Thanksgiving 2023. 402 years have passed since the “official” first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Compared to the hard life of the Pilgrims and Native Americans back then, we have a lot for which to be thankful. Most of our modern issues are really either first-world problems, or the ongoing flaws of human nature. Hopefully someday we can overcome the worst of ourselves and do better for each other and the world in which we live.
That being said, I’m grateful for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Who would have thought, some 60 years after the (second) British Invasion, that a new Rolling Stones album and a new Beatles single would be the biggest music stories of the year?
I’ve got the new Rolling Stones album, “Hackney Diamonds,” playing in the background as I write this column. It’s really good. It sounds like classic Rolling Stones, the work of a band still inspired by and in love with good rock and roll. Keith Richards and Ron Wood are firing their guitars on all cylinders, Steve Jordan drums with an amazing feel and Mick Jagger doesn’t sound like someone who turned 80 earlier this year. His voice sounds like he’s still in his 30s — maybe even better.
The album features some cool musical contributions. Charlie Watts, founding Stones drummer, shows up on two tracks recorded before his untimely passing. Founding bassist Bill Wyman also plays along with Charlie on the song “Live By The Sword.” Speaking of famous bass players, Beatle Paul McCartney plays some hard-hitting fuzz bass on “Bite My Head Off.” (I guess they harbored no ill will about Paul’s comment about the Stones being a good blues cover band.)
Other famous guests include Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and (Heartbreaker) Benmont Tench III on piano and keys; and Lady Gaga does a fantastic duet with Mick on the gospel-tinged “Sweet Sounds of Heaven.” Sweet sounds, indeed!
“Hackney Diamonds” is a fantastic Rolling Stones album that holds its own with their vast catalog. According to the band of octogenarians, there is likely a world tour in the works as well. I’d love to hear some of these songs live.
In case you have been under a rock and not heard all the hype about the “last Beatles song,” here’s a rundown of the story behind “Now and Then.” Back in the mid-1990s, Paul, George and Ringo got together to turn three John Lennon song demos into Beatles songs for the “Anthology” project. “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” started as John’s piano and vocal cassette recording, and with help from producer Jeff Lynne, became official Beatles releases. They also started work on the third song, but abandoned it because of audio quality issues — not being able to separate the piano and voice on the original cassette recording. Paul never forgot the song, however, and always wanted to finish it.
Flash forward to 2022 when director Peter Jackson used AI-equipped software on the Beatles’ “Get Back” movie. The machine learning application enabled him to separate and restore different audio elements from the original film soundtrack. When Paul heard the results, he got hold of Ringo, as well as John’s and George’s estates, and started the ball rolling on finishing “Now and Then.”
Perhaps the most striking thing about the finished song is just how clear John’s voice is, especially considering the condition of the original demo. George’s guitar parts from the mid-’90s recording sessions were incorporated into new tracks from McCartney and Starr. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, co-produced and orchestrated the song. It’s actually pretty wonderful, and is likely the last recording featuring all of the Fab Four.
Critics have weighed in with a plethora of opinions. Is it the best Beatles song ever? Hardly. But it’s pretty cool to have a new Beatles song at all in 2023. It’s a worthy postscript to an incredible legacy of music, and I’m thankful Paul got to finish it and share it with the world.
– Catch John live Wednesdays at Brutus Seafood, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Saturday at Isla Bella Resort, and Sunday at the Skipjack Resort Tiki Bar. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. www.johnbartus.com • johnbartus.hearnow.com