So you’re the Beatles. You virtually conquered the world in the ‘60s, and after a bit of a rocky period, some tension between band members, and one substandard record, you rejigger yourselves for the ‘70s and conquer the world once again with Band on the Run. What’s next?
Well, I wasn’t originally going to create this album. I was going to throw the best stuff in here partly into Band on the Run and partly into the following album, and most of what’s on this album was actually not going to make the cut for inclusion. But there just wasn’t quite enough room for everything I wanted unless I stretched album lengths beyond the realm of what was normal at the time (I figured the Beatles may very well have made 50-minute records in the ‘70s, but 60 minutes was probably out of the question). I toyed with the idea of a “Rock and Roll” EP with some of the various covers they did at the time, but I’m just not really a fan of most of them (save one, which is on here), and Paul didn’t really have anything to contribute. So I decided it would be a real record after all.
And I’m thrilled that I did, because although it collects tunes from a wider variety of albums and years than all the ones that came before it, it fits together so well in its sheer randomness, and it’s a blast to listen to. It actually runs about 55 minutes, which is unusual for 1975 but not completely unheard of. If anyone could’ve afforded the expense of cramming 55 minutes onto a piece on vinyl and still having it sound good, it would’ve been the Beatles.
Now the title… I considered Intuition, The Beatles Branch Out, The Beatles Bless You, Everest (which was the working title for Abbey Road), Hodgepodge, Gesundheit! (a reference to the song “Bless You” — get it?) and finally settled on Chaos!, a name that kind of embodies what’s going on here: a wild, sprawling bunch of songs that just came out of nowhere, with no underlying concept, probably while they were on tour supporting Band on the Run, living the ‘70s rock star life, wondering how much longer they could keep it up. Had the alternate reality outlined in Fixing a Hole occurred, I think this album would be one of the most famous musical left turns of all time, up there with Tusk, Physical Graffiti and Their Satanic Majesties Request, or at the very least considered to be a ‘70s White Album. Misunderstood, questioned, or flat-out panned when released, but since then gradually becoming a critical favorite.
I am also officially soliciting ideas for an album name for this, by the way. I like the title but I don’t love it, and would be interested in hearing some other possibilities.
“Helen Wheels” – one of Paul’s many awesome mid-70s rockers, I never understood why it was buried in the middle of side two of the real life Band on the Run. The funny thing is that I originally bought that record at a flea market in the UK in 1988 (at the time it was amazingly out of print in the US, can you believe it?!) and the UK version did not have “Helen Wheels” on it! So to this day it still throws me for a loop when it comes on in the middle of the album. But it’s really a leadoff tune in my book.
“Magneto and Titanium Man” – again, just Paul having fun, and some folks might write this off as lightweight, but as you’ll see, most of this album is pretty light-hearted. And it’s not like they hadn’t done songs with random characters before (Mr. Kite, Penny Lane, Ob-La-Di, Maxwell, etc…) I still love the way Paul says “And the Crimson Dynamo came along for the ride.”
“Intuition” – a leftover from the real life Mind Games that I thought just didn’t fit with the fake Mind Games.
“Blindman” – in our world, this was the B side of “Back Off Boogaloo” in 1971, and I didn’t actually hear this until very recently, but I really like this one and since Ringo’s mid-to-late ‘70s albums don’t really have anything that I care to hear again, why not? Its trippy synth is quite a departure for Ringo and still would’ve sounded cool in 1975.
“You Gave Me the Answer” – I don’t know why I like this granniest of Paul’s “granny songs.” Maybe it’s the Anglophile in me, but if they included “Honey Pie” on the White Album, they could’ve put this here.
“Pure Smokey” – So why does a track from 33 1/3 get on here two years ahead of its time? Well, let’s just say that for me, 33 1/3 represents perhaps the greatest level of improvement from one album to the next in the history of rock and roll. And thus you can draw a pretty obvious conclusion on how I feel about Extra Texture. I might be in the minority here — I’m sure George’s greatest devotees say that it grows on you — but frankly, I find it mostly unlistenable. This track, on the other hand, is one of several late ‘70s George songs that I just can’t get enough of; guess it’s that swirling ‘70s Steely Dan-esque (or Smokey-eque, of course) sound.
“Call Me Back Again” – I may be in the minority here too, but part of the reason I left “Let Me Roll It” off the prior record is that “Call Me Back Again” is very similar and (in my opinion) better, due to its lack of a guitar riff being played to death. Can’t you just see John and George joining Paul on the “When I…” in three part harmony?
“Stand By Me” – Perhaps it’s a stretch to think the other three Beatles would’ve permitted the first cover song since Beatles for Sale, but since this album is the White Album of the ‘70s, again, why not?
“Tight A$” – Sides one and two both start with a title that’s a bad pun! I didn’t even mean to do that.
“Girls’ School” – Paul’s awesome mid-‘70s rockers just keep on giving. I think I read somewhere that the lyrics to this song were simply a string a of porn movie titles. And it hit #1 in the UK! But “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” was banned, go figure.
“Grey Cloudy Lies” – As I mention above, I find most of Extra Texture unlistenable. It makes Dark Horse look like All Things Must Pass. It’s a very tough thing to say about an album by a musician I admire as much as George Harrison, but as hard as I’ve tried, this is the only remotely-redeemable track on the album for me. (Well, “This Guitar Can’t Keep From Crying” is somewhat – emphasis on the somewhat – redeemable musically, but there’s no way it would’ve made a Beatles album for obvious lyrical reasons).
“Sally G” – only released on a double-A-sided single with “Junior’s Farm,” this one has really grown on me over the years. The little “I know for sure it wasn’t good” joke at the end still makes me sing along. Can you believe this actually reached #51 on the US Country Chart?
“Bless You” – along with “Pure Smokey,” contributing yet another new musical direction to this album, the jazz-pop, awash-in-Fender-Rhodes sound of the ‘70s, done first class. Strange that Paul never really did anything like this. Well, maybe a couple of the tracks on London Town (which we’ll get to next time) come close.
“Listen To What the Man Said” – Love the segue here, as “Bless You” slowly fades into the sunset, giving way to the mysterious voices at the beginning of this song that I’ve never quite understood. And the sudden cutoff that originally led into the saccharine “Treat Her Gently” on Paul’s “Venus and Mars” instead gives way to…
“Beef Jerky” – you may disagree, but I TOTALLY see the Beatles ending an album with this, just for the sake of being bizarre. These were the people who gave us “Revolution #9,” remember. It’s like John poking fun at Paul by cutting him off just as his tenor sax and strings start to get syrupy.
Unsurprisingly, the least commercially successful Beatle record of the ‘70s.
Helen Wheels b/w Going Down On Love, #15, 1975
Listen to What the Man Said b/w Spirits of Ancient Egypt, #2, 1976 (kept out of the #1 spot by Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs,” much to the disgust of Beatle fans across America)
Bless You b/w Letting Go, #26, 1976 (great song, but I don’t see it being a big hit).
WELL-KNOWN SONGS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT
“Rock Show” – man, I had a tough time leaving this one out, I almost put it in instead of “You Gave Me the Answer” but it’s three minutes longer, the album was already 55 minutes long, and I felt like that substitution would reduce the overall musical variety that makes this album what it is. We can call it a Paul single in our alternate reality. It doesn’t seem quite as much like something the Beatles would’ve done as a foursome as any of the Paul songs that were included.
“Letting Go” – a B-side above, just another case of something-had-to-go. Now that I write this, I realize that Venus and Mars really is an awesome album. Nothing on it I don’t like. Well, almost nothing (let’s just say it kind of ends with a whimper).
“You” – With all due respect to one of the greatest guitarists of all time and a true inspiration in my life since age seven, this song kind of… well… sucks. In my book, to be this repetitive, a song has to be either (a) short, (b) funny, (c) danceable, or (d) musically unique in some way. This is none of the above. And then just to rub salt in our wounds, George reprised it on side 2 with “A Bit More Of You” which is just 45 seconds more of the same bloody song. This defies all logic. I’m probably going to get roasted for this, but I just can’t get into Extra Texture. I’ve tried. OK, enough apologizing.
Next time – It’s 1977, so what do the Beatles do in the age of disco? They embrace the other pop sub-genre of the moment!