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The Beatles Evolver Part XXXII: 1987-1989

I became a Beatle fan in 1987, when I was in 4th grade.  While ideally, it would have been nice to have been around when my favorite group was still making new music....my timing was pretty good.  June 1987 was the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and there were articles and documentaries about the album and the Summer of Love all over the place.  That November George Harrison released Cloud Nine  Then in 1988, George's supergroup The Traveling Wilburys released an album that my whole family adored so much, we literally wore out the tape.  In 1989 he released a Greatest Hits Compilation....which Santa decided to give me that Christmas....and was how I was really first introduced to George's solo career.

Paul was no slouch during this period as well.  In 1987 he recorded Снова в СССР which became known as "The Russian Album" to English speakers which was all covers mostly from the 1950's.  Then he released Flowers in the Dirt which featured his collaboration with Elvis Costello.

And Ringo....well as we'll see Ringo would pop up on occasion for comic relief.

Here is the playlist for all the songs I'll be talking about:  http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEA37590E6458E0EE

Cloud Nine 

While George never stopped writing songs, for a while he lost interest in creating albums.  He was more interested in his movie company Hand Made Films, and his other interests like gardening.  Cloud Nine was George's first album in 5 years, and his last solo album to be released before his death.  This was his first collaboration with former Electric Light Orchestra Jeff Lynne, who would be a steady creative partner the rest of George's life.  The album also featured piano playing by Elton John, and drumming by Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner.  The album was easily one of the most successful of George's solo career.

Cloud Nine - Not much to say with this....the song the album gets it's title from.

This is Love - A Harrison-Lynn composition...George himself explains the song's meaning in the video.  When released as a single, the B side of this song was going to be "Handle With Care"...until everybody realized that song was way too good to waste on a B side.

When We Was Fab -A Harrison-Lynne composition about George's Beatle days.  This is a rare case of George having fun with his Beatle past.  Often when asked, you can tell he's just fighting the urge to roll his eyes.  It makes references to the songs "Taxman", the Bob Dylan song "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", "Strangers in the Night" and "You've Really Got a Hold On Me."   I also think it's one of George's best music videos.  (A few of his I genuinely had to check whether they were the original video, or something somebody had cobbled together on their laptop.)

Someplace Else - A song that was originally featured on the soundtrack of the film "Shanghai Surprise".  The film was a Hand Made Films production starring Madonna and Sean Penn.  It was a bomb at the box office.  Madonna won the Razzie for worst actress.

Got My Mind Set On You -Ironically, one of George's most successful singles was not one that he wrote himself.  "Got My Mind Set On You" was an obscure R&B song from the early 60's that George had wanted to cover during the days of the Beatles.  There was more than one video for this song.  In the first, lesser known, arcade version.  Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recognize Alexis Denisof, who played Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.  

For a bonus I threw in the Weird Al Yankovic parody "This Song Is Just Six Words Long."  It's fun but I kept finding myself thinking "Really?  You have to say this about a George song and not a McCartney one?"  Granted...I don't think Paul McCartney has a lot of patience of Beatles parodies.  

Once Upon a Long Ago - In 1987 Paul McCartney released a greatest hits compilation, and this was the lone new song on it.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1This album started out as a bit of a fluke.  George was working on a song "Handle With Care" and invited some of us buddies over to help him out with "Handle With Care."  George soon realized that the song was way too good for just a B-side, and that a whole album should be made with this fun group of friends.  Thus the Traveling Wilburys was born which included George, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan.....and although not pictured on the cover, Jim Keltner on drums.

If you ever get the chance I'd recommend watching the "True History of the Traveling Wilburys" documentary.  (I got it on itunes when I downloaded the album.)  You get to see footage of the album being put together, and how much fun everybody was having.  It is also a delight to watch George talk about the Traveling Wilburys after seeing him in interviews talking about the Beatles.  In the Beatles anthology George has a definite edge, some sarcasm and a fair amount of "Oh gawwwwd not THIS again" attitude.  With the Wilburys, it is pure unadulterated joy.   This is clearly his baby and he's proud.   I especially liked a comment on the documentary about how they had both the best lyricist with Bob Dylan, and the best voice with Roy Orbison.  The album was written and recorded really quickly, from April-May 1988, to accommodate Bob Dylan's upcoming tour.   George and Jeff produced it and had it ready to go by October.  The album was a surprise hit, going triple platinum in the U.S.

My family listened to this album in the car until we wore it out.  My sister and I, who had first learned to harmonize listening to the Beatles, took it one step further with the Traveling Wilburys.  We would negotiate who would get to "be" which Wilbury.  She was usually Roy Orbison....because of her clear soprano voice...and because she could do the Roy Orbison gargle/growl thing.  I'm sure I was usually George....because I'm ALWAYS George.

Handle With Care - The jam session that created this song ultimately started the group.  

Not Alone Anymore -  On the documentary, it's kind of implied that Jeff Lynne was the main composer for this song, which was written specifically as a solo for Roy Orbison.

Heading For the Light - This was written by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.   I've never heard any interview where one of the Wilburys said explicitly what it was about....but I always figured it was about recovering from the depression he went into following the death of John Lennon.  Plus, like many of George's songs, it is pretty obviously about God.  I was always struck by the line "All the dreams are coming true and I think of you."  Which I always thought was quite the compliment to whoever he was singing about.  

End of the Line - Roy Orbison had already passed away by the time the video for this was filmed.  So you can see a nod to him by showing his guitar, and his picture.  This was a pretty classic Wilbury song, which was written by everybody improvising suggestions for lines, and then they would pick the best ones.  I especially love the part about "when somebody plays/Purple Haze."  My mom explained to me about it being a Jimi Hendrix song.....and later that would lead to a whooooole other universe of music.  

The Wilburys inspired a surge of creative output from all of the members.  Here is a sampling:

Full Moon Fever - This was Tom Petty's first solo album.  He collaborated both with members of the Heartbreakers and the Traveling Wilburys.  George Harrison played acoustic guitar and contributed backing vocals to "I Won't Back Down."  Roy Orbison sang back vocals on "Zombie Zoo."  Jeff Lynne helped to produce the album and co-wrote most of the songs with Tom Petty.

I have a special affection for "Free Fallin'."  As somebody who, musically, spent most of the 1980's living in the 1960's....I was rarely into any of the songs that my peers were listening too.  However "Free Fallin'" all of us liked.  The embarrassing thing was, the only reason I was familiar with the album, was because my mom had bought it.

Mystery Girl - Roy Orbison died in December, 1988, just 2 months after the release of the Traveling Wilburys album.   Roy Orbison's final album was produced mostly by Jeff Lynne.  The biggest hit was a song Orbison co-wrote with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty: "You Got It."

Oh Mercy -  While no other Wilbury bandmates appear on this album, the experience had helped inspire Bob Dylan to start writing songs again.  This is easily one of my favorite albums of his.  I especially like "Man in the Long Black Coat" as his voice is perfectly suited for it.  Youtube won't let me put the video I made in the playlist...so you can view it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3IXEEckZz4

Снова в СССР - The album title means "Back in the USSR" in Russian.  However it is better known among English speakers as "The Russian album."  The album was originally meant to be just for the Soviets who often could not get access to McCartney's music in a legal way. However, the album became fairly successful among fans outside of the Soviet Union as well, particularly after the fall of the USSR in 1991.  For me, this album (and later Run Devil Run) are what John Lennon's Rock and Roll could and should have been.  I included most of the album on here because it's that good.  Some of the highlights are:

Twenty Flight Rock - This is the song that Paul McCartney played the night he met John Lennon.

Lawdy Miss Clawdy and Ain't That a Shame - 1950's songs written by New Orleans natives Lloyd Price and Fats Domino respectively.  New Orleans and McCartney are a VERY nice combo.

Bring It On Home To Me - This Sam Cooke song was initially covered by John Lennon on his Rock and R album.  Paul does the song justice here.  However he later REALLY knocked it out of the park in 2006 when he sang it with Al Jarreau and George Benson.

Ferry Cross the Mersey -Originally performed by fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers, Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden and others released it for a charity event.

Best of the Dark Horse 1976-1989 - The Christmas I was 12, Santa left this gem in my stocking.  It's a good overall introduction to George's solo material, and it also has a few new songs.

Poor Little Girl - This one is pretty straightforward.

Cockamamie Business - This one should be on the flip side of "When We Was Fab".  It's about the darker aspects of fame.  "Didn't want to be a star only just to play guitar in this cockamamie business."

Cheer Down - The most Wilbury sounding song on the album was co-written with Tom Petty.  My mom liked to say that it showed because George would say "Cheer" with an English accent and then dayoooooooown....like Tom Petty.

Flowers in the Dirt 

This album featured one of McCartney's most successful post-Beatle collaborations, with Elvis Costello.  Costello gave the McCartney songs an edge rarely seen since his days of working with John Lennon.  Although when they were ask who contributed what to the songs, they commented it was probably the opposite of what you thought.  Pity they did not collaborate more....but I'm willing to wager that Elvis Costello got tired of being the junior partner.  Once again, this album pretty much speaks for itself, but here are a few of the highlights.

My Brave Face - This one written with Costello partly shows what a chameleon Paul could be.  If you listen carefully, he's even singing a bit like Elvis Costello.  It's one of my favorite songs of McCartney's solo career.

You Want Her Too - Another one written with Costello, this one sung as a duet with Costello.

Put It There - Pretty safe to assume that Paul wrote this gentle song about his son James.

Veronica - When I first started listening to Elvis Costello, this song really stuck out as one of my favorites.  It did not surprise me in the least to find out it was one of the ones he had co-written with Paul McCartney.  Paul is playing his Hofner bass on this and T-Bone Burnett produced it.  The song is about a woman suffering from dementia.  Costello got the idea from experiences with his grandmother.

Act Naturally - In the late 80's, if you saw Ringo at all, it was usually because he was acting.  However in 1989 Ringo and Buck Owens recorded "Act Naturally" together.  It was a song that Buck Owens had originally made famous, and Ringo later sang with the Beatles.

Pizza Hut Commercial - Ringo was in a lot of commercials in the 80's....quite a few for wine, until he stopped drinking.  This is one of my favorites, where he manages to get "the lads" back together.



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