A Tribute to George Martin

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Song Notes:

SEATRAIN: “I’m Willing” Play this track

Back in the early 1970s, Singer Sewing Centers sponsored live radio broadcasts. They did this because they wanted you to know they had large record departments in their retail sewing centers. One of these broadcasts, which I still have on cassette tape, was by the group Seatrain. I was sold by that radio concert. I loved this band’s second album, Seatrain. It was produced by George Martin, and featured Peter Rowan, a bluegrass fan from the band Earth Opera and, later, Old And In The Way, Andy Kulberg from the original Blues Project, and violin virtuoso Peter Green. I had never heard of Little Feat, whose Lowell George wrote the song, when I first heard this song and to this day Seatrain’s version is my go-to take on the tune. It has great vocal harmonies and cool violin parts. In the era of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, this was right up there with the kind of acoustic trucker music that caught my ear. — John Stix

JEFF BECK: “She’s a Woman” Play this track

One of my favorite Beck tracks. It’s 1975 and here’s a reggae rhythm coming at you shortly after Clapton’s “ I Shot the Sheriff.” Then you’ve got the talk box making the licks literally into vocals, with Jeff’s left hook: funk licks pulling no punches. His jab-like approach to solos hits you with unexpected lines that take you by surprise yet are easy to understand. This is textbook Jeff Beck at his best, being a first-rate vocalist and a master boxer at the same time. — JS

Now here’s an influential performance and recording if ever there was one — especially for musicians. I first heard the Blow By Blow album at the local record shop (on the day it was released, actually) and finally realized how expressive instrumental music could be. Plus it’s Jeff Beck in top studio form, so there you go. — Rock Stamberg

THE BEATLES: “Drive My Car” / “The Word” / “What You’re Doing” (from LOVE [iTunes Version]) Play this track

In less than two minutes, George and Giles Martin expertly mashed three Beatles songs into one exuberant medley. Ya gotta love it. — JS

I love the LOVE mashups and reside squarely in the minority on that subject. So what. One thing rarely mentioned about the LOVE album, especially the 5.1 surround sound DVD-Audio disc, is how musical (duh), inventive, truly cool and eye-opening the reimagined tracks sound. Beatles producer George Martin and son Giles Martin used the original multitrack master tapes and the sound is perhaps the best ever, especially for those interested in hearing “the parts.” — RS

PAUL McCARTNEY: “Tug of War” Play this track

“Tug of War” is one of Paul McCartney’s opuses. A personal song with a great performance and a full, clear production that isn’t dated. George Martin was on board to produce what began as a Wings project and morphed into a solo album (at his insistence). He helmed the next couple of McCartney’s records and his touch is very much evident. And appreciated. — RS

I have never been a fan of the solo Beatle outings. Granted, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is as good as you wanted it to be, but outside of that, I’m not a fan of their various solo outings. I wanted them to sound like the Beatles. I know it’s unrealistic, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted more like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Wha-Wha” and “Imagine.” The only solo McCartney album I played with regularity was Tug of War. There is warmth in the performance and a melodic richness I hear in this album and this song, which I am still attracted to. — JS

THE BEATLES: “She’s Leaving Home” (Strings Only) Play this track

For every Beatles song, I know the background vocal parts, the handclaps, or tambourine parts that inhabit the track. Hearing just the string arrangement to “She’s Leaving Home” is the same as hearing the whole song. That’s how good their songwriting was. Think about it — their background parts were just as memorable as the vocal melody. And that’s just one of the many reasons our children’s children will know these songs just as well as we do today. — JS

Amen to that, John. — RS

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: “Trouble No More” Play this track

The Allmans at the Fillmore. Wow. A night to capture lightning in a bottle. Here is a different take of “Trouble No More.” I wish I was there for that night as well. — JS

What’s to say? It’s an excellent alternate take from the classic concert series, recognizable but different and fiery enough to catch your attention. Again. — RS

BEE GEES: “Nights on Broadway” Play this track

An undeniably great track and the spark that would usher the Bee Gees into their third “comeback” period, “Nights on Broadway” kicked off 1975’s excellent Main Course album. Intense pop. — RS

THE BEACH BOYS: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (Stereo Version) Play this track

What am I supposed to write about? This is a perfect Beach Boys song. That’s it. Though if you ever hear just the acapella version, it’s fun because you can hear the talking on mic in the middle of the song. You can’t hear it in the full band mix. Or maybe you can, if you listen really carefully. — JS

Pretty interesting stuff, right? All singers recorded live on one mic. Brian Wilson’s pitch-perfect musicality is both laser-focused and unrelentingly beautiful here. — RS

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: “Blinded by the Light” Play this track

I used to play and sing this song in my bedroom. Boom, an explosion of words and energy that announced and defined Bruce Springsteen for decades to come. Let’s rock, let’s paint a picture and let’s have fun. — JS

Remember Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version that went to number one in 1977? I do. And I’ll bet Bruce does as well. Worth checking out for MMEB’s unique alternate-universe twist on things. — RS

CREAM: “I Feel Free” Play this track

The most powerful instrumental band of its time opens its debut album with a single chord, acapella singing and handclaps. Then at the end of the first chorus there’s a single note acoustic piano. That’s the essence of rock music in the ’60s, using your imagination. — JS

Ah, the melting pot of individuality and combustion that was Cream. “I Feel Free” remains a driving psychedelic rock beckoning. The sound of presumably studio-based production elements — the handclaps, for instance — are edited (grafted?) onto Cream’s sharp-edged recording. It worked then and it works now. — RS

ELVIS COSTELLO: “Watching the Detectives” Play this track

I’m a fan of the artist taking their material to new zip codes. Here is EC doing a big-band arrangement of one of his best. It’s got that Brian Setzer big-band thing going for it. Keeping with the song title, there is a noir sound to the band. This song is in my sweet spot for defining NHT. — JS

Unique. Still taking chances, Elvis keeps chasing the muse. Onward. — RS

PHISH: “Boogie On Reggae Woman” Play this track

I love Phish’s humor and musicality a lot. I also love how they love wearing their musical influences and ever-expanding cadre of cover tunes at seemingly every opportunity. Stevie Wonder’s song still shows up in their sets here and there, and the band’s reverence for it is and playfulness with it are on full display here. Fun. — RS


Music From Free Creek was a double album from a series of sessions that included Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt. This track includes Keith Emerson (keys), Mitch Mitchell (drums), Chuck Rainey (bass), and Buzz Feiten (guitar). “Freedom Jazz Dance” is a soul/jazz classic written by Eddie Harris. Good news, everybody plays with focus and energy. Yep, the music is as good as the photo might have been. I didn’t believe the credits when I first bought the album. But, years later, Buzz Feiten told me yep, this all happened as advertised. I don’t need to make the case for Emerson, Rainey or Mitchell, but as an advocate for Feiten I would ask you to pay attention to his note choice, phrasing and the conviction in his voice. It’s blues with a fresh twist. — JS

MICHAEL JACKSON/JAMES BROWN: “The Way You Make Me Feel” Play this track

Could there be any more appropriate meeting of the spirits? The JB band lays down the groove and MJ pops the vocal. Don’t think, just smile. — JS

BRIAN WILSON & JEFF BECK: “Surf’s Up” Play this track

An intuitively majestic live performance between two very disparate talents, this is an example of how a shared passion for a song — any song — can transcend categorizations and foster elegance against the odds. In other words, this shouldn’t work but it does in spades. — RS

I have a Cover Tunes folder in iTunes and this is at the top of the list. Jeff Beck is playing with Brian Wilson’s live band. Let’s face it, at this point in their careers, Jeff is the better singer. But he couldn’t pick a better composer to honor than Brian Wilson. Surf’s Up indeed. — JS