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Ringo Starr Tag

Bob DylanFive years ago a group of Popdose writers celebrated Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday with a massive, multi-page post. Each of us chose some of our favorite Dylan songs to write about. Reposting the entire thing would have been a huge undertaking since many of the video and audio links are now outdated.  Today Dylan turns 75, and I have edited just my section of the original post. I present it here in celebration of the occasion. I’ve included videos for all the songs except one, and chosen alternate or live versions when available. Although my list of favorite Dylan songs is ever-changing, five years after first making this particular list, these songs still stand up. What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments section.

Bob Dylan is 75 years old. That statement is at once momentous, and irrelevant. Irrelevant because Dylan has always seemed to stand apart from any mere concept of time. While he has certainly aged physically, he is as alive in the flesh, and in our memories, as he ever has been.

It is hard to think of a public figure who has been the object of as much speculation as Dylan. Some of it was honestly come by, other parts by digging through his trash cans for clues. When it came time for Todd Haynes to make I’m Not There, he had to cast six different actors to play Dylan because although no one really knows who Dylan is, he is everyone.

In a rare posting on his official website, Dylan said “Everybody knows by now that there’s a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I’m encouraging anybody who’s ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.”

Objectivity be damned; this is The Beatles we're talking about.  The single, most important cultural entity to happen in my lifetime; merely a rock and roll band who re-shaped traditions - musically and on a grander, far deeper social scale.  But not to quickly digress,

Soul Serenade - Billy Preston
I have a Billy Preston story. It seems like a distant dream sometimes, but it really happened. Really.

Billy was born in Houston, but moved to L.A. as a young child. By the age of ten he was an accomplished organist, backing gospel legends like Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Andrae Crouch. A year later he was performing “Blueberry Hill” on Nat King Cole’s TV show, and a year after that he appeared with Cole in the movie St. Louis Blues, the story of W.C. Handy.

I’m not going to lie to you, I’m exhausted. Last weekend’s Newport Folk Festival was a whirlwind of great music, but the festival also requires a lot of moving around from stage to stage if you’re going to try to experience the whole thing. After three days of non-stop music my ears, and my feet are tired, in a good way. Look for my coverage of the Folk Festival here at Popdose soon.

There is no rest for the weary though, as this weekend brings the Newport Jazz Festival to town. It’s the 60th anniversary of the venerable festival, qualifying it as the oldest popular music festival in the world. Back in 1954 there were classical music festivals, but no such thing a rock festival, or a jazz festival. It took the far reaching vision of George Wein to make such a festival a reality. Now there are festivals everywhere you look, and I think we’re all the better for it.

Unless you’ve been off terraforming a planet in a distant galaxy, and thus out of the communications reach of earth, you’ve probably heard a little something about the Beatles recently. The celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s arrival in the United States have been hard to miss, to say the least. Personally, I can’t get enough.

I’m old enough to remember that night, February 9, 1964, when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan show. I can vividly recall gathering in the living room with my family to watch the show that night. Something like 80 million people were tuned in, and they included pretty much everyone I knew. To say that the Beatles debut was audacious doesn’t begin to cover it. As important as the music that blew us all away was (yes, even the parents fell in love with them that night, although they were loathe to admit it), what followed transcended music. It is often said that the Beatles changed music forever, and they surely did. But again, it’s more than that. They changed everything.

In 1965 I was living in a magical place known as Atlantic City. Although the city remains, much of the magic is now gone. In that city was an equally magical place called Steel Pier. It was a place where horses flew from a 40 foot tower to waiting pool below; a place where you could go down in a diving bell to view the mysteries of the sea; and a place where in 1966 I saw the Rolling Stones play in a ballroom at the end of the pier, a mile out in the Atlantic Ocean.

The pier also offered a variety of stage shows, and first-run movies. The movies ran continuously and if you were the right age, and the right movie came along, you might just sit there all day and watch it over and over. That’s what happened the first time I saw Help! I’m not sure how many times my friends and I sat through it that day, but certainly enough times to leave an indelible impression on our young minds.

[caption id="attachment_109434" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Beyond being a detail from the cover of "McCartney," we're not sure what this is, either.[/caption] It must be great to be Paul McCartney. All that fame, all that money. And it must be terrible, too, because you have to compete with

When it comes to the question of mono vs. stereo, I come down squarely on the side of the former. This is especially true as it relates to the Beatles, who mixed their albums in mono. They were so unconcerned with the stereo mixes that EMI engineers created the mixes after the band had left the studio. The 2009 release of the mono and stereo remasters sealed the deal for me. The mono was, at least to these ears, still superior.

Now a new generation of EMI engineers have taken those stereo remasters and tweaked them for a vinyl release. For review purposes I requested a copy of Abbey Road, which I thought was the best sounding of the 2009 remasters. Since it was in stereo, I didn’t approach it with as much interest as I will next year when the mono vinyl remasters are released.

I knew the album was going to sound great. The engineers labor over these things to get every detail right. I read somewhere that they went through the albums lowering the volume of nearly every “s” sound they came across in the vocals because those tend to distort on vinyl. That’s dedication.

I had never seen this film before. That sounds kind of odd coming from someone who has always considered himself a big Beatles fan and even saw the band live once, back in 1964. Of course I’ve heard all of the music, and I’ve seen clips here and there, but I never sat down and watched the entire film before this Blu-ray landed on my desk.

The good news is Magical Mystery Tour was something new to me from the Beatles, and I’m always happy for that. Let’s be honest, Magical Mystery Tour is no Hard Day’s Night, or even Help, but I don’t think anyone ever said it was. It is very much a film of its time, and the word indulgent comes to mind. In fact, Paul McCartney uses that word several times in his commentary, which is one of the new Blu-ray’s bonus features. That does not mean, however, that there are not delights to be found here.

“We made it up as we went along as I recall,” McCartney says in the commentary, and it’s readily apparent when you view the film. That’s not all bad however because it results in some charming moments of spontaneity. It does not, however, result in a cogent, coherent film.

35 years ago tomorrow, one of the most important events in the history of rock and roll took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was on that Thanksgiving night that Bill Graham presented the Band in what was to be their farewell concert appearance, and they in turn brought along a lot of friends who had played a part in their career.

Fortunately, it wasn’t only musical friends who were there that night. Director Martin Scorcese was there too, and his film of the concert, along with three-disc soundtrack album, insured that the unforgettable evening would be experienced by millions of fans worldwide.

Musical guests that night included Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bobby Charles, Ringo Starr, and Neil Young. But the indisputable highlight for me was the performance of Van Morrison, accompanied by the Band, on his song “Caravan”. It was a perfect example of how a passionate live performance can lift an already great song to another level.

Fewer people are asking that question these days thanks to the 2006 documentary which, against all odds, John Scheinfeld spent several years assembling and which seemed to take even longer before it finally started playing- first at film festivals, then via a most-welcome DVD release