The Beatles rumbled through our October reader’s poll, placing in four different spots, but the month’s leader in the clubhouse was Donald Fagen — as the Steely Dan leader issued a long-awaited solo album.
Neil Young’s second collaboration of the year with Crazy Horse, a scalding requiem for the 1960s called Psychedelic Pill, continued into its second month in the voting, moving up one spot.
Beth Hart’s confessional new solo album finished in the Top 5, as did Steve Hackett’s terrific new examination of his time as Genesis’ guitarist in the 1970s.
Two editions from our Sucks Series, one new and one from last year, earned a place as well, as we talk about those times when good bands do unfortunate things: The talk on Bob Dylan was, hands down, October’s most talked about piece, while our 2011 edition on the Beatles continues its Top 10 run.
Speaking of the Fabs, October was certainly their month.
Readers also selected our examination of their newly reissued 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour and an in-depth look into “Oh! Darling,” from 1969’s Abbey Road, as well as our look back into a handful of forgotten gems from Paul McCartney.
Here is the list for October 2012, based on your page views through the month. For more, click through the item’s title …
THE BEATLES – MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967; 2012 reissue): A so-so soundtrack to a terrible movie is saved by the towering successes of “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a double-sided No. 1 single that was tacked on to Side Two. Wonders of studio wizardry, eccentric and eclectic, spectacular and specific, and perhaps most of all very, very British, these two songs are all but definitive — both for their individual writers in McCartney and Lennon, but also for the band itself. When people say something is “Beatle-esque,” this is what they are talking about. — Nick DeRiso
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: In a companion review, we took an in-depth look at the Beatles’ critically maligned ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ film, which Paul McCartney argues for as a surrealistic experiment.]
GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE THE BEATLES, WELL, SUCKED: Major discovery: Beatles songs themed on the word “long” are bad karma — as our heavily debated list includes both the perfectly titled “Long, Long, Long” and treacly “Long and Winding Road.” We called the latter, in a point of deep contention for many Beatles fans, “this syrupy ballad.” Even at three-and-a-half minutes, it seemed to be overly long and, yes, winding. Well, to us, anyway. (Originally posted on December 27, 2011, but still going strong with our readers.) — S. Victor Aaron and Nick DeRiso
[BEYOND THE BEATLES’ HITS: Think you know the Fab Four? Kit O’Toole’s ‘Deep Beatles’ series takes you into some undiscovered corners of the group’s ageless musical legacy.]
RON MILES, WITH BILL FRISELL AND BRIAN BLADE – QUIVER [LIVE] (2012): Ron Miles, without making a bunch of loud, weird noises, has become one of the most eloquently unique trumpet players of the last twenty years. This Denver, Colorado bred and based trumpeter and composer has a dialect on his horn similar to the unembellished, thoughtful approach of Dave Douglas with a tone that sometimes recalls Lester Bowie, only softer. He’s brought it successfully into a variety of settings within and outside jazz, but this new trio record featuring Bill Frisell might be the purest essence of Miles’ artistry. — S. Victor Aaron
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Bill Frisell discusses his lovingly crafted 2011 John Lennon tribute album, signature career moments and how what he can’t play helped shape his sound.]
DEEP CUTS: FORGOTTEN FAVORITES FROM PAUL McCARTNEY: You’ve heard the hits, from the sublime (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Band on the Run”) to the ridiculous (“Let ‘Em In,” “Ebony and Ivory,” the perfectly named “So Bad”). But what of those tucked-away gems by Paul McCartney? Let us assure you, after digging past the dreck and tossing away the tossed-off sides, it’s true: Love doesn’t come in a minute. Sometimes, it seemed like it wouldn’t come at all. But we kept going, and found these — our handful of forgotten favorites from Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles output. — Nick DeRiso
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: S. Victor Aaron, Nick DeRiso and Beverly Paterson reconsider ‘Back to the Egg,’ an overlooked gem from Paul McCartney and Wings.]
DEEP BEATLES: OH! DARLING: The stereotype stands to this day: John Lennon wrote the rockers, Paul McCartney the love songs. But the Abbey Road track “Oh! Darling” challenged this notion by having McCartney write and sing the blues. Lennon said later that he wished he had sung lead, as it represented one of his “typical” songs. McCartney’s performance, however, convincingly conveys longing and heartbreak. McCartney brings out his most robust singing style, paying homage to Domino and Howlin’ Wolf with just a touch of Elvis Presley. Instead of his usual smooth style, McCartney allows some hoarseness to make the blues-soaked track sound more authentic. — Kit O’Toole
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STEVE HACKETT – GENESIS REVISITED II (2012): For all of the compositional wonder of Peter Gabriel-era music from Genesis, his vocals could be a difficult and acquired taste. Though Gabriel would begin to handle lyrics with a far more intriguing complexity as a solo artist, he hadn’t yet developed that nuance and power. Occasionally, he simply grates. At the same time, Hackett was (with a tip of the old chapeau to Phil Collins at the drums) the most involving instrumentalist in the band. Is it any wonder, then, that Hackett’s solo reworkings of classic Genesis, most of which have boasted both superior vocalists and a more mature approach to his own contributions, often seem every bit the equal (and sometimes the better) of the original versions? — Nick DeRiso
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett talks with us about the deep impact of Bach, and his lasting passion for his old band.]
BETH HART – BANG BANG BOOM BOOM (2012): The follow up to Hart’s terrific 2011 collaborative effort with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, this new solo project includes 11 tracks across a swift-moving landscape of influences — from blues to jazz to gospel to soul. Produced by Kevin Shirley, the longtime Bonamassa helmsman, album highlights include Hart’s first ever piano solo (on “Swing My Thing Back Around”), the boisterous gospel elation of “Spirit of God,” and a devastatingly effective, Billie Holiday-influenced vocal on “Baddest Blues.” In the end, it’s a showcase for the volcanic singing style that had Hart appearing in the off-Broadway show “Love, Janis” — but also digs into the darker emotions surrounding her journey as a former “Star Search” standout who spiraled out of control into a haze of drugs, depression and an unmedicated bipolar disorder before finally finding her footing again through sheer force of will, talent and gumption. — Nick DeRiso
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Beth Hart’s 2011 collaboration with Joe Bonamassa, ‘Don’t Explain,’ was highlighted by a tough new take on “Well, Well,” the 1972 Delaney and Bonnie classic.]
NEIL YOUNG, WITH CRAZY HORSE – PSYCHEDELIC PILL (2012): He opens with “Driftin’ Back,” a thunderous, nearly half-hour track that equals and, in some cases, surpasses so many of the songs that seek to contextualize the 1960s. I’m not sure anyone has better illustrated the impotent fury that followed for those who worked so hard toward change, only to see it all come to such a thudding conclusion. The album might have ended right there, if Psychedelic Pill — due October 29, 2012, from Reprise Records — were sequenced differently, if it only sought to look back. Instead, Crazy Horse is then granted a chance to do what it does best — to completely rock out, and thus recall every one of its earlier, floor board-rearranging triumphs with Young. In that way, they end up reconstructing the soaring promise, and the boundless joy, of the decade Young started out eulogizing here. — Nick DeRiso
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Nils Lofgren stops by for an emotional talk about his time with Neil Young, Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.]
GIMME FIVE: SONGS WHERE BOB DYLAN, WELL, SUCKED: It is fair to say that the most difficult comparison Bob Dylan ever faces is with his former selves. Still, over the years, there have been some selves that were undoubtedly worse than others. He can be dogmatic, reckless with his gift, frankly quite ornery. And that was just the 1980s. So, we compiled a checklist of five avoidables the next time you’re loading up the MP3s. Certainly, you say, 1985’s “Tight Connection to My Heart” — with a horrifying video that attempted to make this old scamp into (gulp) a sex symbol — or his yowling 1975 paean to the thug life “Joey” made the cut, right? Nope. We were looking for things that were far worse. — Nick DeRiso
[STEELY DAY SUNDAY: Can’t get enough Steely Dan? Join S. Victor Aaron has he celebrates the band’s musical legacy — song by memorable song — in our weekly Steely Dan Sunday feature.]
DONALD FAGEN – SUNKEN CONDOS (2012): There’s no concept this time, but there’s plenty of coherency. Mostly dwelling on themes of romance gained, maintained and lost, with just a touch of that Steely Dan absurdist humor and plenty of well-hidden jokes (most of which I’ve still yet to figure out, but that’s half the fun), Fagen is working in familiar territory with no erosion of his songcrafting mojo. He remains masterful at the mid-tempo groove, fully realized bridges, and will jump on any opportunity to add an extra, enriching chord or two to keep the progressions from getting too predictable. — S. Victor Aaron
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