Friday Groove: George Harrison

When I worked at Record and Tape, we had a poster in the back room of the Beatles, with handwritten labels above each member. Ringo’s said “Stupid Head.” John’s said ”Dumb Head.” What Paul’s said is too vulgar for this publication. But George’s said “Eh, he’s ok.”

Over the years, I don’t really recall hearing anyone say anything bad about George Harrison. Meanwhile, I’ve heard people say a lot about the other three members of the Beatles. Even before knowing much about Harrison’s music, I could tell something was different about him. He didn’t seem as pretentious as Paul. He didn’t seem as hot-headed as John. He didn’t seem as drunk as Ringo.

A few years ago, when I came across a clip of George Harrison on The Dick Cavett Show, he proved what I suppose I had always known about him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who was as purely human as he was. As he made quips to Dick Cavett, you could tell he was uncomfortable with the prospect of being interviewed in front of millions of viewers, as anyone might be in a similar situation.

He wasn’t there to show off or brag about what he had done recently. When pressed about what he had said to John Lennon at a recent movie premiere, Harrison replied “I said ‘Hi, hello.’” There was no profound conversation or intense encounter. To me, in a way, that was almost better than anything he (or anyone for that matter) could have made up.

I think there’s a misconception about professional musicians that they’re these larger than life figures who are always out at parties or events, or always on tour. George Harrison, by no means, was larger than life, but just because he wasn’t larger than life doesn’t mean he didn’t have a large life. 

Born in Liverpool, England in 1943, George Harrison started playing music with Paul McCartney and John Lennon in his early teens. In the Beatles, Harrison couldn’t fully express himself. Stuck playing lead guitar and singing background vocals to the overwhelming majority of songs that were written by Lennon and McCartney, Harrison was only able to get a couple of songs on each record. 

As turmoil grew within the band, Harrison quit on multiple occasions, with the most iconic departure occurring on January 10, 1969. After McCartney and Lennon continuously shot down song after song of Harrison’s, he had had enough. He went home that day and wrote the song “Wah-Wah,” which would later appear on his second solo album. Of course, Harrison came back to finish the rest of the Beatles’ recordings, but within a year, the band broke up for good.

In 1970, about a month after the Beatles broke up, Harrison went to work on his magnum opus. The triple-LP All Things Must Pass, which featured some of the greatest musical talent of the time, including Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Pete Drake and too many others to count, was released in November of that year. 

It’s hard to find the right words to describe that album. I don’t have another piece of music in my collection that even remotely compares to the raw emotion that Harrison digs into on the record. It has made me laugh. It has made me cry. Tracks like “What Is Life” and “Art of Dying” make you want to roll the windows down and turn the volume up. Tracks like “My Sweet Lord” and “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” are delicate and timeless. 

Easily, All Things Must Pass is my favorite record of all time. Even as I try to put some variety into what I listen to, I put that album on the turntable at least a couple times a month.

All of Harrison’s other eleven solo albums are fantastic pieces of music too. Isn’t it a pity that he was so constrained in the Beatles? Who’s to say what some of those records would’ve looked like had Lennon and McCartney given Harrison more freedom to express himself. Later in his career, he also appeared alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison in The Traveling Wilburys.

Harrison’s ventures weren’t limited to just music either. He was a founder of HandMade Films in 1979, which helped produce the films Life of Brian (1979) and Time Bandits (1981). When Monty Python lost their funding for Life of Brian due to uproar from the Catholic Church over the film’s content, Harrison took out a second mortgage on his home to fund the film’s completion. The only condition was that he got to be in the movie.

On Thursday, George Harrison would’ve turned 78. There were tributes on Facebook from former bandmate Paul McCartney and millions of fans everywhere. I personally threw on his 1974 LP Dark Horse to mark the occasion. 

Although Harrison passed away 20 years ago this November from cancer, his legacy continues. His son, Dhani Harrison, recently revived his father’s old record label Dark Horse. Next month, the label is releasing a compilation of Greatest Hits from The Clash frontman Joe Strummer.

I always get a little upset when there’s an artist I couldn’t appreciate until after their death. Of course, being only three when he died, it’s not through any fault of my own. I do take comfort, though, in knowing that Harrison did finally get the recognition he deserved after the Beatles broke up, and that he was able to have such a successful career while also maintaining such a deep sense of humility.

Tony Sheaffer is editor-in-chief for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Friday Groove: Medicine at Midnight – Foo Fighters

It feels like most albums I’ve reviewed over the last year were recorded before the pandemic, and were subsequently shelved temporarily. Foo Fighters latest is no exception.

To coincide with their 25th anniversary, Foo Fighters had planned to release their 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight last year. With the cancellation of their tour, postponing the release seemed like a pretty viable option.

But I suppose Dave Grohl and company couldn’t wait for touring to resume to have the world hear their latest effort. And to be completely honest, I can’t blame them. From the opening drum groove to the loud and catchy choruses, this new Foos record is highly experimental, and arguably one of their best. 

It’s jazzy. It’s bluesy. It reminds me of David Bowie and Queens of the Stone Age at the same time. It has songs that you can dance to, and it has songs that thousands of people can sing along with in unison. 

That opening drum groove I mentioned? On “Making a Fire,” tt gives way to one of the catchiest guitar licks I’ve heard in some time, along with vocal melodies from the background singers that can often be seen accompanying the band on tour. To this point, I can’t recall hearing them on one of the Foo Fighters albums. The verse gives way to a boisterous chorus that I think will be stuck in my head for some time.

“Shame Shame,” the second track is quite mellow, the polar opposite of most Foo Fighters tracks, including the album opener. It’s a solid groove too. “Cloudspotter” starts mellow, but rips open with the chorus. It prompts me to think of Joe Cocker or the Rolling Stones track “Gimme Shelter.”

“No Son of Mine” and “Holding Poison” get back to that classic Foo Fighters sound we’ve enjoyed for 25 years, but they still sound like fresh songs. “Chasing Birds,” like “Shame Shame,” is pretty laid back, but the wide range of sound keeps the listener guessing as to what will come next, and in my opinion, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The album ends with the thunderous “Love Dies Young,” a track that takes the new sounds the band has been experimenting with and puts them right alongside their definitive sound. Needless to say, the album ends on a high note. 

Despite now having six members in the band, this album doesn’t sound too crowded, which can happen when there’s too many people collaborating on one project. More than anything, I think I’m happiest with Nate Mendel’s bass playing on this record. He really took some risks with his playing on this effort, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

I always worry a bit when a band I’ve loved for years puts out a new album, but with this one, Foo Fighters hit the nail on the head. I look forward to seeing them get back out on the road, hopefully later this year.

Tony Sheaffer is editor-in-chief for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Friday Groove: OK Human – Weezer

California-based rock band Weezer was originally slated to release their fifteenth studio album Van Weezer in May 2020 to line up with the “Hella Mega Tour” they had planned with Green Day and Fall Out Boy. But, like most things in the year 2020 (and now 2021 for that matter), the plans were put on hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now as a member of the Weezer Fan Club, I, along with many others, received a cryptic email in mid-January asking me to fill out a bunch of captchas and other questions, and if I did, I would get a prize. Some of the people who filled it out received floppy disks in the mail. I received nothing, but hey, that’s the way it goes right?

On January 18, the band announced that another album OK Human would be released the following week, and that Van Weezer, now their 16th effort, would be released in May. 

The band said that OK Human would be unlike anything they had done before. There would be a 38-piece orchestra playing with the band, no electric guitars and no click track during the recording process (for the non-musicians, a click track is used to keep tempo constant during a recording). 

And truthfully, it is completely unlike any other Weezer album, so if you’re looking for tracks like “Buddy Holly” or “The Good Life,” this is not your record.

But, if you’re willing to try something new, come aboard.

OK Human harkens back to a simpler time of recording, when everything was analog. The sound is organic, and while it maintains the standard of being a Weezer record, it feels like you’re listening to classical music at the same time. Every track flows right into the next without a break. What’s beautiful is it doesn’t sound overly polished either. 

In a way, it feels like Weezer hired Roy Wood (of Electric Light Orchestra fame) as a consultant or producer or something. The orchestral arrangements in the first two ELO records, and in OK Human, seem remarkably similar, although don’t think that Weezer just tried to rip-off ELO. This record is different in a lot of ways. More than anything it just feels like the band wants to branch out into different genres and expand the scope of what they can do. 

My favorite tracks on this one include the upbeat album-opener “All My Favorite Songs,” “Here Comes the Rain” and “La Brea Tar Pits.”

OK Human is overall a great record from a band that has been able to do everything from rock to pop to Lil’ Wayne to metal and now to classical. I’m beyond excited to see where they go next.

Tony Sheaffer is editor-in-chief for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Friday Groove: My New Year’s Resolution

Photo: Blocks

Towards the latter half of 2020, I found myself in a bit of a rut. 

Now I’m not referring to the routine I’ve had since last March, where I wake up, shower, make a pot of coffee and watch reruns of Cheers for eight or nine hours while I get work done. I’m referring to the same 10 or 20 albums I would shuffle through when I wasn’t watching 80’s sitcoms.

See, one of the downsides of not being able to shop for records as frequently is I fell out of practice of finding something new to listen to on the daily. And while I certainly have my favorites I like to keep in the rotation, I pride myself on being able to mix things up pretty often. That wasn’t happening anymore.

I knew I had to break the monotony… and fast.

While many have New Year’s resolutions to eat better, exercise more or lose weight, my New Year’s resolution this year was a bit different. I decided that I would listen to a different album, in its entirety, every day for the whole year.

In an era where music is defined by streams and playlists, it seems like listening to an entire album is something of a lost art. Oftentimes, I’ve found that the single an artist puts out isn’t even the best track on the album that follows. One song doesn’t tell the whole story, but an album does.

But alas, I’ve been listening to complete albums since I’ve been listening to music. My real intention with this resolution is discovering new (to me) music and rediscovering music that I hadn’t heard in some time. 

So on January 1, I started combing through my thousands of CD’s and vinyl records and pulling out anything I hadn’t listened to since at least the early days of the pandemic, and in some cases, long before that. After the first week, I posted what I had listened to on Facebook, both to have my friends keep tabs on me, and to chronicle what all I had listened to.

Now here we are, roughly a month in, and I have to say, this has been the most fun resolution I’ve ever made. Not only am I listening to different music everyday, but I’m learning more and more about the music as I read the liner notes for these albums (another thing you don’t get with streaming). 

But perhaps the best part of all this is the discussion I have with friends about what I’ve been listening to. Through sharing this resolution with others, I’ve found even more songs and albums to listen to, and learned even more about the music along the way. Some have even taken what I’ve listened to as recommendations, so they’ll have something new to try too.

I think at some point, whether now or a little ways down the road, everyone should try something like this. Maybe if you just listen to singles and playlists, listen to a whole album. If you do listen to whole albums, try something that might be a little outside your comfort zone. Even if you don’t have access to physical media, branch out and listen to something new. 

You’ll be glad you did.

Tony Sheaffer is editor-in-chief for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Friday Groove: Top 10 Albums of 2020

When I used to work at Record and Tape Traders, it was a lot easier to keep track of new releases. After all, if I wasn’t the one organizing them on Thursday after closing, I was the one selling them upon opening Friday. This year has been so long and ridiculous, I almost forgot that some of my favorite records of the year actually came out this year. That being said, over the last week I’ve revisited some of my favorite albums of 2020, and I’m going to offer you my top 10. Give them a shot if you need something to listen to over the winter break.

Fair warning: Taylor Swift’s Folklore is not on this list. The lyrics were okay, but the album overall wasn’t very good. She surprise-dropped another album this morning, evermore. I’ll give it a listen at some point, but I’m not expecting much.

10. The Network – Money Money 2020 Part II: We Told Ya So!

Are they a secret side-project of pop-punk band Green Day? The answer is most likely, yes. We were first introduced to The Network in 2003 when they released Money Money 2020, a decent new wave record that was a stark contrast to pretty much anything Green Day had done up to that point. After a 17-year hiatus, The Network seems to believe that the year 2020 lived up to their expectations. Part II is actually a pretty good record, with a similar sound to the original. If you’re a fan of New Wave, you’ll probably enjoy this. Unlike the original, the tracks on this LP seem to have a greater political message behind them, which may harken more toward Green Day’s American Idiot.

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9. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

Musical savant Kevin Parker is back at it again. The Australian multi-instrumentalist and record producer tackles a host of issues, from his tumultuous relationship with his father on “Posthumous Forgiveness” to feelings of being trapped in a rut on “One More Year.” “Lost in Yesterday.” a song about being addicted to nostalgia, really hits home for me. While Parker writes and records all the material himself, he has touring musicians perform with him on the road. Last year, Tame Impala headlined Coachella, perhaps signaling to Parker that his solo-project had finally made it.

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8. HAIM – Women in Music, Pt. III

I think the word that best describes HAIM’s third record is “exploratory.” It’s similar to their first two efforts in two regards: harmonizing vocals and heavy guitars. Other than that, HAIM is setting out to explore new territory. Some tracks feel like synth-pop. Others, like “Up From A Dream,” almost remind me of David Bowie’s last record. The guitar playing on “The Steps” almost reminds me of late-Beatles or early- solo George Harrison. It might be a little different, but overall, it’s a good record.

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7. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Hip-hop duo Run the Jewels’ fourth record was released less than a month after the killing of George Floyd sparked protests across the United States and the world. Self-admittedly, I’m not always the biggest fan of rap, but this album struck a chord with me. The messaging, along with a host of venerable beats and sounds from the rap music of yesteryear is what really makes this effort unique. Joshua Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and gospel singer Mavis Staples are featured on “pulling the pin.” Although it may sound like an unusual pairing, the two really make the track pop.

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6. Jason Isbell – Reunions

Jason Isbell unpacks so much in his latest record. The former Muscle Shoals studio musician continues to reflect on those he’s loved and lost, and his struggle for sobriety, now almost a decade ago. “Only Children” dives into his regret that his parents, mainly his mother, never had a chance to experience coming of age properly, since they had him so young. While he expresses feelings of regret on a few songs, he’s hopeful for the future. Isbell tells us in “It Gets Easier” that things were difficult for him, but they certainly got better, even though things may never be easy.

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5. The Weeknd – After Hours

The Weeknd is really one of the only modern-day R&B artists I thoroughly enjoy. After Hours gives us a bit more of an 80’s synth sound, but I’m all here for it. I listened to the single, “Blinding Lights” on repeat for a solid hour of my five-hour drive to Cooperstown, NY back in March. I was lucky that the entire album was released the following week for my listening pleasure. “Scared to Live” might be the most upbeat track on the album, but it still has some dark undertones. Overall, very fitting for what this year became.

THE STRUTS RELEASE NEW ALBUM STRANGE DAYS, OUT TODAY | Umusic

4. The Struts – Strange Days

The Struts were the only big name I had the chance to see in concert this year. Their third record, Strange Days, will serve as a bit of a time-capsule in the years to come. Recorded over 10 days during quarantine, the album is quite intimate with a huge sound. It perfectly captures the experience of living through 2020. “Science fiction I believe, has become reality,” really just couldn’t be more fitting. 

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3. Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets to My Downfall

Tickets to My Downfall is my favorite pop-punk album in years. Featuring the drum power and production of Blink-182’s Travis Barker, MGK takes a break from the rap music he’s usually known for. It’s loud. It’s bombastic. It’s the perfect album to listen to at full-volume with the windows down. “title track” is a great, blustering opening to the album, beginning with acoustic guitar and vocals, then ripping into Barker’s verbose drumming. “concert for aliens” seems to call back to the sound of Blink’s 1998 effort Enema of the State. This record fits right in with the pop-punk albums of the early 2000’s perfectly.

A man leans over a jukebox while a couple dances beside him

2. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan has the unique distinction of being the first to release a top-40 record in every decade since the 1960’s. His latest, Rough and Rowdy Ways, doesn’t miss a beat. Dylan is as honest as he’s always been. It’s a meditation of who we are and where we’ve been as a society. He likens himself to Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and the Rolling Stones, proclaiming the he too, “[has] multitudes.” He remembers blues musician Jimmy Reed in “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” a thumping blues track that just might be my favorite on the record. Rough and Rowdy Ways ends with the 17-minute “Murder Most Foul,” magnum opus about President John F. Kennedy’s death, and all the things the slain president never had the chance to witness

A photo of Springsteen's face with him standing in the snow
  1. Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You

My favorite album of the year was also my favorite Springsteen album since 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s brutally honest, focusing on the intricacies of life and death in a way only The Boss could aptly do. Three tracks on the album predate Springsteen’s 1973 debut, but they still fit in with the songs he’s written over the last few years. Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded the album at his New Jersey farm last November, long before the pandemic threw a wrench in many artist’s recording plans. If you’re interested in learning more about the recording and stories behind this album, Springsteen released a documentary on Apple TV+. Here’s to hoping we’ll get to see them out on the road in 2021.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Friday Groove: Fells Point’s not-so-hidden gem

Soundgarden in Fells Point, Baltimore.

Looking for a not-so-hidden gem in Fells Point?  

Fells Point’s SoundGarden record shop has a unique vibe that just invites you in to browse the isles for hours. As coronavirus restrictions are loosening, the friendly and helpful staff is eager for customers to come in and browse the stacks.  

Since 1993, the store has grown to become a prominent part of the Fells Point’s commercial scene earning numerous awards, including recognition from Baltimore magazine and Billboard in 2013. It has also never having changed owners or being sold, a rarity for Fells Point. It’s wide selection, of both new and preowned products, include vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, video games, board games, and other collectibles.  

During this holiday season, Soundgarden is putting on its own 25 Days of Christmas showcasing merchandise available for purchase this month. Air freshners, boardgames, and candles are at the heart of this deal. 

Take my word for it,  you should go to the SoundGarden and browse the selection and support small business this holiday season.  

Photo copyright: Baltimore Business Journal