performing Rachmaninoff’s 2nd and 3rd piano concertos as part of their 2011 show “Rach Star.” (Could be pretty fun…)

Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op.3 No.2 in C-sharp minor


Posted by on March 24, 2011 in Ben, Music: Your Daily Dose


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Extreme Feats of Musical Bad-Assery #2 Truly Instant Karma

 “Hey! What did you do today?” When was the last time you really had a mind-blowing answer to that question? Be honest… Sure, some people do some pretty neat things sometimes, and we are all encouraged to make everyday count, but have you had this conversation? “Hey, what did you do today?” “Eh, I wrote, rehearsed, recorded, and released a hit single.” Now, imagine saying that when you have are dealing with a falling out of your best friends, balancing two bands, a large corporation, and are at the head of one of the biggest snowballs in recent cultural history. John Lennon didn’t have to imagine. That was just a day at the office for John, January 27th, 1970 when he recorded “Instant Karma”

While exact records of the day’s timetable don’t exist, Lennon offered this to the press regarding what is one of, if not the, fastest out-out pop singles in history, wrote it for breakfast, recorded it for lunch, and we’re putting it out for dinner.” What can be for certain is that in less than 24 hours, Lennon had written the piece, gotten a hold of a crew made up no less than master of the organ Billy Preston, George Harrison accompanying Lennon on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, and Allen White on drums, rehearsed, and recorded the single. They got it out to the powers that be that night, and it was on shelves in only 10 days.  Soon after, or maybe even between that time, a video was recorded to promote the song and its message. Lennon can be seen sporting a shorter haircut than the Lennon we know and love from the era, and that is believed to be the point: he had cut it off as a publicity stunt tp promote his messages of world and inner peace.

10 days. What stared out as probably a little singing in the shower went to reach #3 on the US charts, #5 in the UK, #2 in Canada, and #1 in France. It is notable that its competition for the top spots was the Beatles’ own “Let it Be” classic, and Simon and Garfunkels’ “Bridge over Troubles Water” among others. What is more incredible, though not at all uncommon for the man, is that beyond being deemed epic and relevant enough to be used in a Nike commercial 20 years down the road, it inspired the title of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining. The song continues to deliver its philosophical and humanitarian punch to the present, being covered by such acts as U2 and headlining the Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Initiative to Save Darfur of 2007.As far as message and impact, it ranks besides such Lennon masterpieces as “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance”. Not too shabby for a days work, eh?

Hey Jude

Now it’s not like he just woke up one morning and started pumping out iconic songs in a single shot, as a Beatle, he was very experienced in impacting generations in a single bound. The Beatles most successful single (and a constant on “greatest songs ever” lists), “Hey Jude” was recorded in a single take. Although the overall timing of the song is not as impressive as the instant hit “Instant Karma”, and getting songs right the first time is not unheard of, the song has its own reasons to brag. (now, to be fair, the band recorded 4 takes, but it was the first that was chosen for the final cut)

First of all, it IS one of the best songs in popular music, if not ever. Not only was it done in one attempt, but Ringo Starr (drummer) wasn’t even in the room for the first minute of recording. Their recording set up had the drummer’s box set up right by the bathroom. This said, no one noticed when Ringo slipped out to use the facility, and they started recording. One can imagine his reaction when he was, pardon the pun, caught with his pants down when the song was heard form down the hall. Being Ringo Starr, and by definition one extremely slick cat, he was able to slip back into the room without a sound, and take his seat at the drum seconds before the drum cue, and come in right one time.

Also noteworthy about one of the “Best songs ever recorded” is that in the last 20 seconds of the second minute, someone (John blames Paul) can be barely heard to utter “Fucking hell”, probably stemming from a missed note. The band (again, probably John) insisted the oopsie be left in the final mix, albeit turned down to a level where the general public has yet to catch on. Here are two videos of the song. The first is a simple slideshow video found on Youtube. If you don’t have the song, see if you can spot the oopsie. The second is the official video for the song, included simply because it’s neat, and it’s the Beatles. You gotta respect.


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