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It’s been almost six weeks since I arrived back on South African shores, and yet the memories from my American adventure have not faded in the slightest.

 

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

 

For those who followed my trip on Facebook and Twitter, you were fortunate enough to be kept up-to-date on my comings and goings across the United States, and although I’ve updated other parts of the site (such as Portfolio and Coachella) with my professional output, I’ve yet to do a personal blog post on this wondrous journey that I embarked on.

 

As a music journalist, I believe you have to be objective yet passionate about what you’re reporting on, and I guess that attending the 2013 Coachella Music Festival under the circumstances I did was a true test of whether I was going to be able to mix business and pleasure. When you’ve thrown everything you have into pursuing a dream – time, effort, money, sanity – and it finally comes true, you’re usually ready to carry that weight of responsibility. It’s sort of like how pregnant mothers are physically prepared for childbirth, their bodies slowly readying themselves over the trimesters. Back on that Tuesday night in late January, when through a click of a button, I became the holder of a ticket to a massive festival on the other side of the world, I had next to no idea how I was going to follow through with this bizarre plan. Fast-forward almost three months later, and I found myself on that Californian field of dreams, watching some of my favourite artists playing right in front of me. Although I had the time of my life over the weekend of the 19th to the 21st of April, I never forgot why I was really there, and what my duty was as a journalist and as a South African one.

 

I actually found that I appreciated the experience of the festival probably a lot more as a reporter than if I had attended just as a fan. It’s in my nature to swim in the intimate details, to analyse and dissect the moment, and through taking comprehensive handwritten notes and capturing hundreds of photos, I solidified my memories of Coachella better than any other music event I’ve been to. Yes, I had put a lot into the trip, and knew that I had to make the most of it, but that synthesis of evidence continues to fulfil me personally, as well as make my job of reporting back on the festival a hell of a lot easier.

 

Upon my return to South Africa roughly three weeks after the festival, I began sorting through all the photos from my trip (which included many other stops along the way – more info to follow in another post) and making sense of these furiously scribbled notes. I had made sure to take down every set list and leave enough lyrical clues to work out the missing pieces, which proved to be a quite a wild goose chase, especially for some of the artists whom I had never listened to before! It was a lot of fun transporting back to that weekend through those anecdotes, trying to remember the sound-bites that I’d picked up onstage (FYI: the Palma Violets bassist really loves to exchange banter with the crowd). After doing some background research, I realized that there is a dearth of information relating to Weekend 2 of Coachella this year, with most articles and reviews focusing on Weekend 1’s antics. This makes the anecdotes found in these pages all the more useful and special. With there being no official live video feed of Weekend 2 , it is up to people like me who were there to inform readers about what went down in the desert.

 

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

 

Although I wasn’t able to put an entirely full-time effort into writing over the past few weeks (on the account of me starting to help out with the family business), I steadily finished each festival day’s report, and last Friday, wrapped up my five-article series with a final summary of the Coachella experience. All these articles are now on this site, and any further coverage that I’ll be receiving for my trip can be found on the Coverage page (which will be updated as it comes in). Part of this coverage offered up a new experience for me: radio interviews. Dylan Culhane and Ace Swart, hosts of the Rock ‘n Rollercoaster Show on Assembly Radio, invited me onto their show once before my trip (8th April), and once after my return (10th June), and I was incredibly grateful to be exposed to the world of radio in just a small way. I’ve received copies of those appearances, so if you didn’t catch it all live, they’ve been posted on that page to be enjoyed in your own time. I’ve also made my Coachella photos publically available on my Facebook page here, here, and here.

 

Moving forward from an experience like this is probably going to be as bewildering as going into it. The Eagle’s Flight To Coachella was such an important milestone in my life, and proved to me that if you work smart, you can also play hard. I’ve learnt a lot from the planning and organization of this trip, and know how to approach things for future festivals and events. It can be done, and by a relative small-fry too.

 

I’ll delve into the rest of my trip in a later post, which included some musical pilgrimages, meeting an actual Golden Eagle, and visits to big American cities. But for now, The Eagle has returned to normal life, forever changed by his American adventure.

 

Onwards and upwards to the next one,

 

Kurt
 

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article is a final summary of the festival experience. It is part 5 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. Although it is a summary, certain topics or festival features mentioned in previous articles are not brought up again. All photos are my own, and are publically available here, here, and here).

 

Looking back at the whole Coachella experience, right from those tentative moments purchasing a ticket online in South Africa back in January, to standing on that sacred Californian landscape in April, it feels like a continuous tapestry, woven together with inspired touches of belonging and associating with the festival brand.

The devil is in the details, starting with the official souvenir box, shipped out to all ticketholders in early March. It is primarily a vehicle for delivering the hallowed wristband that ensures entry to the Empire Polo Club grounds, and the box succeeds on that front, but also immerses you in the quirky Coachella lore. In addition to the extensive welcome guide to the festival (which highlights the many fantastic features to be found, functioning as a useful to-do list before and during the event), one is presented with a mini calendar stand, complete with cardboard cut-out objects to create a Coachella diorama. To allow one to further marinate in the marvellous Coachella history, the eye-catching photo cards used for the calendar (running from April to April – a personalised move) showcase festival line-ups from yesteryear.

 

 

Looking past the do-it-yourself toys, the festival’s first point-of-contact (apart from the online interface) is an immediate connection with what the event embodies, making a first-timer or five-time veteran feel at home. All this pageantry helps serve two greater purposes: security and authenticity. The event wristband is a complex little beast, engineered to ward off scalpers and guarantee personalised service and interaction. The first feature is a cunningly simple piece of plastic that functions as a form of Chinese finger trap, since the organizers are well aware of the tricks used over the years by sneaky festivalgoers to slip off wristbands and bracelets. Basically: once it’s tightened, it can’t be undone at all, which actually warrants an extra how-to guide in the festival booklet.

The second feature of the wristband is the RFID chip contained within it, which when registered online, opens up a plethora of opportunities to connect with Coachella. Before the event, you can browse the extensive Frequently-Asked-Questions, create a personalised line-up, sort out your travel plans and accommodation arrangements, as well as access the message boards to get some tips and advice. This functionality also proves useful when inside Coachella, where the strong influence of social media is catered for by having dedicated check-in boards dotted around the grounds (particularly on the boundaries of the stages and tents), and the swiping of your band can automatically update your Facebook or Twitter account to where you are, even down to the stage.

Whilst the Hollywood elite may lounge around vacation homes and mansions in nearby Palm Springs over the Coachella weekends, or snap up every hotel suite in the surrounding area, the best way to feel a part of the festival is to camp on-site. According to Coachella Project Manager Justin Ferreira in the free Camp magazine handed out at the grounds, since on-site camping began in 2006, the amount of campers has grown from a few hundred tents to thousands of cars, totalling more than 40 000 people in 2012. Being right close to the action 24 hours a day is clearly quite a draw card for many, but how does one keep the logistics in order for such a multitude of people without the situation devolving into chaos?

In getting to the festival, carpooling is greatly encouraged by Coachella organisers, and what better way than through a competition? Carpoolchella is an attention-grabbing lottery that primarily links fellow festivalgoers, builds a community and reduces traffic. The most rewarding part, aside from flexing your creativity with your crew to decorate your car, is the jaw-dropping lifetime VIP Coachella festival passes that are on offer to be won.

 

 

With hopefully less cars coming into the grounds, organizers can better manage the vehicular mass. Parking is arranged in named-and-numbered ‘streets’ on specifically demarcated campsites, which proved incredibly useful in wearily finding one’s way home through the assortment of lots after a long day. The abundance of activities available in the campgrounds themselves, such as yoga and Pilates classes, an art studio, and a silent disco, keep the dedicated campers entertained; enough so that Ferreira declared, “I’m convinced some people camp at Coachella just to play dodge ball”. The fiercely competitive team game pits friends and strangers against each other for glory or, on the odd occasion, the rights to a VIP shower. In the searing desert heat (where the mercury reached higher than 35 degrees Celsius), the little luxuries do matter.

 

There are a plethora of activities and services to be found in and around the campgrounds

There are a plethora of activities and services to be found in and around the campgrounds

 

A big part of Coachella’s quirky constitution is artistic expression, and it was surprising to find out how explicitly that is manifested, proving that the term is not just for show. Not content to just be confined to an ‘art section’ of the festival, the massive installation art pieces rose up all over the desert plains like statues, thematically linking the campgrounds and festival grounds with their humourous and inventive style. Some of these pieces didn’t like to keep still: a giant snail named ‘Helix Poeticus’ sneakily manoeuvred its way around the ground, leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake for delighted followers, whilst a truly epic kite-like chain of balloons over 500 metres long had to be monitored by individual wranglers. But most were of a more stationary nature, such as the stately ‘Mirage’ (a mid-21st century modernist retreat, evoking the architectural style of the Palms Springs houses of that era), Recyclasaurus Rex (a scary 12-metre high sculpture made of recycled materials, who is ready “to chow down on every bottle, can and gate-jumper he can find”, according to the official festival guide), and the hilarious Coachella Power Station (run by wacky hippo-suited scientists performing a series of checks and experiments day and night, offering an ‘inside look’ into how the Coachella engine is kept running). With over 300 artists initially submitting proposals for these stunningly original installations, Coachella’s creative spirit can be found onstage and amongst the crowds.

 

 

Throughout the weekend, you’re likely to encounter that warm atmosphere of inclusiveness (not to be confused with sunstroke – stay hydrated, kids). The festival is an all-ages event, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see some children and teenagers roaming the grounds, but access to the designated beer gardens is suitably strict and implemented by various ID checkpoints, which provide you with an additional ’21-years-and-over’ wristband. A quick visit to the merchandise tent and its neighbour, Zia Records, in between sets is also one for the music junkie’s bucket list. If you’re not content with just buying your favourite band’s t-shirt, a healthy collection of vinyl records are available for sale, and wildest dreams come true when some of the artists performing at the festival host signings at various points in the day for those dedicated fans who purchased records. Nothing brings fanboys and girls together quite like meeting their idols.

 

 

Establishing tradition takes time, and prominence often goes hand-in-hand with that process. Coachella has reached the point where it has become a way of life for some people, and will most likely continue to be (as seen in the Camp magazine’s ‘Coachooser’ section, where a 10-year-old interviewee proudly stated that he has attended the festival a whopping seven times thus far). This transition from a relatively underground affair to a global mega-event came through a careful cultivation of culture, subtly and steadily pooling together a rainbow of music fans from all walks of life. Diversifying hasn’t diluted the Coachella experience; it has enriched the event with an array of perspectives, and as utopian as it may sound, if you arrive bearing peace, love and a wristband, there’ll be a place for you under the palm trees in the Coachella Valley.

If you’re looking for the blueprint of a successfully integrated, innovative and immersive music festival: this is the one.

 

There's a place for everybody under the palm trees of Coachella

There’s a place for everybody under the palm trees of Coachella

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the final day of the festival – Sunday 21st April 2013. It is part 4 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Being at Coachella is very indicative of the Californian experience. There is staggering natural beauty & weather, the place is populated with the chic, the creative, the consumerist, and the health-conscious, and its environment is both trend-setting and expensive. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get sucked into the tantalizing Hollywood lifestyle.

 

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

 

Wandering through the Farmers Market on Sunday morning was a cautionary financial tale. Nestled in the expansive campgrounds, the market serves up a smorgasbord of appetising food and beverages, its tents and stalls daring you to try their delectable delights. With breakfast and coffee being the main points on the agenda, an all-you-can-eat buffet of morning treats from Roc’s Fire House Grille and an iced cappuccino with horchata (cinnamon and vanilla-infused milk) dealt with the hunger pangs. Window-shopping on a full stomach made the rest of the ramble through the market easier to manage, passing by delis, dessert stands, smoothie shacks, bakeries, and organic fruit stalls with the virtue of a nun.

 

 

Early afternoon saw The Gaslight Anthem deliver a stirring set of their New Jersey blue-collar balladry to the main Coachella Stage, with Brian Fallon’s growl guiding the gathered masses through a medley of Bruce Springsteen-meets-punk proclamations. Like The Boss himself, Fallon & Friends trade on earnestness and heartfelt, nostalgia-tinged poetry, no more evident than on set-opener ‘Mae’ (“stay the same, don’t ever change, ’cause I’d miss your ways, with your Bette Davis eyes, and your mama’s party dress”). Their raw punk roots have been relatively refined over time (this set featured no tracks from their boisterous 2007 debut Sink Or Swim), but a melodic modification to their tightly-constructed sound should not be seen as a sacrifice for intensity, or a lapse into mediocrity.

 

 

Catchy hit-single ‘45’ and the title track of 2012’s Handwritten kept the fire of the band’s youth burning, as did rousing set-closer ‘The Backseat’. ‘The Queen Of The Lower Chelsea’, however, was slow-building and tranquil, but left one humming along to an infectious guitar line, and the peppy ‘Old White Lincoln’ ensured the same. Rounding out their varied set were two covers: the obscure ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, and Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Interstate Love Song’ (described by Fallon as “a song we really love from the 90’s”). Although the band holds their influences very close to their heart, they still produce fresh and exhilarating music.

Lots of guitar feedback at a crushing volume began to emanate from the Outdoor Theatre later in the afternoon, and the source of this howling cacophony was Dinosaur Jr., the avant-garde alternative rock ancestors. Their trademark sound is a bizarre hybrid of styles, meshing strains of classic rock, hardcore punk and noise rock into an intriguing, distorted behemoth, which foreshadowed the direction alternative and grunge music would take in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

 

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

 

Guitarist and lead singer J Mascis’ droning vocals swayed in and out of the maelstrom, overshadowed by his dazzling guitar parts, which set-opener ‘The Lung’ particularly highlighted. Bassist Lou Barlow took over vocal duties on ‘Rude’, a punky take on 50’s rock ‘n roll, and again on ‘Training Ground’, a searing rendition of a song originally written by him and Mascis whilst in their first band together, the now-defunct Deep Wound. Not all their output was designed to rattle the eardrums; the comparatively melodic ‘Feel The Pain’ had the crowd mildly bopping along to its mid-tempo verses, before the epic chorus kicked in with gusto. Towards the end of their set, Mascis sarcastically heralded the arrival of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ (a song which yielded them their first UK hit in 1989) with “this is not a Cure song”, which was partially true, as the band brought their token weirdness and amped-up audacity to the beloved new-wave gem.

The highly-acclaimed aural alchemy of Tame Impala turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival, and the Australian psychedelic rock project (led by mastermind Kevin Parker) showed why they deserve such praise with a sprawling, transcendental set at the Outdoor Theatre. Songs warped and expanded to dizzying depths, such as the reggae-influenced interlude between the swaying swagger of ‘Elephant’ and the dreamy ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, with a swampy, dubstep rhythm Parker dedicated “to those heading towards a hangover”. Elsewhere, the tumbling grooves of latest single ‘Mind Mischief’ were stretched to Saturn and back with an extended remix, and fan-favourite ‘Half Glass Full Of Wine’ already had the delirious masses crowd-surfing before its slick, danceable extended finale.

 

 

One could see that the band was enjoying the sun-drenched atmosphere (populated with a sizeable Australian contingent), as their previous weekend’s set had been plagued by a sudden dust-storm. This time, the audience was only mentally blown away by Parker’s sonically massive performance, where swirling layers of sound camouflaged his introspective and isolationist lyrics (clearly evident on set-opener ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ – the lone track from their 2010 debut Innerspeaker). For a shy guy, he sure knows how to connect with a crowd, as well as conduct a well-oiled machine onstage, with his free-floating John Lennon-esque vocals resonating into the stratosphere and beyond.

Coming down from the high of one great act and moving onto another is tantamount to any Coachella tale. Starry-eyed festivalgoers swim from stage to stage, with diehard fans pushing for a spot closest to the front amongst the teeming thousands. Even settling for a cosy corner many rows back from the main Coachella Stage did not diminish the viewing experience of Vampire Weekend. A less claustrophobic perspective allowed one to take in the elaborate and striking stage design, which included large framed mirrors and floating white Roman columns. The chic, preppy indie pop-rock of their first two albums complemented the mood, and the unveiling of tracks from their upcoming Modern Vampires Of The City showed a breath-taking shift towards a more varied, epic sound.

 

 

First of these was the zany rockabilly stomper ‘Diane Young’, with lead singer Ezra Koenig making clever use of pitch-shifting on his vocals, turning them impossibly deep then high in the space of just a few words. Another new track, the slow-building ‘Ya Hey’, showcased a more stately electronic side to their sound, and the experience became more engrossing with each song, as the band slipped between the quirky, perky wit of ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’, and the percussive power of ‘Giving Up The Gun’. When the Afro-pop influenced ‘Cape Cod Kwassa’ sailed in to close off their memorable set, the crowd had been exposed to a wide spectrum of smartly-crafted pop songs.

The mood dramatically deviated into very dark territory as the gothic gang leader Nick Cave seized control of the main Coachella Stage, and held court with his band The Bad Seeds. A two-time performer over the weekend (his garage rock side project Grinderman also made an appearance on Friday night), Cave’s frightening stage persona was one part rambling preacher, one part demented poet, and his deep baritone vocals violently led the Seeds and stunned crowd through six of the band’s best-known hits from their 30-year career, as well as two new songs.

 

 

Taken from 2013’s Push The Sky Away, the recent tracks (“Jubilee Street’ and the title song) showcased a mournful, operatic side to the Bad Seeds sound, and the latter formed part of a glorious finale, which featured backing vocals from a children’s choir from Silverlake Music Conservatory. But what Cave does best is weave together twisted tales and equally perverse music, best seen and heard on the profane ‘Stagger Lee’. Whilst second-in-command Warren Ellis, the heavily-bearded violinist, haphazardly scooted around the stage with villainous glee, Cave took to the crowd, getting up close and personal for the tense confessional ‘The Mercy Seat’ and spooky ‘Red Right Hand’. It was a consummate performance from the legendary Australian rocker, bathed in the melodramatics and shock value that he has become well-known for.

Coachella’s final day had seen talent that had traversed all the way from the East Coast of the USA, and across the seas from Down Under, but veteran local funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers brought some Californian love to the proceedings, headlining the festival for an incredible third time. Although long past their prime, the band knows how to constantly adapt and evolve, weathering through a turbulent history of drug abuse and a revolving door of guitarists. The 2009 departure of the iconic John Frusciante, and subsequent addition of Josh Klinghoffer, signalled new phase in their fascinating career.

Whilst 2011’s I’m With You attempted to rebuild the band’s studio sound from the ashes, incorporating Afrobeat and piano-based influences, the Chili Peppers’ live show has now morphed into a tour de force funk fiesta that few groups can match with experience or skill. Delving into a treasure trove brimming with 30 years’ worth of hits, there’s always a guaranteed retreading over past classics, but the band has plied their trade long enough to be able to shake things up and provide fresh, exciting interpretations of their material. Frequent jams and improvisations blurred the lines between songs, with the band content to feel their way through the moment (such as the exhilarating extended intro to ‘Can’t Stop’).

 

 

As expected, the set was heavily weighted towards the successes of the early 90’s and early 00’s, with only set-opener ‘Monarchy Of Roses’, ‘Factory Of Faith’, and ‘The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie’ featuring off of their latest album. Klinghoffer has ably slotted into the fold, after being a touring guitarist with the band since their 2006 Stadium Arcadium Tour, bringing an elusive, textural approach to the guitar attack (most notably seen on their live staple ‘Californication’, twisting the dirge-like music to further match the social commentary). The rhythm section still boasts two of the finest players of their crafts in Flea (bass) and Chad Smith (drums), with the latter receiving a boost in the percussion department in the form of Mauro Refosco, who spices proceedings up with an assortment of bongos and exotic instruments.

Red Hot Chili Peppers will always be young at heart, despite singer Anthony Kiedis’ relative onstage mellowing and lack of banter compared to Flea, who is still the soul of the group, bursting with passion, silliness and technical proficiency. After a five-song encore, which included a group of lucky fans dressed in UV-painted white jumpsuits joining the band for vigorous set-closer ‘Give It Away’, the bassist breathlessly blurted out “I love me some California!”, before going on to list a number of the state’s locales, drawing rapturous applause with every city.

When paying a visit to a town or city, it is considered good traveller’s practice to sample the local sights and sounds, as it hopefully provides an insight into local culture. For a truly international event, Coachella still feels confidently Californian: a holistic Hollywood haven of music, art, food, and entertainment; a desert retreat revelling in the cut-throat intensity and excess of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But maybe this juxtaposition highlights the success of the phenomenon of vicariousness known as ‘Californication’. Anthony Kiedis said it best in the song that bears its name: “Everybody’s been there, and I don’t mean on vacation”.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the second day of the festival – Saturday 20th April 2013. It is part 3 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Friday had mostly been a rollercoaster ride of rock, taking corners with reckless abandon (Palma Violets’ beastly bash in the Mojave, complete with hoots and hollers), or with long climbs and mammoth drops (The Stone Roses’ trance-inducing nostalgia trip on the Coachella).

But as the second day of Coachella dawned, an exploration into more experimental territory would be undertaken, populated with dance rock, indie pop, acoustic folk, and pop rock. The festival offers a wide variety of exotic locales to visit, but one soon realises that as a dedicated fan, your schedule has been booked in advance, and might offer little leeway to venture into unknown lands. The rise in popularity of EDM (electronic dance music) in recent years has highlighted this divide, or opportunity, depending on which way you look at it. Although Coachella was a forerunner in catering for that bulk of genres, those stages and tents are now sizeably populated and a festival unto themselves, with the capital to be found in the monolithic Sahara Tent, home to a raging party with high production values from noon till midnight. Elsewhere, the enclosed Yuma Tent and Heineken Dome offered more EDM excitement, whilst the DO Lab, an outdoor arrangement of tall multi-coloured, Dr Seussian tents around a central dance floor, doubled up as a shady retreat from the daytime desert haze.

 

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

 

Coachella offers the same line-up for both weekends, but occasionally an artist pulls out from the second instalment. One such disappointment was the highly-anticipated Biffy Clyro; the leftfield lunatics of alternative rock who have slowly earned a stadium-sized reputation over the past five to six years on the other side of the Atlantic. After a ragged appearance on Weekend 1, the band bowed out from the rest of their US tour, with lead singer and guitarist Simon Neil suffering severe respiratory problems brought on from the relentless promotion of their first UK Number One album, ‘Opposites’.

This unfortunate loss to the Saturday afternoon line-up meant that there was an opportunity to discover some other highly-recommended acts, starting with singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s laidback acoustic folk at the Outdoor Theatre. With much of the crowd seated or reclined on the grass, Howard’s troupe flitted through his soothing repertoire, with highlights including ‘Old Pine’ and ‘The Wolves’.

 

 

Moving to the Mojave, the alluring indie pop of Bat For Lashes melded tribal rhythms (“Horses In The Sun”) with a synthpop aesthetic (“Daniel”). Natasha Khan (real name) gave an impressive performance overall; seductively sashaying across the stage in time to the jittery beats, her powerful voice evoking a young Kate Bush on the exquisite “What’s A Girl To Do?”. After the stunning ballad “Laura”, Khan acknowledged the blistering heat (“I want some of that spray, it’s bloody hot”), but pushed on to the most intriguing song of her set. ‘The Haunted Man’ (the title song of her highly-acclaimed 2012 album) saw her make use of an old transistor radio as an instrument, with her triumphantly holding it up to the mic at the climax of the song.

At the climax of 'The Haunted Man', Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

At the climax of ‘The Haunted Man’, Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

 

A voyage to the main Coachella Stage via one of the eight food vendor areas is a gastronomic adventure in itself. With a total of sixty vendors plying their trade at the festival, there is an array of international options, including Mexican, Greek, Korean, and Italian (it’s considered a festival right-of-passage to have at least one gigantic slice from Spicy Pie Pizza). Portable outlets of some well-established Los Angeles eateries also find their way into the Coachella melting pot. Feeling fed and well-nourished, it was now possible to make it through the marathon run of the last four acts of the day at the festival’s sprawling focal point.

First up was the electronica enchantment of Hot Chip, whose energetic, quirky, and danceable set focused heavily on their latest album (2012’s In Our Heads) and creating beat-driven improvisations of their hits. The rave atmosphere brimmed with excitement; the sweet ode to monogamy ‘One Life Stand’ being spiced up with live steel drums, the heavy slabs of bass and galloping drum line on ‘Over And Over’, as well as the staggering synthesizer solo on the call-to-arms ‘Ready For The Floor’. The band’s slinky sound even moved into ballad terrain (‘Look At Where We Are’), but never lapsed into laziness, as evidenced by the beautifully programmed live synth-and-drum combination on set-closer ‘I Feel Better’.

The Postal Service was in business next – an ostensibly imaginary band that only recently regrouped for the tenth anniversary of their one and only debut album Give Up. Despite the irony of that nomenclature, the group (featuring Death Cab For Cutie’s vocalist Ben Gibbard) were well-received and remembered, as their lone album a decade ago was a critical and commercial success. Their forward-thinking, twinkly new-wave melodies have aged well, triggering crowd sing-alongs (such as on set-closer ‘Brand New Colony’) as Gibbard’s lead vocals were given a delicate backing by the redheaded Jenny Lewis of fellow indie poppers Rilo Kiley. Interpreting these songs live led to some interesting moves onstage, as Gibbard dashed across to a drum set to give the magical soundscapes of ‘We Will Become Silhouettes’ some added percussion. Soaring magnum opus ‘Such Great Heights’ (the soundtrack to many a commercial or television series in the intervening years) was also given a great rendition for the crowd, whose enthusiasm for the group had clearly not waned over time.

 

 

Captivating and cool, The xx’s hauntingly beautiful indie pop was a bold choice for the main Coachella Stage, something which guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft confessed to (“3 years ago, we were at the Outdoor Theatre next door. We could never have dreamed of being here”). For a group that trades on hushed, intimate confessions between lovers, it was a rare peek behind the veil. Croft’s spiralling guitar lines mesh fluidly with Oliver Sim’s throbbing bass grooves, whilst sonic architect Jamie xx completes the mysterious trio, whose subtle and sparse stage setup echoes their mellow choice of sound.

 

 

Opening with the woozy ‘Try’, the mood shifted effortlessly between melancholic (the propulsive ‘Crystalised’) and romantic (the steel-drum-inflected ‘Reunion’). The spectral duets between Croft and Sim were gorgeous to behold, whether it was their serpentine sighs or their forehead-to-forehead, heart-to-heart instrumental passages. Fan-favourites ‘VCR’, ‘Intro’, and ‘Islands’ highlighted the group’s taut chemistry, and the undulating, danceable numbers from their recent album Coexist hinted at their R&B roots. Surprisingly, they closed off their emotive set with the minimalist (even by their standards) ‘Angels’. Not surprisingly, the crowd sang along, echoing Croft’s every word. The xx’s claim for the main stage had been confidently validated.

The hot topic of conversation over the course of Weekend 2 was “do you think Daft Punk will show up?”. The revered French DJ duo had released a teaser trailer the previous weekend to rapturous response, apparently causing a sudden mass exodus to its screening at the main stage. For those wishing for that cameo appearance, their best hope seemed to be with Saturday headliners, fellow Frenchmen Phoenix. The eclectic pop rockers had their own trick up their sleeve on Weekend 1, bringing R&B superstar R Kelly to the stage to blend his own ‘Ignition (Remix)’ with their hit single ‘1901’, but no such star-studded sideshows were in order second time around.

 

 

They did, however, assuredly and earnestly cement their headliner status, jubilantly opening and closing the set with their irresistible new single ‘Entertainment’. The upcoming Bankrupt! was to be released the following Monday, and the band took the opportunity to reveal a plethora of new material, showcasing their style evolution from the laidback and endearing indie rockers of 2000’s United and 2004’s Alphabetical, to the stadium-sized synth scientists of their breakout success, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. In addition to the crowd-pleasing past hits ‘Liztomania’ and ‘1901’, hot-off-the-press new tracks that were revealed included the bouncy ‘Don’t’, the new-wave niceties of ‘Trying To Be Cool’, and the expansive electrohaze of ‘Chloroform’. An exquisite stage setup, an acoustic rendition of ‘Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun)’, and a lengthy remix of two instrumental tracks (‘Love Like A Sunset’ and ‘Bankrupt!’) all rounded off an impressive and immersive extravaganza. But lead singer Thomas Mars was not finished just yet: on the reprise of the euphoric ‘Entertainment’, he launched into the crowd, surfing his way towards a lighting rig far from the stage. Clambering up the scaffolding, Mars then surveyed his faithful flock, and knew that it was a job well done.

Nowadays, big-name festivals such as Coachella are not just about the music; it’s about the experience. In a matter of days, places like the Empire Polo Club are transformed into mini-communities, which the regular concertgoing experience would struggle to match in scope or variety. Whether you exalt the excellence of EDM, profess your passion for pop & rock, or just follow the crowd, you come to a festival seeking to be entertained.

Each time Thomas Mars leaped into that chorus, singing the high falsetto of “Entertainment, show them what you do to me”, thousands of exuberant voices didn’t realise that they were providing the evidence.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the first day of the festival – Friday 19th April 2013. It is part 2 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

After Weekend 1’s bizarre weather, which included a sudden cold snap and dizzying dust-storms, it was a relief for Coachellans attending the festival’s second weekend to be able to bask in the desert heat (and then promptly find the refuge of some shade).

The experience of attending one of the world’s largest and most ubiquitous music festivals as a South African leaves one a little bewildered, intoxicated with wide-eyed wonder and disbelief at the scope and organisation of this mega-event. Your Third World cynicism makes you expect logistics to unravel the festivities at some point, but everywhere you go, Coachella has got it covered. Security, camping, technology, food & drink, and most importantly, the performances: the organisers of this event made sure that you as the festivalgoer were able to forget the rest of the world for one weekend, and immerse yourself in Coachella City, estimated population of 90 000 per day in 2013.

 

Passing through Line-Up Lane on the way to the main festival grounds

Passing through Line-Up Lane on the way to the main festival grounds

 

Even passing through the campgrounds to the stringent security check before the festival area, the Empire Polo Club reminds you of its legacy, placing the official line up posters of all previous incarnations en route. Coachella wants you to be part of its history, and to share it with your fellow festivalgoers. Stopping by the Fruttare Hangout (where two free ice creams are given to each person entering the air-conditioned den), promoters take photos of you to share on social networks, and the chalkboard walls offer opportunities to leave messages to anyone and no one in particular.

 

Seeking relief in the air-conditioned Fruttare Hangout

Seeking relief in the air-conditioned Fruttare Hangout

 

Choosing to proudly drape your country’s flag across your back also helps garner attention, and spark off some conversations whilst wandering through the wonderland of entertainment. Mobile phone charging stations dotted throughout the grounds are a hive of activity, creating opportunities to bring strangers and their cultures together in what is truly an international event.

Friday’s frenetic line up exemplified the global influence on Coachella, and this year, the British had staked a large claim for attention across the six stages and tents. After alternative hip hop artist Aesop Rock pleaded for the crowd at the Outdoor Theatre to “take the brain out, leave the heart in!”, the iconic indie rock god Johnny Marr launched into an exhilarating solo set in the Mojave Tent, coolly playing through his recent debut album The Messenger. Just to remind the crowd of where he made his name first known as a spellbinding guitarist and hit maker, Marr dusted off three covers from The Smiths’ back catalogue: ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’, and the twin fan-favourites ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ & ‘How Soon Is Now?’.  Although the ghost of Morrissey’s croon hangs heavily over those three hits, Marr’s vocals, whilst not being particularly showy, held up adequately nonetheless. His guitar work was exceptional however: hard-hitting and lively on the up-tempo ‘Upstarts’ & ‘Generate! Generate!’, and truly mind-bending & effervescent on the infectious ‘The Messenger’.

 

 

Moving from the melodic master in the Mojave to the Gobi Tent next door was quite an interesting change in scenery. Canadian garage rock duo Japandroids laid siege to the stage with their sweat-drenched and noisy take on classic rock and punk, soldiering on through a broken string in the middle of their first song ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’. Seemingly nothing could stop guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse from assaulting the crowd’s senses, as they gleefully powered through hits such as ‘Younger Us’ and ‘Night Of Wine And Roses’ from both their studio albums. King announced the arrival of ‘Wet Hair’ with a breathless “this wasn’t played last weekend!”, highlighting the two-weekend format of the festival, and attempting to provide a unique experience.

 

Brian King of Japandroids in the Gobi Tent

Brian King of Japandroids in the Gobi Tent

 

As is the case with such an action-packed festival, you have to keep your wits about you, make some sacrifices, and keep on moving. Rushing back across to the Mojave, genre-defying Alt-J was already done with starters, and had moved into the juicy main section of their set, rattling off tranquil ‘Matilda’, breath-taking ‘Bloodflood’ and hit-single ‘Breezeblocks’ in quick succession. For a band that only released its debut album in 2012, Alt-J received a rapturous response from the packed crowd, and this bodes well for their headlining appearance at South Africa’s own Rocking The Daisies Festival later this year.

 

Alt-J onstage in the Mojave Tent

Alt-J onstage in the Mojave Tent

 

With the sun hanging low in the sky, Passion Pit then took to the main Coachella stage, bringing its gleeful and sugary indie pop sound mixed with a strong dose of acerbic lyrics. Lead singer Michael Angelakos’ highly-publicized struggle with Bipolar Disorder has been a particular point of interest since the release of their magnificent sophomore effort Gossamer last July, and the band seemed revitalised, knowing the battle that often goes undocumented behind the scenes. Their set reflected this reality, opening with the sobering ‘Take A Walk’ (referencing a man at wits’ end trying to earn his keep despite the downturned economy), and moving onto the more personal ‘I’ll Be Alright’ and ‘Carried Away’. Not that the crowd would have noticed, judging from the mood that Angelakos and his merry men created – strictly light-hearted and life-affirming.

 

Passion Pit on the main Coachella Stage

Passion Pit on the main Coachella Stage

 

Friday’s dark horse came in the form of scrappy, up-and-coming British indie rockers, Palma Violets, whose freewheeling ‘sun-set’ in the Mojave kept the relatively small but dedicated crowd enthralled. Ringleader and bassist ‘Chili’ Jesson wildly cavorted about onstage, interspersing breaks between songs with attempts to get the crowd to wave their fingers in the air to ‘hold up the setting sun behind you’, and letting them offhandedly know that they – the band or the crowd; it’s hard to tell – are ‘heaps better than last week’. Even arriving a few songs in didn’t detract from the rambunctious mood, as the London lads ripped through their first three singles from their recent debut album 180 (‘Best Of Friends’, ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats’, and ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’), and began a glorious, crowd-surfing finale of ‘14’ and ‘Brand New Song’. It was like seeing a cross between a young Rolling Stones and The Libertines in their prime – a heady cocktail of swagger, chaos, and fun.

 

Palma Violets in the Mojave Tent

Palma Violets in the Mojave Tent

 

Twilight beckoned, and the polo grounds slowly morphed into a kaleidoscope of colours. The large pieces of installation art strategically placed in between the stages came to life, dominating the evening skyline along with the gigantic Ferris wheel – a hallmark of Coachelladom. On the Outdoor Theatre stage emerged the mysterious Beach House as silhouetted figures through the smoke. Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals drifted over the crowd, backed by Alex Scally’s enchanting guitar lines amidst a stunning backdrop of long glass-like chandeliers hanging from the roof of the stage. This pungent romantic atmosphere perfectly suited their shimmery indie pop: the rhythmic pulse of opener ‘Wild’, the wordless sighs of ‘Lazuli’, or the nimble, cyclical riffs of ‘Wishes’. The rest of their set strung together an intoxicating mix of hits from the two recent albums that brought them mainstream success (2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom). When Legrand declared that “it’s night time this year. Night is better, it’s more forgiving”, it was evident that the cloak of darkness was only to maintain the aura, and not mask any technical shortcomings when performing live.

 

 

This mastery was acknowledged by the cheerful Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses, whose crew was next up on the same stage. “We love Beach House!” he declared, “We wanna collaborate with them!” Although his band occasionally dispenses beautiful ballads, such as fan-favourite ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, Bridwell and Co. primarily dealt in soaring rockers on the night, opening with the appropriate ‘The First Song’, and bringing a light-hearted mid-song breakdown to ‘The Great Salt Lake’ (“Mama’s little baby loves shortcake!”). The mood careened between triumphant (‘Is There A Ghost’) and easy-going (‘Laredo’), as the no-frills South Carolina quintet gave the crowd a much-needed jolt of energy.

 

Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses at the Outdoor Theatre

Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses at the Outdoor Theatre

 

Friday night’s headliners switched around from the order of Weekend 1; a move that’d seemingly been planned and agreed upon all along. So the controversial Stone Roses – both in their history and the organiser’s decision for them to headline the festival – were on the main Coachella Stage first this time round. Despite lengthy gaps between their pair of albums and a 15-year breakup, the band’s pioneering impact on British alternative music is unquestioned, but for a predominately American audience at Coachella, the question on many people’s lips before the festival was “who are The Stone Roses?”

 

The Stone Roses' kaleidoscopic light display on the main Coachella Stage

The Stone Roses’ kaleidoscopic light display on the main Coachella Stage

 

That question was answered quite emphatically in the Led-Zeppelin-length live rendition of ‘Fools Gold’ near the beginning of their set. Magically mixing classic rock riffs with the groove and sensibilities of late 80’s rave culture, the foursome showed off their technical wizardry and interplay to an intrigued crowd. Mononym maestros Mani and Reni kept the loose-limbed rhythm section in check on bass and drums respectively, allowing John Squire to concoct a seemingly endless supply of guitar licks, frequently indulging in marathon solos and improvisations. Ian Brown’s vocals were mostly unremarkable and buried low in the swirling vortex of sound, but the anthemic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and ‘Waterfall’ were well-received (the latter being followed by ‘Don’t Stop’, a trippy reversal of the song, complete with impressive attempts at live backmasking). A mesmerising drum solo from Reni added to the psychedelic atmosphere, before the antagonistic ‘I Am The Resurrection’ triumphantly closed out their set. Whilst it may have been a little risky to place the Roses at the top of the bill, their musicianship made up for their relative obscurity.

Over in the Mojave, Foals’ groove-orientated sound had locked their fans in, and cuts from the indie rockers’ latest crossover success in the States, Holy Fire, showed a sublime, soulful and funky band finally hitting top gear. They were equally at ease with spacey epics such as ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Late Night’, or the fiery bombast of new hit single ‘Inhaler’ (where Yannis Philippakis’ yelp turned into an awe-inspiring howl). The lead singer and guitarist had a lot of fun on stage, encouraging those assembled to “have a nice weekend, and don’t act too…sane”, as well as diving into the crowd, surfing above the faithful with trusty guitar in hand.

The task of closing off the eventful first day was given to Britpop barons Blur, whose set on the main Coachella Stage traversed the band’s discography, from jaunty ‘Parklife’ (from the 1994 album of the same name, with a cameo spoken word appearance by actor Paul Daniels) to the soulful ‘Tender’ (from 1999’s 13). Backed by a three-piece horn section and extra vocalists, the sound was suitably lush, and at times, the mood dipped into melancholia and experimentation (‘This Is A Low’, ‘Caramel’). Blur achieved moderate success Stateside in the 90’s, unlike fellow headliners The Stone Roses, and closing their set with the lo-fi mega-hit  ‘Song 2’ was a smart choice, shaking the somewhat sleepy crowd awake after a string of quieter tracks.

 

Britpop barons Blur closing off the day on the main Coachella Stage

Britpop barons Blur closing off the day on the main Coachella Stage

 

Past 1am, the official festivities wind down in the musical mecca of Coachella, leaving festivalgoers to either continue the party on their own in the massive campgrounds, or get some much-needed rest and sleep. With two full days left to spend in this glittering oasis, choosing the latter was a no-brainer.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article constitutes an introduction to the event and my trip. Each written source received a version of the article tailored to suit their website/newspaper, which has been presented here generically as “The Eagle’s Nest”. It is part 1 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others.)

 

Nestled in the Coachella Valley of the California Desert is a glittering oasis that springs to life every April. Music and art are celebrated and expressed amidst the baking heat, bringing together pilgrims from all over the world. And the author will be one of the many making the exodus.

In its short 14-year history, The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has established itself as one of the most highly-attended music festivals in the world. Evidence of this impressive reputation was seen in 2012’s edition, where over 80 000 people per day passed through the Empire Polo Club to get a taste from Coachella’s musical melting pot. By combining acts from multiple genres, ranging the mainstream right through to a more alternative flavour, the festival has built a strong, diverse following over the years.

And it’s not just the music that brings people there en masse. The event brings out the best that rock, indie, hip hop and electronic music genres have to offer, as well as sculpture and installation art from the visual arts community. Across several stages dotted around the polo grounds, fans can experience live music, ranging from the main Coachella Stage, and Outdoor Theatre, to the smaller Gobi, Mojave, and Sahara Tents.

Coachella is known for showcasing musical artists that are popular and well-established, as well as emerging artists and particularly, reunited groups. With the emergence of electronic dance music, world-class DJ acts have also found a place in the Coachella chemistry, increasing the popularity and diversity of this exciting festival.

Every April since 1999 (except for 2000), the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, California have played host to alternative and indie music’s desert royal ball. The likes of Radiohead, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire, Rage Against The Machine, Kings of Leon, and The Black Keys are but a few of the many past headliners of the event, with each year providing a smorgasbord of support acts, numbering 190 by the 2012 edition.

 

The Empire Polo Club – host to the Coachella Music Festival

 

This year’s event will continue that tradition, with the iconic Red Hot Chili Peppers in a headlining role again, along with French indie rock band Phoenix, and the legendary Stone Roses. Due to increased demand over the late 2000s, the festival now rises up from the desert soil for two weekends per year, offering the same stellar line-up each weekend. Friday features British greats Blur and Johnny Marr, as well as exciting North American talent in Passion Pit, Band of Horses, and Japandroids. Saturday has the likes of The xx, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and Biffy Clyro up its sleeve, whilst Sunday shows no signs of slowing down, placing Tame Impala, The Gaslight Anthem and Wu-Tang Clan on the bill.

Coachella offers onsite camping facilities for each weekend, allowing festival-goers to immerse themselves in the three-day experience. These facilities include showers, general stores, mobile phone charging stations, and an internet cafe with free Wi-Fi – all features to make the festival-going experience a thoroughly modern one. Sustainability initiatives also form part of the festival makeup, as organizers involve employees and attendees alike in reducing Coachella’s carbon footprint through recycling facilities, carpooling, and education on energy reduction.

The Eagle’s Nest will be receiving on-the-ground coverage during and after this year’s edition of Coachella, specifically the second weekend from the 19th to 21st of April. Readers will get a proudly South African perspective on a truly global festival, and how its cutting-edge, forward-thinking initiatives compare to our country’s current festival scene. Summaries of live performances from each of the three days will allow readers to vicariously enjoy the festival experience, and to discuss and share moments of musical magic.

Once again, this oasis will emerge, accompanied by gorgeous weather, beautiful scenery, and high-quality live music acts. This intrepid music journalist will soon be arriving in the Land of The Cactus and The Chorus, and it goes by the name of Coachella.

 

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle's Nest

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle’s Nest

 

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 13th of November 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)   The Beatles are near-universal in their influence over the world. That’s a fact. I often wonder if, in the womb, everyone was indoctrinated with at least one or two of their beloved hits. But I can credit just one source that made me sit up and realise they are a cultural phenomenon to be cherished, admired and, dare I say, worship.  
The unmistakable 'Fab Four' (circa 1964), when 'Beatlemania' began

The unmistakable ‘Fab Four’ (circa 1964), when ‘Beatlemania’ began

  Released in 2007, Across The Universe is a musical film that effectively captures the spirit of that band of four men in 1960’s who changed the world of music forever. The plot is superbly linked with The Beatles’ back catalogue of tunes, and the psychedelic romantic drama is set in that time period, mirroring and highlighting contemporary social and political issues in a vivid and exciting style. And this story-through-song opened my eyes, ears and heart to their music more viscerally than anything else in the eighteen years preceding it.   Across The Universe - Movie Poster     Looking at it from a genre point of view, it effectively sidesteps an obstacle that many musicals run into: balancing fun with more serious, weighty issues. Some can only be upbeat and happy, or almost opera-like, full of gloominess and excessive sentimentality. I usually find that any attempts at mixing up the vibe end up feeling forced and clunky. Not so with this Julie Taymor-directed gem. The plot centres on a young Liverpudlian dock worker named Jude (surprise, surprise), who decides to illegally emigrate to the USA in search of his estranged father. Along the way, he meets up with Max, a slacker student at Princeton, and is introduced to Lucy, Max’s younger sister, and a host of other interesting characters, with nearly all of them being named after a Beatles song or song’s character. In fact, Beatles references are soaked into every fibre of the film’s fabric, and it would require multiple viewings to find and appreciate them.  
Three of the main characters - Lucy, Max and Jude

Three of the main characters – Lucy, Max and Jude

  Although I like to think of myself as having a decent knowledge of film, it’s the film’s soundtrack that I want to focus on, and how it compares to the originals. I mean, that’s the part that stood out for me for the most upon first viewing. It was an inauspicious start, I might add, there in my dorm room with two of my friends late one night in our first year of university. One even left ten minutes in, during a film I’ve now watched at least ten times! The press surrounding it all at the time labelled it as ‘a Beatles musical’, so when I found myself really enjoying the music, it got me thinking “if they’re singing Beatles’ songs, then this band must be as good as people say they are”. First impressions always count a lot, so it was difficult for me to accept John, Paul, George and Ringo’s versions as canonical, after the modern, cinematic garishness of Taymor’s. Now, after three and a half years of reflection, I think I am ready to make some reasonable opinions. What is really being compared here is not which one is better (that would be blasphemous), but more of whether the style of one version is more appropriate to the lyrics and subject matter than the other, and perhaps which one suits the film better. And there is no harm in debating that. Some songs have a backstory that is a little more interesting than most (particularly late-60’s compositions, found on disc two). Therefore, I feel that it’s only right to dedicate a little more space to their heritage than the others. Also, since it’s a review of the soundtrack, I’ll be careful not to give away too many plot points or focus too much on aspects of the film. It’s really a head-to-head comparison of the music, between the past and the present.  

The Facts

All in all, the double-disc soundtrack contains 31 complete songs. A further two brief extracts of other songs (which aren’t on the discs) are incorporated into the score, and one song is repeated; thus totalling 34 individual ‘musical cues’, in film speak. Many are sung by one or two of the main cast members, guest musicians, or an ensemble. One complete instrumental is included as well. At times, songs are interwoven, and to great effect.  

Disc one

  1. Girl
  2. Hold Me Tight
  3. All My Loving
  4. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  5. With A Little Help From My Friends
  6. It Won’t Be Long
  7. I’ve Just Seen A Face
  8. Let It Be
  9. Come Together
  10. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
  11. If I Fell
  12. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
  13. Dear Prudence
  14. Flying
  15. Blue Jay Way
 

1. Girl

Lennon’s acoustic number about a manipulating, paradoxical girl that he seems irrepressibly drawn to, serves as a perfect introduction to this love story. Shortened to just over a minute, containing only the first verse, Taymor’s version condenses the speaker’s lovesick confusion into a sweeping, ambient lament. Whilst at that length, it fits the movie perfectly, if it was drawn out to the original’s four verses, it would’ve lost a lot of steam.  
It doesn't get much bleaker than a British beach on an overcast day...

It doesn’t get much bleaker than a British beach on an overcast day…

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Overall, the original’s breezy, lush instrumentation and vocal harmonies trumps Taymor’s brief, lonely tale of woe. Cinematically, however, it would be unlikely that the original could have worked for this scene.  

2. Hold Me Tight

‘Girl’ segues into McCartney’s oft-forgotten ‘work song’ (as he’s referred to it in the past)Hold Me Tight, along with a brief snippet of ‘Helter Skelter’ before the track starts. The original, from the Beatles’ early days, was deemed acceptable album filler at the time, and carried a tired portrayal of the Fab Four’s bouncy and zesty ‘Merseyside skiffle’. However, lead actress Evan Rachel Wood absolutely nails the lead vocals on Taymor’s version, and the track gets a much-needed spit-and-polish musically. In the film (but not on the soundtrack), the song switches at times to a grungy, Cavern Club-style venue, where the lead actor Jim Sturgess sings to another minor character, showing the simple passion of young love from both genders, and two different musical styles as well. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The attention to detail and modern revamping of a sub-standard Beatles filler definitely fits the mood of this song perfectly. On the other hand, The Beatles were churning out far more successful hits than this at the time.  

3. All My Loving

One of The Beatles’ early hits, ‘All My Loving’ is masterfully included in the film’s carefree and innocent opening scenes. Both versions are much the same in arrangement; one of the rare cases, in fact. McCartney’s pop classic (which he originally envisioned as a country & western style track) has upbeat, jangly guitars and simple, yet effective lyrics referring to a relationship where the speaker is away from his love (“and I’ll send all my loving to you”). Taymor’s version differs by having a great a capella first verse and a focus on space-like keyboard effects than guitars. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The ‘puppy love’ lyrics need to be appropriately matched with a rollicking rhythm, and the original takes the cake here. Taymor’s a capella first verse was an inspired touch, and whilst the tempo picks up later in the song, it’s not enough.  

4. I Want To Hold Your Hand

The Beatles’ best-selling single gets turned into an odd, slow-moving ballad by Taymor here, and it’s probably the lone total disappointment of the entire soundtrack. A minor female character provides an aching, lustful and curious take on the song, which might sound good in theory, but the execution is very off-the-mark and out-of-place. Her voice is painful t0 listen to, and the excessive vibrato just feels forced.  
Enjoy the choreography of a dance sequence involving football players

Enjoy the choreography of a dance sequence involving football players

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: The all-conquering, catchy original has stood the test of time, continuing to influence and shape music and pop culture. The twin lead vocals, the hand claps, the rush one feels when Lennon croons “I wanna hold your haaaaaaaaaand!” – nothing can match that. The interpretation in the film wasn’t necessarily a bad idea; if the vocalist was changed and the tempo picked up a bit, it could’ve worked out a lot better.  

5. With A Little Help From My Friends

The well-loved sing-along from the Sgt Pepper’s days gets a fittingly ensemble-like treatment for the film. The scene shows a group of young lads having a big night out on the town, so the call-and-response lyrics are perfectly suited. The film also chooses to base its version on the radical, rocking Joe Cocker cover version, and once again, get it right. It’s very difficult to resist the urge to scream (not sing!) along to the final minute as if you were there with the boys, having the time of your lives.  
Party time...with a little help from your friends

Party time…with a little help from your friends

  Due to the change in arrangement, the guitar is grungier, harsher and starts and stops more often than the original’s light, bopping riff. McCartney’s bass and other backing instruments, such as a piano, organ, tambourine and cowbell are very prominent in the original’s mix, and give it a quaint, friendly feel. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: Whilst the original has a boozy swagger to it, with the speaker feeling down and out about his lover not being there (hence getting by ‘with a little help from my friends’), it just doesn’t capture the laddish brotherhood of a typical group of guys consoling and uplifting their friend. No fault on Ringo’s part in terms of lead vocals; it just needed that extra boost musically, like the previous track on Sgt Pepper’s (i.e. the title song) had.  

6. It Won’t Be Long

The opening track off With The Beatles once again has lead vocals by the alluring Evan Rachel Wood in the film. She has this silky touch to her singing that makes every track she appears in a treat for the ears, and this catchy early-Lennon/McCartney composition sounds great with a female voice. But unlike ‘Hold Me Tight’, Lennon’s timeless croon sounds impassioned, sexy and on point. Musically, Taymor retains the call-and-response ‘yeah-yeahs’ (with female backing vocals) and guitar riffs, but tones done the drum parts, which removes some of the original’s punch. But only a little. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst the song is skilfully mixed into the storyline with Woods’ fresh-faced feminine perspective, the original ticked all the boxes first-time round. Twice the amount of versions here means twice the amount of fun.  

7. I’ve Just Seen A Face

This twangy, up-tempo country-and-western McCartney number gets a heavier, glossier remake, and it’s tough to choose between the versions of song of love at first sight. McCartney sounds like a smitten cowboy, positively cherubic, with splendid acoustic guitar work to accompany him. Whilst Taymor’s guitars are nice and crunchy, the vocal work from lead actor Jim Sturgess is the highlight here. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: I had to put aside my love for Sturgess’ croon to call this one. The percussion on the film version is literally just a click track, and whilst the song is appropriate for the scene, it needs that crisp foot-tapping beat that the original provides with Ringo’s brushed snare and maracas. Paul’s voice is nigh untouchable on this one, but Sturgess does a fine job trying.  

8. Let It Be

Taymor taps into the Oscar and Grammy Award-winning ballad’s spiritual undertones, and produces a soaring rendition, full of soul and emotion. Sung by two minor characters (a little boy and a church choir singer), it really tugs at the heartstrings, and marks a pivotal change in the film’s tone. One would hope that McCartney would be happy with the gospel take on his hit song; he was famously discontented with producer Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ production on the album Let It Be.   Across The Universe - Let It Be - Little Boy
The little boy and church choir singer make 'Let It Be' soar with emotion

The little boy and church choir singer make ‘Let It Be’ soar with emotion

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: A song such as this deserves the pomp and dramatics of a full gospel choir, paired with hushed revelations from a child’s voice (Paul found inspiration to write the song in the death of his mother, who passed away from cancer when he was only 14). And whilst the original is piano-based, with an orchestral accompaniment, he should’ve gone one step further. It would’ve helped dissolve the thin layer of pretentiousness that the song seems to have wrapped around it.  

9. Come Together

Lennon’s widely covered bluesy rocker is one of the film’s first darker, edgier moments. It gets the previously mentioned blues icon Joe Cocker on lead vocals, and his gritty rendition is slow-boiling. His voice is utterly distinctive, and deserved on such a track, but musically, the track feels limp, watery and rather undulating, lacking the punch of McCartney’s distinctive bass-line and spatterings of electric piano that made it one of the highlights of Abbey Road. An ensemble of female backing vocals can’t save it either. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This dreary re-tread serves merely as an exposition scene in the film, introducing a new main character to the proceedings as he travels the dark streets of New York. Whilst it’s not exactly a bad cover of the song, it does next to nothing to stamp any authority on it.  

10. Why Don’t We Do It The Road?

For the first time in the film (apart from a fleeting couple of seconds after ‘Girl’s’ completion), we get to hear the raspy, feisty Dana Fuchs burst through the speakers and rattle our eardrums with vigour. Her contributions to the soundtrack are mostly on The Beatles’ heaviest, most primal outputs, and it’s a match made in heaven. McCartney’s lusty, two-line quickie gets the volume turned up really loud, and Fuchs’s female swagger just oozes out onto a propulsive rhythm, with a wailing guitar, workmanlike drums and a funky organ her raucous companions. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The recording process of ‘Why Don’t…’ parallels the urgent, capricious nature of its subject matter (McCartney found inspiration in seeing two monkeys copulating on a road in India, and later chose to quickly record the entire track alone, except for Starr on drums). And yet such a feral song comes out sounding rather tame. Piano-led, with a hushed pulse of bass underneath, Paul’s vocals take on the lion’s share of the work, quickly morphing into impassioned screams and yelps. But overall it seems skeletal when his demands feel fully fleshed. For that reason, Taymor’s version trumps his by capturing them in 1 minute, 23 seconds of carnal desire, and with the music to match.  
Young or old, anybody can do it in the road

Young or old, anybody can do it in the road

 

11. If I Fell

The film then back-tracks a little in Beatles history to 1964, and presents a song about vulnerability and hesitance to fall in love, with a mood that matches the tenderness of the lyrics. Taymor’s version is almost unrecognisable from the original, whose sugar-sweet vocal harmonies and mid-tempo grooves are some of the Beatles finest on record. In their places, Wood’s ethereal croon is placed centre-stage, in all its glory, whilst an acoustic guitar occasionally whispers the most delicate of notes in the background. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.  
If I Fell In Love With Evan Rachel Wood (And Her Voice)

If I Fell In Love With Evan Rachel Wood (And Her Voice)

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The full-band version that was chosen by The Beatles for A Hard Day’s Night just doesn’t seem intimate enough when compared with what could’ve been (an early demo just had John alone on acoustic guitar). When ‘If I Fell’ came out, the band had yet to explore the idea of performing any songs that didn’t require all four band members on the track. The following year, Paul’s solo masterpiece, ‘Yesterday’, debuted as part of their repertoire, and it was the first song of theirs that relied on the performance of just one band member. I think that if that mind-set was applied to earlier songs like ‘If I Fell’, it could’ve produced a more fitting version of this Lennon/McCartney classic.  

12. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Lennon’s obsessive, grinding yet enchanting tale of pure longing gets somewhat neutered for Across The Universe. But thankfully, Taymor attempts to fit as much as the original’s awkward time signatures, overdubbed guitars and massed choir effects in its shortened 3 minute 44 second edit. The result still grinds, but comes out smoother; a sort of gothic hymn. It’s an ensemble outing on this track, with male and female vocals getting their moment to bluesily belt out the simple, to-the-point lyrics, as the lumbering rhythms drag them forwards. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This one is a particularly difficult song to cover, since the highly experimental original’s length meanders on for 7 minutes 47 seconds (upon which it abruptly ends, mid-chaos and white noise; an avant-garde decision of Lennon’s). You’ve got to admire the courage of Taymor to attempt to condense such a jarring song into a marketable Hollywood film. Her version suits the narrative (the ‘I Want You’ applying more to forced conscription by the US army in the 1960’s than desire for the love of someone else), and for that purpose, it does its job. Just don’t try to say that it matches the aching intensity of Lennon’s desire for Yoko Ono that fuelled the original.  
Yoko Ono: John's desire for her was strong on 'I Want You'

Yoko Ono: John’s desire for her was strong on ‘I Want You’

 

13. Dear Prudence

Cleverly intertwined with the storyline, this sweet, calming number from the White Album starts off well, but feels a little too murky and underdone. The ensemble’s vocal harmonies are quite soothing though; varied too, because of the female touch. The lyrical interpretation in the film version is interesting too. Lennon originally wrote this song in India about the actress Mia Farrow’s sister, who locked herself in her room, meditating near-constantly, whilst on the band’s visit to the country. In the film, a sexually-confused character forces herself to contemplate her orientation, spending the night in a locked cupboard. So the lines “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?/Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day” are given an interesting twist in that context; a masterful stroke of scriptwriting by Taymor. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: This was heading towards a tie in my mind. But then I realised how well-restrained, yet vibrant, the original’s music was. Finger style guitar underpins the song, with a bass line that doesn’t need to drone all the way throughout to be noticed. Then slowly, layer upon layer, lead guitar, piano, handclaps, even a cowbell, get introduced and the effect seems a lot more sprightly than Taymor’s, despite the song seguing into a protest rally in the film. And that’s what going to bring dear Prudence out of her hiding place: reassurance and uplifting music.  

14 & 15. Flying & Blue Jay Way

These two lesser-known ambient psychedelic pieces from Magical Mystery Tour are almost absent in the film, with only a brief few seconds of ‘Flying’ being played as a transition between scenes. To be honest, if it weren’t for the soundtrack, I wouldn’t have known that they were a part of the movie. But each gets a faithful full-length rendition, both by a space-rock band named The Secret Machines. The first is an instrumental, and interestingly one of the few Beatles songs attributed to all four members. Both versions have very trippy, swirling effects, and hints of backing vocals offering up some ‘aahs’. However, considering how old the original is, it’s amazing to hear what effects they were able to achieve back then, including some typically psychedelic tape loops. ‘Blue Jay Way’ is an eerie Harrison composition, detailing the events of a foggy night where one of his friends got lost in Los Angeles on his way to meet him at a house in Blue Jay Way. The Secret Machines imitate the original’s style near exactly, so there’s not much difference between the two. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Just stick with the originals. The Beatles compositions are slightly more distinctive and less watery, but it’s not a world of difference.    

Disc Two

  1. I Am The Walrus
  2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!
  3. Because
  4. Something
  5. Oh! Darling
  6. Strawberry Fields Forever
  7. Revolution
  8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  9. Across The Universe
  10. Helter Skelter
  11. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  12. Blackbird
  13. Hey Jude
  14. Don’t Let Me Down
  15. All You Need Is Love
  16. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
 

1. I Am The Walrus

Arguably one of The Beatles’ most bizarre, surreal and talked-about songs, ‘I Am The Walrus’ is Lennon at his most sarcastic, sneering and outright silly. Musically unorthodox, confusing and complex, with a vast hodgepodge of lyrical influences, ranging from acid trips to police sirens to playground nursery rhymes to a Lewis Carroll novel (and more), it surely defies interpretation, even reinterpretation. I mean, he wrote it nauseatingly avant-garde just because he heard about a teacher trying to interpret Beatles lyrics and teach them to his students. Go figure.  
Having a laugh on set of 'I Am The Walrus' scene in the film Magical Mystery Tour

Having a laugh on set of ‘I Am The Walrus’ scene in the film Magical Mystery Tour

  The big draw card of Taymor’s version is the distinctive vocals of Bono (of U2), one of rock’s most enduring frontmen. He draws on some of his own band’s more experimental early-to-mid-90’s output to collaborate with The Secret Machines, producing a polished, catchy, dreamy psychedelic rocker, full of cavernous drums and vocals. The track is imbued with sort of shimmery quality overall, and is a rather good song in its own right, used to perfection in a visually jaw-dropping scene in the film.  
Bono, as Dr Robert, a counter-culture cult leader

Bono, as Dr Robert, a counter-culture cult leader

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: But crucially, Taymor’s version loses sight of the original’s intentions. By ironing out its quirks, it strips it of a lot of its character: the droning Mellotron, tambourine, orchestral overdubs and even the live BBC Radio feed that was somehow incorporated (granted the loony backing vocals are retained; more noticeable in the film itself). And that’s just musically. Lyrically, it was freewheeling creativity at its best, delivered by Lennon so tongue-in-cheek, that he was lucky to be able to remove it from there. Accessibility was definitely a no-no on this track, and the modern version comes out a little too clean-cut.  

2. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!

The trend towards the avant-garde continues with another Lennon creation (although credited Lennon/McCartney, as most early-to-mid 60’s Beatles songs were). Nearly all of its lyrics were taken from an antique circus poster Lennon found in a shop in Kent, promoting a 19th century show for Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal, ‘being for the benefit of Mr Kite’. The vaudevillian fairground/circus atmosphere that made the original one of the more musically interesting tracks on Sgt Pepper is faithfully retained by Taymor, who has one trick up her sleeve that steals the show: British stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard. His cameo as Mr Kite is absolutely superb, complete with an expressive and quintessentially British accent, which he uses to good effect on this spoken word cover. He ad-libs between the lines with some hilarious remarks, and has a believability about him that makes you think he really is one of those 19th century circus owners, inviting you to join him on an absurd adventure.  
Eddie Izzard's expressiveness makes his cameo one of the best in the film

Eddie Izzard’s expressiveness makes his cameo one of the best in the film

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The big downfall of the original is Lennon’s deadpan recitation of the lyrics. Maybe it was intentional or ironic, as he also speaks more than he sings, but overall it seems very dull. And yet, the music doesn’t feel that way, with a kaleidoscope of chopped-up tape loops of fairground organs and calliope music whizzing about, creating a very authentic experience (Lennon told producer George Martin that he wanted “to smell the sawdust on the floor”). Izzard’s theatrical and showy performance matches that mood rather seamlessly (his stand-up routines are suitably avant-garde too, from what I’ve seen, frequently switching between characters and topics on a whim).  

3. Because

After the madness of ‘Mr Kite’, the film immediately transitions into one of the calmest and most serene Beatles tracks. It was inspired by Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, featuring three-part vocal harmonies (later overdubbed three times to give the impression of a choir of nine voices), the first use of a Moog synthesiser on a rock ‘n roll song at the time, an electric harpsichord and no percussion. Once again, it is one of the many fine pieces of music found on their highly-acclaimed final album Abbey Road. The Beatles - Three-Part Harmony - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison   Both versions are spine-tinglingly good, with Taymor’s version making some tweaks that provide an interesting change in mood. Hers loses the distinctive electric harpischord, deciding to go a cappella for the first 40 seconds (a genius move on her part), with the six major characters and three minor characters delicately combining their voices with aplomb. A deep, slightly ominous-sounding orchestra then begins to drone in the far distance, whilst a gently plucked acoustic guitar provides a more tangible backing, building up to a peaceful conclusion.   Across The Universe - Because   Verdict: A tie Reason: This was just too close to call. The Beatles’ version has the famous harmonies and dreamy elements executed to perfection. But there’s something about Taymor’s version that makes it stand really close to the original as an equal. Maybe it’s the mix of male and female voices? Maybe it’s the complementary orchestral backing, a skilful tactic used so often on mid-to-late 60’s Beatles songs? Maybe it’s the slight change of mood that I’m now struggling to put into words? Maybe just because?  

4. Something

Through much of The Beatles’ career, Harrison’s compositions played third-fiddle to Lennon and McCartney’s masterpieces. He would sometimes get one or two spots on an album to showcase his work, and the most successful song-writing duo of all time treated him rather harshly and indifferently when it came to his own efforts. But that all changed with ‘Something’: a pure, straight-forward love song that, at the tail-end of their career, became one of their most highly regarded and covered. Even the great Frank Sinatra declared it “the greatest love song ever written” and performed it many times in concert. The ‘quiet’ Beatle finally received the credit he rightfully deserved.  
George finally gets his moment to shine

George finally gets his moment to shine

  Taymor doesn’t choose to redesign the wheel, and her interpretation sits as a faithful complement to the original, retaining its sincere and heartfelt strengths. Common motifs that run through many of the slower songs on the soundtrack are a cappella introductions and prudent use of percussion, and this one continues the trend. It really brings out the power of the beautiful lyrics (“Something in the way she moves/Attracts me like no other lover”) and vocals (from the male lead Sturgess, who should honestly consider singing professionally). Thankfully these stylistic choices don’t drag on for too long in this song. Another slight difference is the understated orchestral and organ backing; I think it reins in the schmaltz that wants to creep into the original. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: The film version is lot more mellowed out than the original, and this breathing room allows Sturgess’ captivating vocals to shine through more clearly. On the other hand, you can really hear the emotion in Harrison’s performance of a lifetime. Both have that special something, staying true to the song’s core message, and it’s hard not to choose the version that launched more than 150 cover versions (second place after ‘Yesterday’, which has in the region of 1600 versions). The problem is that the original has too much going on, with the orchestral backing drowning out Harrison’s tender vocals.  

5. Oh! Darling

Usually when there’s an exclamation mark in a song title, you as the listener can expect some aural fireworks. And McCartney’s bluesy ‘swamp-pop’ anthem bursts with enthusiasm, drawing on a New Orleans style of R&B music known for its honky-tonk pianos, lovelorn lyrics and booming backbeats. The film uses the opportunity to showcase this emotional classic by turning it into a duet between Dana Fuchs and another male lead Martin Luther McCoy, whose appearances start to feature in the second half of the soundtrack. In the film itself, this song is extra discordant (f0r plot reasons), but the studio cut balances it out, retaining some of the distortion-heavy wailings and vocal interplay.  
Tempers flare as Fuchs and McCoy battle it out

Tempers flare as Fuchs and McCoy battle it out

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst the male-female duet is a great idea, brimming with sexual energy, Taymor’s version falls rather short of the original’s high standards. McCartney delivers one of his most powerful vocal performances ever on this track, after a patient regimen of trying to record the song only once a day for a week, so as to nail the final take perfectly first-time in a session. This dedication is obvious on the final cut; his voice soars between sweet & tender and heart-pumping-out-of-its-chest desperate. Even the feisty Fuchs cannot match the intensity of his pleas (“Oh! darling, please believe me/I’ll never do you no harm”). Despite the heavier distortion on the film’s guitar, Harrison’s stabbing riffs have a little more bite to them, and overall the original is more faithful to its swampy roots.  

6. Strawberry Fields Forever

Surely the pinnacle of the Beatles’ (and specifically, John Lennon’s) creative output, this nostalgic, disillusioned, psychedelic magnum opus is packed full of juicy goodness. Arising from a time in Beatles history of heavy studio experimentation and intense personal problems for John, the song channels his self-doubt and loneliness into a complicated mix of music that is actually two versions of the same song cleverly spliced together. One was a relatively complete band take, piling on the usual instruments along with newfound ones such as a Mellotron and an Indian harp-like instrument called a svarmandal. Typically of their music of the time were also numerous backwards recordings (even Ringo playing the bongos got the treatment). The other take was a George Martin-conducted group of trumpets and cellos. And the catch? Both were in different keys and tempos, and Lennon wanted each of them on the same song. In a stroke of genius (and probably a little luck), George managed to combine the two rather smoothly (but listen carefully for the changeover around the 60 second mark; it’s an ‘a-ha!’ moment for Beatlemaniacs).  
Their producer George Martin (the unofficial 'Fifth Beatle') played a big part in making this song work

Their producer George Martin (the unofficial ‘Fifth Beatle’) played a big part in making this song work

  Like its original, Taymor’s ‘Strawberry’ is definitely one of the freshest in the film’s basket, and marries musical and thematic content very vividly, reflecting the conflicting thought patterns going on in the lyrics (the famous “no one I think is in my tree” line comes out sounding rather convincing with Sturgess’ Liverpudlian twang). The mood remains mostly melancholic and accurate music-wise to the original, but irons out the brash bumps of horns and other avant-garde missteps, particularly in the nightmarish ending. Some would say it tones down the creative quality of the music, but I think it possibly lets elements of previous, simpler takes of the song shine through (take one, in particular, had just John Lennon unaccompanied on acoustic guitar, stripped of the wondrous, yet distracting cacophony of noise in the final cut).  
Although John Lennon's memorial in Central Park, New York is named after this song, the original inspiration came from a Salvation Army children's centre in Liverpool, where he used to play as a child. The centre is closed now, but pictured here are the original gates

Although John Lennon’s memorial in Central Park, New York is named after this song, the original inspiration came from a Salvation Army children’s centre in Liverpool, where he used to play as a child. The centre is closed now, but pictured here are the original gates

  Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: Whilst the original showed the band as avant-garde creative pioneers, I somehow feel that Lennon’s true vision and meaning for the song was lost in the heady haze of experimentation and creative one-upmanship. Even he expressed dissatisfaction with the recording of the final version shortly before his murder in 1980, bitterly blaming McCartney for subconsciously ‘sabotaging’ it. Although great upheaval in one’s personal life can often create moments of brilliance in one’s work, everyone got a little carried away on this number. Taymor, therefore, presents a version just as nuanced, but in a more accessible and representative way.  

7. Revolution

During the late 60’s, the world the Beatles inhabited began to experience a social upheaval, and a peaceful yet radical counter-culture emerged amongst the youth that clashed with the increasingly warmongering powers-that-be. A spirit of revolution was rising up, and not just in the prominent USA (whose war in Vietnam was claiming thousands of young men’s lives), but across Europe too, with widespread campus protests. It came to a time when the Fab Four could not keep quiet anymore about what was going on around them. Not surprisingly, out of the four, Lennon felt most strongly about the hubbub of political picketing; or rather, he was equally unsure about what to feel, and wanted to see a reasonable way forward proposed by those that wanted to topple the system. Experiences with Transcendental Meditation had provided him with a sort of spiritual awakening, and ‘Revolution’ was one of the first overt steps he made towards becoming a political activist in the late 60’s/early 70’s.  
Some lyrics from the song found their way on a t-shirt

Some lyrics from the song found their way on a t-shirt

  There were two released versions of the song: the fast, hard rock B-side to the ‘Hey Jude’ single (titled just ‘Revolution’), and a slower, swing-like version on The White Album (titled ‘Revolution 1’). Taymor chose the former for the film, and its barking, machine-gun-like guitar riff definitely livens up the mood for revolution. The male lead Sturgess comes off rather mellow in the studio version, but his performance is more persuasive in the film, where he really acts out the song.  
A promotional clip for Revolution - a rare live performance during that time in the band's history

A promotional clip for Revolution – a rare live performance during that time in the band’s history

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: The modern cover is more a grumble than a rebel yell, and any musical revolution is only really evident in its attempt to add some extra fills in the drumbeat. Apart from that, it’s a decidedly average reproduction of a controversial and inspiring classic. The use of the song in the film must be commended though; it’s bound to raise a chuckle.  

8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The world of guitar music gained a timeless classic when George Harrison’s tale of despondency about the state of the world appeared on the White Album. Featuring the great Eric Clapton as a guest on lead guitar, it has achieved considerable acclaim, ranking very highly on best-of lists (such as #7 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time). Harrison’s song writing was beginning to blossom around that time, and his experiences on the band’s pilgrimage to India had profoundly impacted the ‘quiet’ Beatle’s spirituality.  
George and Eric were very close friends. So close, they both shared marriages with the same woman!

George and Eric were very close friends. So close, they both shared marriages with the same woman!

  The lyrics are ethereal and reflective, focusing on the metaphor of the speaker’s guitar sounding like it’s ‘weeping’, whilst violence and hate continue to rage on around the world it lives in. He insists that when he looks at the world, he sees “the love there that’s sleeping”, implying that if only people could awaken that love, the hate could be put to rest. That kind of mentality might come across as too idealistic, but it’s a beautifully written song nonetheless. The film’s ‘Jimi Hendrix’ archetype (played by Martin Luther McCoy) plays guitar and sings on the cover, and his performance is an impassioned one, with vocals that match the delicate and airy tones of Harrison. The track itself is another ambient adventure, evoking a similar mood to ‘Something’ from earlier in the soundtrack. Wind chimes start it off slowly, as McCoy’s voice enters the scene alone, followed by a mournful accordion. It’s slow-moving, and meanders towards its conclusion rather plainly. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: For a song featuring the word ‘guitar’ in its title and its lyrics, there’s very little time devoted to its sound in Taymor’s version. Yes, the guitar is ‘weeping’, but surely that should last longer than a brief section of limp and understated noodling? To see how it should be done, have a look at this rendition from 2002’s ‘Concert For George’ (a memorial to George Harrison on the first anniversary of his death). The surviving Beatles are all there, led by Clapton up front. And have a look to his left: that’s Dhani Harrison, George’s son, and the spitting image of his father.  

9. Across The Universe

As we begin to round the bend and into the home straight, we arrive at the film’s title track. Much like ‘Revolution’, it has been released a number of times with different versions, takes and arrangements; more so than probably any other Beatles song. Lennon described it as the best, most poetic lyrics that he ever wrote, and frustratingly, the band struggled to find a version of the song that they were truly happy with. Written as early as 1967, but only released on a full-length album on 1970’s acrimonious Let It Be, the lyrics came to Lennon after an argument he had with his ex-wife Cynthia. He kept on hearing her words repeated over and over, “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”, and he immediately decided to put that feeling into a song. The song was further flavoured and influenced by the Beatles’ interest in Transcendental Meditation; the link to the chorus is the Sanskrit phrase “jai guru deva om”, literally meaning “glory to the shining remover of darkness”, or figuratively “victory to God divine”. The cover Taymor creates draws on elements from most versions of the song: the Let It Be version’s choral overdubs, the Anthology 2 version’s stronger psychedelic feel of Indian sitar and tambura and Let It Be…Naked‘s stripped-down, cleaner vocals. Sturgess enunciates his words carefully, with a cinematic, unhurried feel, matching Lennon’s mood of enlightenment masterfully. However, the song begins to take on an unexpected darker tone in the final minute; in the film, this song is just before a scene of great conflict and violence. Verdict: A tie Reason: It’s difficult to choose the best version of a song that the band was evidently very indecisive about. Despite its exceptionally vivid and beautiful lyrics, the original still somehow feels unfinished and stuck in a ‘demo’ phase. Sturgess presents a great interpretation of the song, trading on the weighty lyrics, and it’d be fair to say that he neither surpasses the original nor falls far behind it.  

10. Helter Skelter

Raucous, biting, and chaotic, ‘Helter Skelter’ has been credited as one of the first heavy-metal (or ‘proto-metal’) songs, with its loud, roaring guitars, thudding backbeat and McCartney’s raw hollering (which, along with ‘Oh! Darling’, is probably the most impressive of his Beatles career). Born out of a desire to outdo The Who’s Pete Townshend (who had described their band’s latest single at the time, ‘I Can See For Miles’, as “the loudest, rawest, dirtiest song we’ve ever recorded”), Paul turned up the amps to 11 and went wild. The term ‘helter skelter’ is well-known in Great Britain as referring to the spiralling fairground ride, in which people could climb the inside the top of a wooden tower and slide down. Although McCartney was using it as a seemingly innocent metaphor (such as “when I get to the bottom, I go back to the top of the slide”), sadly the song received massive notoriety when the American psychopath Charles Manson used it as justification for the multiple brutal murders he and his ‘Family’ committed in August 1969. Claiming that ‘Helter Skelter’, along with many other tracks off the White Album, was a coded prophecy for an apocalyptic race war, he tarnished the song’s legacy with his disturbing and appalling philosophy.  
Just under a year after the release of the song, Helter Skelter's reputation was tarnished by serial killer Charles Manson and his cult 'The Family'

Just under a year after the release of the song, Helter Skelter’s reputation was tarnished by serial killer Charles Manson and his cult ‘The Family’

  But when not heard through the ears of a madman, it’s a tremendously fun song to listen to, and one where the band really let loose together in the studio, during a time when they were growing apart and beginning to work on songs alone. The recording sessions were said to be full of madness and hysterics, as evidenced on the conclusion of the song, where Ringo suddenly screams “I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!”. Dana Fuchs takes hold the reins of lead vocals on this joyride in the film, which overlaps with the previous track and, as mentioned before, gets a brief appearance in the beginning of the film. Although only a small portion of it is used, the section is enough to get your attention, as Fuch’s howls are juxtaposed with Sturgess’ quieter, steadfast mantra of “nothing’s gonna change my world”. The full-length version holds up admirably; her overall performance definitely shows Janis Joplin-like strands of sassiness.  
With serpentine golden locks and a gruff, wolf-like howl, Fuchs' performances are vigorous and animalistic

With serpentine golden locks and a gruff, wolf-like howl, Fuchs’ performances are vigorous and animalistic

  Verdict: A tie Reason: On one hand, you have the one of the most white-hot, pioneering rock ‘n roll performances on record, with a relentless panache that borders on overbearing (the song fades in and out twice before collapsing exhausted). And on the other hand, you have a slicker, modern interpretation; a steady torrent instead of a series of powerful bursts, with Fuchs in the centre, simultaneously feeding off and fuelling the storm around her. It’s the plucky young unstoppable force meeting the wise old immovable object, and what a joy is that collision to witness.  

11. Happiness Is A Warm Gun

A sultry multi-part symphony in less than three minutes, this gem from the White Album presented the increasingly fractured band as a unified front, in a song featuring frequent shifts in time signatures, tempo, as well as unorthodox lyrics and phrasing. Lennon found inspiration through a gun magazine he was shown which had the words ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ on the cover (“I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say,” he said, “A warm gun means you’ve just shot something”). He then pasted together a pastiche of song fragments from two main sources: his experiences with Apple Records’ publicist Derek Taylor and his sexual desire for Yoko Ono (the gun metaphor is clearly evident when he cries “Mother Superior, jump the gun”). Whilst the song was a challenging one to play (with a mammoth 15 hours and 95 takes devoted to it), its instrumental setup was relatively straightforward. This trend continues on Taymor’s version, where the track’s warmth increases and its complexity gets smoothed out into a languid, soulful stroll. In the film, this scene takes place in a military hospital where the blonde Joe Anderson sings along with his nurse/s, played by sexy Latina actress Salma Hayek. Although the doo-wop style “bang bang, shoot shoot” lines were probably meant in jest by Lennon, they sound quite alluring coming from a nurse providing a shell-shocked solider with his ‘fix’ of morphine.  
Happiness ain't a warm gun; it's five Salma Hayek's in nurse outfits

Happiness ain’t a warm gun; it’s five Salma Hayek’s in nurse outfits

  Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Whilst Taymor matched the song’s sexual (and possible drug-related) subject matter with its mood, the film’s version seems a little too lumbering and half-asleep. Lacking a strong distorted guitar is one of its main downfalls; instead it gets replaced by a quiet, deep-sounding orchestral backing, and its peaks are only towards the climax, where it finally wakes up and has some decent harmonies from the vocalists. This gun is only lukewarm at best.  

12. Blackbird

This delightful McCartney acoustic number gets a small feature in the film, with a few bars contributed by the dulcet tones of Evan Rachel Wood. Another fine choice to fit the film’s somewhat revolutionary subject matter, ‘Blackbird’ was inspired lyrically by the Civil Rights Movement in the late 60’s in the USA and melodically by a piece of music by the composer Bach, which Paul and George had learnt to play on guitar at a young age. The black ‘bird’ here refers to a black woman, ‘singing in the dead of night’, with the speaker encouraging her to ‘take these broken wings and learn to fly’; a simple and sweet metaphor that was one of McCartney more earnest ones that didn’t tend towards sappiness or superficiality.  
Paul's acoustic guitar skills were on display in 'Blackbird'

Paul’s acoustic guitar skills were on display in ‘Blackbird’

  Apart from its great lyrics, the song is known for its sleek and skilfully written guitar part, requiring good technique to play and match the three different time signatures. Taymor once again goes for a bolder arrangement, focusing heavily on a respiratory-like accordion part and a barely-there guitar backing it up. Thus, the foot-tapping tempo of the original is done away with, and the mood of a rather calm song becomes even calmer. Verdict: Taymor (Across The Universe) Reason: One misstep I feel that the original has is the bird sounds which start around 1 minute 40 seconds in. If they were used just to close out the song, then they could’ve slotted in quite smoothly, but whilst being the sounds of an actual blackbird, they come off sounding a little too cheesy and prominent. The accordion is an inspired touch by Taymor, and its slow, droning texture adds to the sad, yet still uplifting feel of the song. Wood’s vocals again are warm, smooth and inviting; a worthy adversary to Sir Paul’s legendary pipes. The modern arrangement soars a little higher than its predecessor, but only slightly.  

13. Hey Jude

Think of the ultimate song to cheer someone up with, and you should look no further than ‘Hey Jude’ – the McCartney sing-along ballad that has become synonymous with The Beatles’ image and plucky optimism. Originally written by him to cheer up Lennon’s young son Julian during his parent’s divorce, this piano-based anthem became, at the time, the longest single ever to top the British charts (at a boundary-pushing 7 minutes and 11 sec0nds) and remained at number 1 on the American charts for an incredible 9 weeks. The cheerful lyrics are really front-and-centre on this one, and are complemented superbly by the lead piano part and the slow-building band performance. The appearance of a full orchestra for a four minute-long coda livens up proceedings, and soon arrives the iconic “na na na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey Jude” refrain – one that cements its standing in popular music. The universal quality of its lyrics make it easy to replace the name ‘Jude’ with a person in your own life, such as in the opening lines “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad/Take a sad song and make it better/Remember to let her into your heart/Then you can start to make it better”. Even McCartney toyed with the name during the writing process, switching from “Jules” (short for Julian) to something that rolled more smoothly off the tongue.  
Follow this flow diagram if you forget the lyrics!

Follow this flow diagram if you forget the lyrics!

  Taymor bears the weight of expectation quite admirably for a song with a status such as this, and does the inevitable ‘trimming of the fat’ (as she did with ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’). Things start off slower, climax quicker and strangely, one feels that nothing was ever left out. In the film, supporting characters are used to great effect, creating the sing-along and adding some extra…ahem… percussion to the mix! As with the original, it’s a typically bright moment and an emotional high in the narrative. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: It would be very easy in this case to say that Taymor’s version compresses what was great about the original into a shorter length, as has been seen on other songs in this soundtrack. But the original, despite its length, keeps its upbeat smile shining all the way through to completion, and that’s how it managed to be picked up and played as a single, as well as achieve the success it has achieved. Lennon summed up the group’s confidence in the song: when being told by producer George Martin that they can’t make a single that long because disc jockeys wouldn’t play it, he retorted, “They will if it’s us”.  

14. Don’t Let Me Down

One of The Beatle’s most underrated songs, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is a personal favourite of mine. A product of the tumultuous Let It Be sessions, it bears much similarity in tone to Lennon’s ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, showcasing his vulnerability and desperation for Yoko Ono’s affections. Sadly, it was left off that doomed album, relegated to being a B-side to the hit ‘Get Back’. It’s a song filled with anguish, yet it has a warm, soothing feel to it. Lennon’s vocals are strong and when paired with simple soul-baring lyrics such as “I’m in love for the first time/Don’t you know it’s going to last/It’s a love that lasts forever/It’s a love that had no past”, you get a honest and convincing look into the mind of a man well-known for his cockiness and confident persona. The rest of the band pulls together during a difficult time in their history to also give a powerful performance. Billy Preston, collaborating with the band on electric piano, adds to the bluesy aura and Ringo’s drumming stands out on the choruses, his loud cymbal crashes being in sync with each word.  
Don't Let Me Down was on the setlist of the band's final live performance on the 30th of January 1969, which was infamously held on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios

Don’t Let Me Down was on the setlist of the band’s final live performance on the 30th of January 1969, which was infamously held on the rooftop of Abbey Road Studios

  Taymor has another moment of vocalist match-making genius, pairing up Dana Fuchs and Martin Luther McCoy to trade lines off each other, and this time it stands very close to the original in quality. Albeit a bit less ragged and bluesy, it provides an interesting twist on the lyrical content: having two lovers sing the words to each other, and not just one-way. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Although Fuch and McCoy’s vocals are some of their most impassioned on the soundtrack, the song itself lacks the punch of original. This is mainly due to the lack of the aforementioned cymbal crashes, and Lennon’s little adlibs midway through, which make his anxious confessions seem raw and off-the-cuff. The electric piano/organ part is much more prominent in Taymor’s version though, which is a rather neat touch.  

15. All You Need Is Love

If ‘Hey Jude’ was an anthem about optimism, then ‘All You Need Is Love’ espoused something even simpler: love. It is the song that is invariably used to sum up the band’s core message, and it comes as no surprise considering its composition. In 1967, The Beatles were asked to participate in the world’s first televised satellite link-up. It was called Our World, and it was to be broadcast live between 25 countries worldwide. The BBC naturally chose them to be the musical flag bearers for Great Britain, and their performance would be seen by a potential audience of 400 million people! The song was very much John’s, but received the song writing credit Lennon/McCartney, as the latter contributed a few minor ideas and adlibs. The band began recording the song the week prior to the broadcast, laying down backing tracks and other complex overdubs so that the only live features on the performance would be the vocals, bass, guitar solo, drums and orchestra.  
For the historic world's first televised satellite link-up, The Beatles chose to perform 'All You Need Is Love', a song written specifically for the occasion

For the historic world’s first televised satellite link-up, The Beatles chose to perform ‘All You Need Is Love’, a song written specifically for the occasion

  It was a nerve-wracking, history-making occasion, but everyone present took it in their stride, as famous friends of the band (who were seated in the studio at their feet) joined in for the rousing call-and-response finale. Lennon’s lyrics aimed for universal musings, with statements such as “There’s nothing you can do that you can’t be done/Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung” and “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known” being paired with the straightforward chorus giving the way forward: “All you need is love/Love is all you need”. For a song bursting with whimsy and idealism, Taymor’s version begins on an incredibly solemn and ambient note, with Sturgess alone for a weighty 1-and-a-half minutes as he steadily emotes through the first verse and chorus. Backing vocals ghost their way into the second verse, as the song picks up the original arrangement from the second chorus till the simpler ending, removing the brash orchestral blasts and studio tomfoolery. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Unlike with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, the garish, the fun and the bizarre can and should be embraced on an anthem like this. Whilst the former channelled Lennon’s demons, this psalm of peace draws on love divine, and the communal, relaxed setting of its recording matches its subject matter perfectly. Taymor aimed for theatricality with this version (I mean, it is for a soundtrack), and produces an awe-inspiring result, but perhaps by trying so hard to be meaningful and serious, she lost sight of a key aspect of love: fun.  

16. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

The credits begin to roll, and one of the band’s most misunderstood songs closes off the soundtrack. This lavish psychedelic daydream sat snugly in Sgt Peppers surreal cocoon, featuring multiple key changes and increasingly complicated underlying arrangement, similar to the album’s other fairground-like song ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!’. Although the allusions to the drug LSD are seemingly evident, Lennon constantly stated that the main source of inspiration came from a drawing his four-year-old son Julian had drawn of his school friend Lucy. The ‘strange-looking woman flying around’ in the picture was said to be ‘Lucy…in the sky with diamonds’.  

Lucy Vodden (pictured at age 43), the inspiration behind the painting John's young son did at playschool, which in turn influenced John to write the famous song

Although it is quite faded, Julian Lennon's mother Cynthia has kept the original painting

Although it is quite faded, Julian Lennon’s mother Cynthia has kept the original painting

  With that idea in mind, Lennon began writing the dream-like song, drawing on further inspiration from the Lewis Carroll book ‘Alice In Wonderland’, and its bizarre imagery. Opening lines “Picture yourself in a boat on a river/With tangerine trees and marmalade skies” lure the listener in with odd visions of unreality, before ‘a girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ is spotted, and the simple euphoric chorus kicks in, echoing the song’s title. It’s a song that managed to straddle the line between experimentation and accessibility rather carefully, and not surprisingly was one of the quickest songs to be recorded on the famed Pepper sessions. The original is known for its drone-like, undulating verses, thanks to the Indian instrument known as a tambura, and an organ part. This is where Bono and The Edge (both from the band U2) really capture and update the sound of this song on the film version. A barely perceptible orchestra arrangement carries Bono’s signature vocals (very clear in the mix, and slightly less ethereal than Lennon’s) towards the catchy chorus, which flows better than the original but lacks McCartney’s passionate vocal harmonies. Verdict: The Beatles Reason: Bono definitely has the voice to carry most Beatles songs, but him and The Edge’s reworking of a song heavily reliant on atmosphere seems to drift rather monotonously and does little to brand itself. It is still a modern, great cover, but is stripped of any noticeable innovations.    

And in the end…

The final score (for those keeping count) is:
  • Originals: 19
  • Covers: 9
  • Ties: 3
In this case, whilst the originals will trump the covers more often than not, some of the cover versions do show enough nuances and new ideas that the originals might’ve lacked. I suppose hindsight is 20/20, and 40-odd years of getting to know them surely will provide some interesting interpretations. It’s still a fine soundtrack nonetheless, with nary a weak song in its catalogue of covers. When watching Across The Universe, one can feel like one is watching an extended music video, since there is an incredible amount of it crammed into its runtime. And for the more jaded of our population, it can be a bit overwhelming to see characters breaking out into song in nearly every scene. But for people that either enjoy The Beatles’ music, a good musical, or like a bit of fun in their film-viewing experiences, then Across The Universe is most definitely a trip worth taking. It’s an adventure; a journey involving love, mystery, humour, conflict, and bizarre things to be seen and heard. It is a film that effectively distils The Beatles’ spirit, and faithfully represents the themes and messages of their music. I hope that my review has opened your eyes and ears to both the film, and the music that inspired it, in the same way that the film did to me. Let’s keep The Beatles’ spirit of love alive. That is all we need.   The Beatles - The End - Lyrics And Photo

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 27th of June 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. About three weeks of field research were put into this article, which has the scope to be expanded upon, particularly with regard to reviewing internet radio stations/sites)

 

Every now and then, you as a music-listener get adventurous, and want to find something new to listen to. Not necessarily something that was just released yesterday, or is the most popular thing right now. Something new to your ears. In my mind, the process one goes through to find a new tune closely resembles the dating world, where us humans pursue nearly every means available us to find our next fling, stable relationship, or even lifelong lover. It’s often a daunting journey, riddled with missed chances, lucky breaks, bizarre introductions and moments from where you can pinpoint that your life was changed forever.

 

 

You Complete Me (Puzzle Piece)

 

 

Dating, no matter how confident you are, always has an inherent risk attached to it. Such is the chaos and unpredictable nature of people. For example, you might only find out halfway through your first date with someone that they have a creepy fetish that doesn’t set well with you, or completely offend you with their style of humour. But with the right techniques and approach, there are ways of you reducing that risk, so that hopefully, you will achieve what you set out to get.

 

“So let me tell you about the one with the…”

 

Just like with people, I don’t know all the dating secrets. One can never guarantee that you can find the ‘perfect catch’, or something even nearly as good. Musical tastes are mostly subjective; liking one band doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll fancy another similar one. The crux of recommendations is really to have a general idea of what you like already, and together with that knowledge, what you intend on looking for (sometimes not even the latter, as you’ll see with certain music suggestion sites). So if, dear reader, you feel the need to breed (in a musical sense), then take heed of some of my tried and tested advice:

 

1. Know thyself

Okay, this might sound a little too obvious: take stock of what’s on your iPod, in your CD collection, on your hard drive, etc. Honestly, some people just add and add and add, building up clutter which never gets listened to, especially in an age where digital music is near-total in its influence, as well as its apparent ease of acquisition. Look at your Play Counts (if applicable) or manually keep track of what you listen to the most; always a good indicator of preferences. If you own, or even just listen to music enough, you should have a basic idea already. Foo Fighters fanatic, a Justin ‘Belieber’, Jay-Z worshipper, Bon Jovi groupie; whatever your tastes, surely you listen to some artist enough to say “Yeah, I kinda like this guy”? Good. That’s a start.

 

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration...

Come to think of it, that would make a ridiculous collaboration…

 

2. Time and effort

Put aside some time and get ready to put effort and research into finding what you want. Although most people have very busy schedules and can’t afford to waste time looking for music, the more work you put in, the more likely it is that you’ll find something you instantly fall in love with. Nothing beats the feeling of discovering a band after much spade work, and finding that they suit your tastes exactly. Really, it should come as no surprise to you then.

 

3. Knowledge is power

Wade your way into the shallow end of the dating pool by finding out more about whatever artists you like already. Doing so firstly makes you a better fan. You begin to understand the faces behind the music, as well as their intentions for making it the way they did. Secondly, many Wikipedia articles, album reviews and news reports, etc, tend to mention similar artists when speaking of a particular artist: “a Beatle-esque chord progression”, “an early Led Zeppelin swagger”, “introspective lyrics reminiscent of 2Pac’s Me Against The World era”. The list goes on and on. After reading enough about your favourite artists, you’ll soon start to see patterns emerge, and they’ll be difficult to ignore! Comparisons like these are used to help describe a sound that the reader might not have heard yet (especially if say, a new album by the artist has just been released), so reviewers and journalists will try to patch together a sound scape in the reader’s head of existing material; simple and effective. Just like with dating people, you cannot expect the perfect man/woman to fall into your lap if you sit at home doing nothing about it. Proactivity is the key! Personally, this method works really well for me. For example: whilst doing research for my Foo Fighters review in April, I kept on hearing about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro. And since these mentions weren’t a once-off thing, I decided to give them a try, and download their two most recent albums. And what do you know…I was blown away by them, and instantly knew they were the exact match for my tastes. So, those reviewers were right: Foo Fighters’ ‘Rope’ does seem to “tap-dance in stoppy-starty guitar weirdly reminiscent of ‘Infinity Land’-era Biffy Clyro

 

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

And now, thanks to their music, I occasionally sing in a hideous attempt at a Scottish accent.

 

Music of today, more often than not, bears some similarity to music of yesterday. Artists wear their influences on their sleeves, and whilst they still continue to progress and innovate the art form, their mentors will always shine through them in some way. Going back to the roots of what inspired your favourite band to produce their magnum opus is generally the next step you’d take if you’re serious about exploring new music. But it’s not always a successful venture; sometimes the reason you enjoy an artist is because they’re an amalgamation of various influences, not just a specific one, whose back catalogue might bore you or be too old-fashioned. But it’s worth a try, since the world has a nice collective half-century or so of popular music sitting there, waiting to be experienced. If you’re into classical music, you’d probably want to go back further, but then again, that genre is timeless.

 

4. Your friends are my friends

Look to your friends and find out what they like. Just like meeting that blonde hottie through your friend Dave, introductions to new and exciting artists from people you know (and hopefully, trust) eliminate the effort you have to make searching for the perfect tune. Usually you are friends with people whom you share similar interests with, so take advantage of that closeness and find out what hidden talents they’ve discovered. For example: I should really follow my advice, since my housemate from last year shared very similar tastes in music to me (plus, he was an expert on guitar). Towards the end of the year, he discovered and fell in love with this indie rock band named The National. He played one or two songs of theirs to me when we were relaxing with our other housemates one night. Since I really just wasn’t in the mood for that kind of music, I sort of brushed aside his impassioned recommendation. Fast forward to April this year, and I eventually decided to take him up on his offer. And one album in, I was entranced by the singer’s smoky, baritone vocals, obscure & gloomy lyrics and the band’s beautiful, subdued, yet lush melodies. Ross, I’m really sorry for not listening to you back then…

 

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

We can get Matt Berninger to write an epic ballad about our suburban tale of indifference.

 

5. Digital solutions

Finally, there’s the online dating option; one which I believe has some fun, interesting, unpredictable, yet mostly disappointing results. Over the past few weeks, I’ve attempted to have a look at as many websites as possible offering ‘music suggestion services’. With such a vast scope, I could’ve very easily devoted a post with a length comparable to a Doctorate thesis reviewing each one intently and professionally. But my ambivalent attitude to their success rate (if you want to quantify it like that) means that I’ll give you a rundown on the ones that stood out for me. The main reason I feel so cynical about this option was that as a non-American citizen (i.e. a sizeable portion of this world), I am denied access to what sounds like the most perfect and exhilarating service in the world of music: Pandora Radio. Internet radio stations are a dime a dozen, and are probably the most popular websites devoted to finding new music, not necessarily just listening to it (as radio’s traditional role has been). Basically, they allow you to pick a station from a range of genres, or other variables of your liking. By listening to a station matching your current interests, these websites hope that you’ll enjoy anything new on there. Pandora takes that one giant step, if not leap, further.

 

What do we find inside Pandora's Box?

What do we find inside Pandora’s Box?

 

Pandora is a custodian of the Music Genome Project, a musical analysis and research initiative that was formed to fundamentally capture exactly what traits makes songs unique, or similar. It uses almost 400 musical attributes, which, when combined in larger groups, amass about 2000 focus traits. If this sounds oddly scientific, it is. The founders based their idea on the study of genetics, and have statistically deconstructed music down to exceptionally precise terms such as: gender of lead vocalist, rhythm syncopation, level of distortion on electric guitar, key tonality, and many more than the average person has the ability to name. Organise these altogether with complex mathematical algorithms, and you…wow, the jealousy is flooding my veins as I type this…get a service which eventually is guaranteed to pinpoint exactly what you like and might like, in ways that you probably would never have thought possible. It’s actually scary to think what potential there is if one took advantage of such a mindbogglingly brilliant service. To sum it up: if I had unrestricted, full access to Pandora, this post would be the shortest I’ve ever written, or ever write. Only one line: “Sign up at www.pandora.com. You will experience heaven on earth”. So after briefly meeting the girl or boy of your dreams, then finding out that you can never be with them, what does one do? Settle for less…

 

5.1. Radio lovin’

If internet radio sounds like your kind of thing, then the following are pretty decent. Last.fm focuses more on social networking and using the service as your primary medium of listening, which I found a bit frustrating, with me being an iPod slave. Despite its popularity, my earnest attempts to actually find new material with it were hopelessly convoluted. It wanted me to ‘scrobble’ my iTunes library to get an idea of what I listen to already (good start), but then very little became of that endeavour on the website itself, where it showed my (incomplete) listening history, but mainly for the purpose of others finding it, since the recommendations it gave were rather weak and short-reaching (it only gave recommendations of artists I had actually listened to already, according to my Play Counts. Go figure). iLike was much the same, focusing heavily on getting other users to ‘like’ what you like, but this time you have to input your favourite artists. Too much effort, not enough reward; especially for something which is meant to streamline the process!

 

Emphasis on the 'social' part

Emphasis on the ‘social’ part

 

Jango sets a good standard, and one can easily ignore the social networking part and get down to the nitty-gritty of finding new music. You can fine-tune the variety of artists and songs, and its interface is kept simple; all it asks you to do is input just one artist, and it will base your personalised station around that. With a rating system and music video section too, Jango is uncluttered with very little frills, and is worth having a look at it. If Jango’s interface was simple, Musicovery‘s is even more so. Its innovative design focus on moods, rather than artists, allowing one to find a station based on what type of mood they want to the music to convey. A graph, with ‘Energetic’ and ‘Calm’ on the y-axis, and ‘Dark’ and ‘Positive’ on the x-axis is your tool, and can be tweaked chronologically and by genre. A ‘dance’ radio option also sorts music by tempo and by, what it seems to be, whether you can dance to it. Stereomood goes one further, and specifies oddly specific moods and activities that might apply to you as a listener, such as ‘just woke up’, ‘good karma’, ‘dinner with friends’ and ‘spring cleaning’. Mood radio might find just the song for you right now, and if used smartly, many times more when you’re feeling a little different. It’s like meeting an arty and intellectual cutie in a coffee shop, then later meeting a bold and passionate Casanova in a bar. Different moods, different situations, different desires…

 

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

Some of the moods that Stereomood offers

 

5.2. In blogs we trust

Just as one would trust a friend’s opinion (see point number 4), opinions and recommendations from blog-writers are a marriage of authentic journalism and newsy chats. Their personal nature can make one feel like the writer is speaking directly to him/her (oh, the irony…), and their recommendations can come across as friendly advice. But since there are so many out there on the web, where just about anyone can start one up, it can be really difficult to find the good ones, or ones that appeal to you. Aggregators like The Hype Machine and Elbows trawl through the proverbial ‘blogosphere’ to track trends and find the most talked-about artists and songs. The Hype Machine focuses on providing MP3 links, so that one can hear what’s on their Latest or Popular charts and read about it too. This way, both the music and the blog are discovered, so that future plays of the former and visits to the latter will hopefully occur. As such, blogs that post actual MP3’s seem to be the focus, and are more likely to get recognition. Elbows handles the music industry as a whole, and aggregates articles, videos and anything else one might find interesting that’s currently being discussed. Both sites provide one with easy access to discovering good music and thought-provoking discussion of it.

 

5.3. Indie Cred

Discovering artists before they hit the big time is becoming easier and easier nowadays. Whilst attending small, cramped gigs in seedy bars and buying limited first pressings of garage recordings aren’t activities that are going to completely die out, the quest to find independent artists involves much less on-the-ground activity than in the past. Artists can post their work on music-sharing websites, upload performances to Youtube and create a buzz amongst their fans, who in turn can share their indie favourites with just a click of a button. thesixtyone is one of those websites that strives for that indie aesthetic. Named after Highway 61 in the USA, a place rooted in music tradition and history (à la Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and the King himself, Elvis Presley), independent artists can post their music in a homely forum where substance is valued highly, and talent can hopefully be discovered by the right people. Or just you, as an inquisitive soul, seeking a refreshing burst of creativity from people that have yet to secure a massive record deal, churning out hit after hit.

 

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

A typical quirky backdrop to a song on thesixtyone

 

As such, the site is a lucky packet of pleasures, modelling itself on the internet radio format, but with high resolution photographs forming the backdrop of each song, and quirky quips from and about the artists artfully integrated into the interface. It’s an intimate, enriching and engaging experience, and you can feel good about the fact that you are giving exposure to someone who needs it more than your big rockstars and popstars.

 

5.4. A map to/of your heart

Lastly, there are the ‘map’-designed websites, which are fun for exploring the relationships between artists and genres. Personally, I found these to be the most useful and successful, because of the visual aspect. Seeing the links with your own eyes is incredibly effective, and it’s no wonder teachers at schools and universities recommend mind-mapping to their students; the human mind responds to the ‘spider webs’ well. Just like a little stalking session of someone’s Profile Picture album on Facebook upon meeting them, you get a clearer idea of how the music is related.

 

Map Of Your Heart - knowing2wonder.blogspot.com

 

TuneGlue is a straight-forward, nifty mapping tool that creates webs of similar artists based on one input by you in the search bar. From there, you can branch out of the original six suggestions it gives, looking at artist bios, discographies and even links to the official websites. The key here is its simplicity. In my own experience, I discovered Klaxons after inputting my favourite band Bloc Party, and found their indie-rave-punk chaos close enough to be associated with my beloved Bloc.

 

So what's next? Kasabian?

So what’s next? Kasabian?

 

Music-Map (and its sister website Gnoosic) continue with the trend of simplistic interfaces (see where I’m going here?), and are akin to gentle nods in the right direction of true love. The former takes on the form of an orbiting galaxy of stars, placing the artists you choose in the middle of the cosmos, as more similar artists orbit it in a closer trajectory, and less similar artists spiral around the periphery. The latter is also developed by the same person, and requests that you enter three of your favourite artists into the search bar, upon where it will give an automated recommendation. Don’t like it, or don’t know it? Rank the suggestion, and it will adapt for the next five or so suggestions. No profile, no sign-up, just a ‘Like’/’Don’t like’/’Don’t Know’. Personally, I put in Bloc Party, The Strokes and Kings Of Leon, and the first suggestion, Interpol, completely suited my tastes and made me wonder how I had never heard of them up until now. And since they’ve been around since 2002, it’s nearly a decade I’ve wasted without their dark, angular riffs buzzing through my ears…

 

Summary

Finding love, both physically and musically, can be a nerve-wracking experience. I still get that pang of worry as I load an album of an artist I don’t know onto my iPod. But that fear of something new gets washed away when I feel a bond between the music and myself that was probably always there, but I never knew of it. Like a conversation between long-lost friends that gets picked up after many years. Like a reflex reaction between the ears and pleasure centres of the mind. You want to experience that feeling more and more. But you can’t expect to blindly stumble upon it every day and be successful. Falling in love may sound romantic, but I’d rather dive into it, thanks.

 

Love Music - danjlovesthe90s.wordpress.com

 

 

Links to recommended websites:

 

(On a side note: I made a chance discovery of The Music Map: The Landscape Of Music project whilst researching for this post. It’s a site I highly recommend anyone to have a look at, regardless of what you’re searching for. A certain computer programmer, Dr. Yifan Hu, develops algorithms and software for mapping the relationships between anything on the internet, and his music map is thorough, well-researched and fascinatingly useful. Treat it like a browsing session on Google Maps, except it’s not countries and cities you’re hovering over; it’s genres and artists.)

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 22nd of March 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes. In hindsight, this article in particular could do with a significant update, perhaps a ‘Part Two’, in the near future)

 

One aspect of music that I have a particular affinity for is acoustic covers of well-known songs, or by artists that I like. The idea of reinterpreting a piece of music and stripping it down to its core emotions gets me excited. The search to find these gems also makes it all the more worthwhile, as many of these performances are rather rare and difficult to find.

Due to the incredibly high-quality of technology used in music production today, it’s become easy to lose a sense of how good an artist is at performing live, which I’ve always considered a worthy barometer of talent measurement. Studio trickery and layered and/or Auto-tuned vocals can sometimes mask the real truth of an artist’s ability.

This is not to say that technology is bad and has no place in the music industry, because it definitely does have a place. Musical and technological innovations have gone hand-in-hand right from the start. Artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix eagerly and meticulously redefined what an artist could do in a studio, and embraced the many changes the recording industry was going through in the 1960’s (definitely enough for a whole other article!), and made music all the more creative and electrifying (excuse the pun) for the following decades. By the 1980’s, it was standard practice to play around with synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, etc, to add to your final mix.

 

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

Jimi Hendrix was notoriously picky in the studio, meticulously crafting his sound, which often left studio staff exasperated.

 

But if you take a performer out of the comfort of his/her studio, or take away all the wonderful gadgets that make them listenable, will the magic still be there? Depending on what type of music they create (some, for example, make acoustic-based music anyway), this could be a colossal failure or a beautiful spectacle; an unmasking of the true artist within. If someone is worth his/her salt musically, they should be able to convey to you what they’re feeling inside in the simplest or grandest terms.

I saw an extreme example of this recently, when I watched a guitar documentary where Jack White (of The White Stripes) built a ‘guitar’ out of a block of wood, a glass bottle, some nails, wire, and a connecting system of some sort to electrify this poor-man’s attempt at an instrument. He then tried it out for a while, as it emitted a howling surge of noise, and afterwards, turned to the camera and said with a shrug, ‘Who said you even need to buy a guitar?’

 

 

Amateurs also have discovered the importance of the acoustic cover in contemporary music, not just the professional artists. If you search ‘acoustic cover’ on Youtube, you’re guaranteed to find a plethora of people, usually with just a guitar or piano, playing their own ‘unplugged’ versions of popular songs, whether they’re pop, rock, R&B or even hip-hop. It almost seems to be a rite of passage to be able know the chords to some teen pop-idol’s latest hit, and then to give your interpretation of it on the Internet. And you know what? I’m all for it.

Whether a musician is performing an acoustic cover of his own song, or of another’s, a little morsel of his soul gets put into the meal. And when a professional artist does so, there is an even greater chance of that performance turning into an aural banquet for the listener. Oftentimes the mood of the song is completely different from its original: a change from brash and outrageous to perhaps delicate and sensitive, yet still using the same words and chords. So, in addition to showcasing the artist’s actual vocal and/or instrumental skills, their flair for songwriting and arranging can also be given a chance to shine.

Here are some amateur and professional examples of acoustic covers that really sum up the ideals I’ve found in this sphere of music. In some cases, the line between amateur and professional is a little blurred, because some of these people have really good production values and obvious talent that needs to be discovered by a record label or rich investor! Some are studio recordings, but still acoustic versions, which must count for something. This is by no means a complete list of what’s worth checking it out; It’s just what I’ve been exposed to, or have the download links to show you. I’m sure every artist out there has had to do an acoustic recording at some point. What these type of recordings lack in complexity, they more than make up for in passion and emotion.

 

Amateurs:

 

1. Tyler Ward

This guy has built up quite a collection of covers, and guests to perform with him. I was introduced to his work by his cover of Lady Gaga’s latest hit ‘Born This Way’, which he performs with a girl named Alex G. Try out this one out for size:

 

2. Obadiah Parker’s cover of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’

This folk/pop group catapulted away from obscurity when in 2007, they released an acoustic cover of the hip hop smash hit by Outkast, ‘Hey Ya’. A tender, relaxed take on a very upbeat and funky song:

 

 

3. Boyce Avenue

Like Tyler Ward, this band have become Youtube sensations, with many of their videos having over a million views each. Specialising in acoustic covers, and now writing some of their own material in a similar style, they are an excellent example of how to use modern communication tools like the Internet to get your name out there.

Their most-viewed track, Linkin Park’s ‘Shadow Of The Day’, rightfully deserves that honour:

 

 

Professionals

 

1. MTV Unplugged Series

This MTV concert series began in the early 90’s and had some amazing acts of the day perform ‘unplugged’. Some memorable moments to check out include:

Eric Clapton in 1992, whose set was released as an album, selling over 10 million copies and earning him SIX Grammy Awards! Hectic stuff…

Bryan Adams’s 1997 set, of which that version of ‘Heaven’ will probably end up being my wedding song…

Nirvana’s legendary performance in 1993. Recorded only five months before Kurt Cobain’s death, the grunge trend-setters completely flipped their music on its head, showcasing a more sensitive side of Kurt’s vocals and guitar-playing.

Oasis’s infamous 1996 performance, at the height of their fame. Moments before going on stage, lead singer Liam Gallagher pulled out of the show, citing a sore throat. The band continued to perform despite this, with his brother, songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher, handling all the vocals, which earned him much critical praise. Liam watched the performance and heckled the group from a balcony. Some absolute classics here, such as ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’.

 

The Unplugged series slowed down its recording schedule in the 2000’s, but lately, present-day artists such as Phoenix, Katy Perry, Adam Lambert, Vampire Weekend and Paramore have been contributing some lively performances.

 

 

2. An assortment of others that I have on my iPod

Due to the elusive nature of these performances, it’s quite difficult to have a nice catalogue of them on CD’s or on an iPod. Many artists choose to randomly play a hit of theirs acoustically at one of their countless concerts, or record a version on an obscure EP; therefore it’s easy to miss out, even if you’re a fan! So here’s a list of some interesting ones I have collected over the years:

 

  • Aerosmith – ‘Crazy’ (Piano Acoustic)
  • Fokofpolisiekar – ‘Hemel Op Die Platteland’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Foo Fighters – ‘Times Like These’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Incubus – ‘Stellar’ (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’ (Originally by Nine Inch Nails – one of the best covers ever, off an album of covers he did before he died in 2003)
  • Linkin Park – Pushing Me Away (Live Acoustic – from Underground V6.0)
  • Relient K’s ‘Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been’ and ‘Which To Bury: Us Or The Hatchet’ (Unplugged Versions off various EP’s)
  • Rihanna – Umbrella (Guitar Acoustic)
  • Tupac Shakur – Changes (Guitar Acoustic – rare version)

 

Whew, that’s enough for now! Now it’s your turn to go out there and search for these acoustic nuggets of treasure. Hopefully you’ll find that the magic is still there once the Auto-tune is turned off and the guitars are unplugged…

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 18th of May 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

I recently decided to update all my Michael Jackson albums. I had nearly all of them from 1978’s Off The Wall onwards, but most were of a sub-standard quality; an excuse I gave for not taking the time to listen to his lesser-known works. This update awoke the feelings I had when he passed away, and helped me revisit them.

 

All Hail The King Of Pop

All Hail The King Of Pop

 

I remember the 25th of June 2009 so clearly, and the mish-mash of emotions I felt. I remember staying at my family home during my university’s winter vacation. I remember emerging from my bedroom, bleary-eyed, around 8:30 in the morning, to make some breakfast; just like any other day before it. And I remember my mother coming up to me and saying something like ‘Michael Jackson died last night of a heart attack’. I remember the cocktail of sadness, grief and loss I suddenly felt, made worse by the fact that in the preceding months, faced with the prospect of losing the fleeting yet special childhood memories I had of him, I had just started to truly get into his music. It wasn’t the kind of sadness you’d feel if a close family member or friend died. That’s a more tangible sadness, where there’ll be a hugely personal rift in your day-to-day life from then onwards. It was a collective sadness, a communal sadness that you know millions of other people were feeling, and it multiplied within us all. Our brightest star had burnt out. But mixed with that, I had an oddly intense joy. I opened up my laptop and immediately started playing his hits, loudly and proudly, revelling in the fact that, although he was gone, his beautiful and inspiring music was not. And since he put his entire heart and soul into his music, there he shall remain. His body, a well-known ‘monstrosity’, ceased to be alive, but his music: always alive, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. I cried, a soothing salve for my sadness, but the moment soon produced tears of triumph. Our domestic servant Princess was working that day, and was quite baffled and concerned about what was going on. My mother explained the situation, saying who had died. When she said that, I remember thinking , “Not the Michael Jackson I’m thinking of”. Fast forward to this past Tuesday, as I’m walking on my way to work on a misty May morning, earphones in, listening to The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. Through the tiny speakers, 10-year-old Michael’s voice rang out with a style and force unbecoming of his tender years.

 

Michael Jackson as a child - The Jackson Five

 

Then it hit me: Michael Jackson was humanity’s sacrifice to music. How many other young child stars like him continued to produce music right through their lifetime, and reach the level he did, musically and culturally? I can barely think of any off the top of my head, perhaps only the genius of Stevie Wonder. In return for the hyperbolic fame and fortune, he was robbed of a normal childhood, which in later life, brought about horrific emotional problems for him that few of us could ever imagine. The intense media scrutiny around every aspect of his being drove this sensitive and childlike man to breaking point. And coupled with this was the diagnosis of the skin disease Vitiligo: the cause of his ever-whitening skin, and for someone who was constantly in the public eye, an everyday nightmare. It was a truly unique set of circumstances for a truly unique, trail-blazing individual. To moonwalk his way to the title ‘King of Pop’, he gave his life, his whole life, from just the age of 5. Humanity offered up a vessel, filled to the brim with an amount of musical talent unheard of in a human being. Music accepted the offer, and the rest……is history. I don’t think there could’ve been any other way about it.

 

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.