Today in Tedium: As well-loved as his productions were, iconic producer George Martin (not to be mistaken for this guy) didn't bask in the glow of attention. For the most part, the iconic producer and arranger, who died this week at the age of 90, embraced his status as the man behind the boards, helping the Beatles create some of their greatest work. But considering how well-known the Beatles are, the band and its history—and, as a result, Martin's well-tuned ear—go in a lot of weird directions. Today's Tedium touches on some of the more unusual edges of Beatlemania. Goo goo g'joob. — Ernie @ Tedium
The Peruvian rock band We All Together quietly and obscurely carried the Beatles' torch
Sorry Oasis, but We All Together beat you to that whole aping-the-Beatles thing by more than two decades. And unlike Badfinger, they didn't have help from the Beatles themselves in making their tuneful pop.
We All Together is pretty much completely unknown outside of their native Peru, outside of their song "It's a Sin to Go Away." That tune, a spectacular bit of fuzz-bass and drum-pounding dramatics, showed up on the second volume of the Nuggets box set, deservedly giving the band some garage-rock cred.
But that song and its modest international profile, in a way, does We All Together a disservice. It's a powerful tune that (apologies to fans of Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil) is potentially the best rock song to come out of South America in the 1970s, but it sort of clouds the fact that, much like The Beatles, We All Together's original run is best seen as a full piece.
The band, which released two albums in the 1970s, was known for creating original songs that were so in the spirit of late-period Beatlemania that they may as well have found a place on Abbey Road or Let it Be, or (more likely) a Beatles solo album. Part of the reason for that was that the recording quality of these songs was extremely high, to the point where, if you didn't hear lead singer Carlos Guerrero's slight accent, you would have no idea you were listening to a band that hailed from Lima.
The band had a lot of time to polish its chops. Guerrero and the other members of the band (Carlos Salom, Manuel Cornejo, and Saúl Cornejo) built their chops as members of another Peruvian band, Laghonia. By the time the members shifted to We All Together, they were good enough at their craft that they could mimic some of the Beatles' best studio tricks.
Both of the original band's albums, a self-titled release that came out in either 1972 or 1973, and the 1974 follow-up Volumen II, are driven by Paul McCartney's ear for tunefulness and Guerrero's vocals, which evoke the nasally parts of John Lennon's iconic register. They never straight-up covered the Beatles during this era, but they covered a lot of songs in the Beatles sphere, including tunes by Wings and Badfinger's "Carry On Until Tomorrow."
But when they were creating their own songs—like "Ozzy," a highlight of their second record—it didn't sound like they were imitators to the Britpop throne.
Like all good music with interesting backstories, these albums have only resurfaced outside of Peru within the past two decades, thanks to specialty labels such as Light in the Attic bringing them back to life. But the band itself remained active for nearly 40 years (and Guerrero the only constant), only hanging it up back in 2011, with a few more recent releases showing up on iTunes. It took them all the way until 1996 to record a straight-up album of Beatles covers, much to their credit.
The peak UK chart position of Paul McCartney's solo single "We All Stand Together," a literal nursery rhyme that McCartney wrote for the animated TV show Rupert. (No clue if the song's name was a knowing nod to We All Together going out of their way to clearly ape him.) Macca was a huge fan of Rupert the Bear as a kid, to the point where he not only wrote this song for it, but he also co-wrote Rupert and the Frog Song, the short that included the song, and aired the short before his terrible 1984 movie, Give My Regards to Broad Street. He went so far as to record an entire album of Rupert songs (arranged by George Martin, of course), but that album never saw the light of day. How did Macca's Rupert theme song become such a big hit? He released it as a single just before Christmas, of course, because he knows how to make money.
Four awesomely random albums the Beatles released on Apple Records
- John Lennon and Yoko Ono drew a lot of attention by showing up naked on their infamous 1968 album Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, but the shocking part of that album may have been the record itself, which very much toyed with the avant-garde. The approach of its follow-up, Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions, was surprisingly blog-like for the 1960s, using music to highlight the couple's quite-crazy day to day, which included protests and a miscarriage. One track on the latter record, "No Bed for Beatle John," was literally the couple singing press clippings about themselves.
- George Harrison's experiments with a Moog, on an album he called Electronic Sound, represent perhaps the biggest stretch Harrison took in his career—and it was a stretch that no other Beatle had tried by that point, though Paul McCartney later got the bug thanks to his side project The Fireman.
- Composer John Tavener, who eventually became known for his religious works, was sort of working on a religious wavelength when he recorded and released The Whale, a work inspired by the Old Testament story of Jonah, on Apple in 1968. But he was knee-deep in the avant-garde at the time, making his cantata a jarring composition for those unfamiliar with the avant.
- The Beatles' Christmas fan club records, which were clearly designed to allow the band to mess around in the studio, are bizarre as heck, and pretty wild listens. The short records were initially only released in the U.K., but Apple released them as a full album to the U.S. market. Tiny Tim shows up at some point.
"For f&@! sake do something with 'Sweet Music' By Lon and Derrek Van Eaton. It's a potential No. 1 hit."
— George Harrison, writing in a telegram to the brass at Apple Records, expressing frustration that the label was failing to promote a song he produced. Lon and Derreck Van Eaton were two of the last artists to be signed to Apple Records, and soon after their album's release (and its eventual failure), Apple stopped releasing music by artists other than the Beatles. The label had a reputation for not treating non-Beatle artists well; most famously, Badfinger titled one of its albums Ass, with the record featuring cover art designed to critique the band's relationship with the record label. Lon and Derreck Van Eaton, meanwhile, saw their album Brother go out of print for nearly four decades.
It's worth remembering that George Martin had a career outside of the Beatles. He produced hit records before he met the Fab Four, and he even produced the most popular single of all time, Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997."
But perhaps the most interesting non-Beatles record he was associated with came about during his time with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the early '60s. Martin and a co-worker of his, Maddalena Fagandini, played around with an interval signal created by Fagandini, and ended up coming up with "Time Beat," the first commercial music single ever released by the BBC. It didn't become a hit, but it was an impressive feat. The single doesn't sound like it's more than 50 years old, which is saying a lot.
Hopefully Martin's musique concrète experience came in handy a few weeks after the single's release, when Martin met the Beatles for the first time.
He would eventually technically be considered one of them.