|A new spin:
Reformatting turns existing albums upside down and inside out.
'Let It Be' ... or not
not sure exactly when I started getting hooked on reformatting albums.
I recall some earlier efforts that sprung up when,
at 17, I decided that the Who's Tommy didn't make sequential
sense and the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street was diluted
with lazy numbers.
And I always felt like rock critics (particularly
from Music Hound) were subliminally egging me on claiming
that Van Morrison's Moondance and Street Choir would
make a great double album or that the Japanese 12-song version of
the Clash's Sandinista was actually superior to the original
Meanwhile, starting with my first listening to Pink
Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon at 15, I have been studying,
studying and studying album formats. The albums that I've really
come to worship are formatted in ways that heavily influence the
way I reformat other albums.
Here's a random-order list of 10 albums that I love
and wouldn't touch:
Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)
Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young)
Us (Peter Gabriel)
Remain in Light (Talking Heads)
Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon)
The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle (Bruce Springsteen)
Darkness on the Edge of Town (Bruce Springsteen)
Purple Rain (Prince)
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (Midnight Oil)
Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones)
About three years ago, I got into reformatting full force. Now,
every album that comes my way has a 75 percent chance of getting
a reworking. When all is said and done, I do this to find my own
way into the album ... arrange it so I can appreciate its contents
in a context that makes more sense to me.
Sometimes I put together something that isn't any better than the
original but is better for me.
change a thing: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
is clearly among the untouchables.
Other times I feel like I've put together something extraordinary
that would have probably gotten even more critical attention and
praise than it did as the original album.
I'll pose the obvious question: Is this really a productive way
to spend one's time?
My answer: Definitely.
The practice of reframing things is a noble one that extends well
beyond rock 'n' roll albums. In life, we're often stuck with what
we've got and it's up to us to perform personal feats of alchemy
so that what we've got becomes more enjoyable.
John Lennon once called Let It Be "The shittiest load
of badly recorded shit with a bad feeling to it ever." When
the album was about to be released, an executive begged for it to
be shelved, claiming that it would be a shoddy cardboard tombstone
on the Beatles' elegant grave, Abbey Road. Then you have
other folks claiming that Let It Be is a rough classic: Take
it or leave it.
With these thoughts in mind, let the fun begin:
It Be / original order
It Be / reformatted
Two of Us
2) Dig a Pony
3) Across the Universe
4) I Me Mine
5) Dig It
6) Let It Be
7) Maggie Mae
9) I've Got a Feeling
10) One After 909
11) The Long and Winding Road
12) For You Blue
13) Get Back
2) Dig a Pony
3) Old Brown Shoe
4) Lady Madonna
5) Don't Let Me Down
6) Hey Jude
7) I've Got a Feeling
9) I Me Mine
10) Across the Universe
11) Let It Be
12) Two of Us
13) The Long and Winding Road
Before hearing the album proper, I had heard the great hits from
it: The title track, "The Long and Winding Road," "Get
Back (single version)" and "Across the Universe."
All are great. How could an album housing these beauties possibly
it or leave it: Let It Be contains flaws along with obvious
Then I purchased the album my senior year of high school and listened
to it on a stale November afternoon.
I saw what detractors meant. Besides clunky, unrewarding throwaways
like "Maggie May," "Dig It," "One After
909" and "For You Blue," the group manages to screw
the classic cuts through awkward placing (what the hell is "The
Long and Winding Road" doing in the middle of Side Two,
only to be followed by "One After 909" and "For You
Blue"?), obnoxious intros (thanks, John) and abortive endings
(the album version of "Get Back").
And isn't the overproduction on some tracks equally to blame? People
who believe that's the flaw will probably be rewarded with the "naked"
edition that came out a while ago.
But I don't think Phil Spector's grandiose production touches to
the original are the core of the album's problem. Let It Be
contains great highs and was organized with a crappy attitude. Meanwhile,
you have Hey Jude, another incomplete album with some classic
cuts mixed in with reissues from previous albums. You know where
this is going ...
I wanted to make a 10-song wonder out of Let It Be but I
just couldn't. There were just too many good tracks and too much
variety to be gracefully housed under my lean-and-mean regime.
So, I made an album in the style of classic Beatles: Sprawling,
varied, fresh and rolling joyfully toward a moving, poetic conclusion.
It's basically a more fleshed-out and sincere version of the first
side of Abbey Road (which I think is basically an unsettling
retrospective parody of the Beatles' Many Sides ... a great set
up for the trail-blazing Side Two, but incomplete on its own).
We start with "Get Back," which contains the implied
thesis of the album: "It's time to put our differences and
lofty aims aside and do what we did at the beginning of all this:
make some plain old great music together."
I like to start this with the live chatter from the album version
and end it with the clean fadeout of the single version. The effect
is that of a ragtag airplane sputtering its way to a start, then
getting up to full speed and soaring.
Next we have the swaying gasp at fresh air and fresh concepts,
"Dig a Pony."
John's The Beatles (White Album) angst has been cast aside
for a punch-drunk ode to all things neat in the world culminating
into a plea to a lover.
We then dig into the coppery gallop of "Old Brown Shoe,"
which hands its baton off to the hustling, bustling "Lady Madonna."
Both these songs have the old-school vigor of the non-psychedelic
tracks from Rubber Soul and Revolver.
reformatting: Hey Jude is less than perfect.
Both use bouncy piano as the lead instrument and both play to the
Beatles' comical strengths: Self-effacing love songs ("Old
Brown Shoe") and societal character studies ("Lady Madonna").
Time to chill out and get a little more personal, which gets up
to "Don't Let Me Down."
The lyrics aren't much to treasure; sort of what Bob Dylan might
spew drunkenly into a late-night payphone. But man, what a delivery:
John sounds like a doomed North Pole expeditioner howling his final
agony/ecstasy in the middle of a frozen tundra of backup playing
that's punctured by minty icebergs of organ.
Then we come in from the cold and get the glowing parlor and chicken
noodle soup of "Hey Jude," the sweetest and most unpretentious
epic in rock 'n' roll. It's a fine way to put Side One to bed.
Side Two starts with "I've Got a Feeling," which carries
a mood both of innocence (Paul's bits) and experience (John's bits).
The song yawns and stretches, getting us ready for the rush of "The
Ballad of John & Yoko."
With its narrative, pace and pepper-shaker percussion, "Ballad"
echoes "Old Brown Shoe" and "Lady Madonna" from
Side One, only this one is a measure heavier and nastier.
That lands us splat into George's despairing "I Me Mine."
The track alternately runs and falls through red flames a
full descent into hell before we make our way up into the sad/sweet
paradise of the remaining four tracks.
"Across the Universe" licks the wounds of "I Me
Mine." John's cracking, empathetic vocals keep this soaring
journey through enlightenment grounded in human vulnerability. The
song becomes John's last hurrah as a Beatle. He drifts away into
the heavens, leaving Paul to light a candle and pick up the serenity
prayer with "Let It Be," which crashes to a gospel finish,
revealing the bare landscape of "Two of Us."
Everything has been swept away except John, Paul and an acoustic
boxcar back up. The Beatles have crumbled and you're left with two
vagabond chums taking a breath, shaking hands and heading home.
If John got his closing statement with "Across the Universe,"
Paul gets his with "The Long and Winding Road."
Both "Universe" and "Road" have a similar production
strategy but, whereas John's lyrics are reflective and expansive,
Paul's are reflective and focused. John goes his way, with sights
set on the universe and Paul goes his way, sights set on a single
Musically, it ends on a bang but lyrically it's an elegant decrescendo.
heaven: Moondance and Street Choir better as a
For a final snippet, a la "Her Majesty," I follow the
original Let It Be and add John's chatter at the end of the
album version of "Get Back": "I hope we passed the
audition!" What ended the original album with a shrug ends
this one with a wink.
Even if you think I'm full of shit, I hope that both the prospect
of reformatting and my passion for it might inspire you to take
a fresh listen to your existing collection.
You may very well not need to buy new albums for quite some time,
just a lot of blank CDs.