Thursday, January 15, 2015

Play On! With The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Hollies


I’ve mentioned Ken Sharp’s book Play On! Power Pop Heroes Vol. 1  before on Broken Hearted Toy, and I’ll continue to refer to it here from time to time. Sharp is a highly regarded rock critic/journalist who has compiled a collection of interviews with musicians who qualify as “progenitors” of the power pop genre. They come from bands that arrived in the 1960s or ‘70s, and their music still stands up today.

Using the standard Q and A format, Sharp elicits responses that bring readers into the creative process behind some of rock’s iconic albums. There’s also a wealth of personal reflections on the bonds as well as the animosity that formed among the members of these important groups. It’s the kind of book you can flip open to any page and just dive into some fascinating reading. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volume No. 1 was a limited edition, and it’s no longer available.

For his 32-page section on The Beatles, Sharp talks with Ringo Starr and George Martin, along with engineers Ken Scott and Geoff Emerick. Starr recalls first joining The Beatles, struggling through their squabbles toward the end, and the joy of jamming with Paul and George much later. Martin was already well-respected before he began to play such an essential role in helping The Beatles expand the horizons of recorded music, and it’s fun to hear how initially overwhelmed Emerick and Scott were to be brought in at such a young age to work with the most famous band in the world. Particularly when John Lennon would occasionally hurl a withering comment their way. 

The conversations Sharp has with Dave and Ray Davies shed light on their infamous feuds but also deal with how they came to know each other better by writing music together. Particularly songs that tapped into their mutual love for the older sisters who led their family. And they both agree that the echo-heavy first take of “You Really Got Me,” produced by Shel Tamy in the studio wasn’t at all what the band wanted. “Both Ray and I were very adamant that we would record it very simply, very dry and up front, like how we played it on stage,” Dave recalls. Fortunately, the Davies brothers won out and the song remains a classic. He also acknowledges that he and Ray could perform together at some point in 2015, as part of The Kinks’ 50th Anniversary.

It’s a pleasant surprise to find 25 pages devoted to The Hollies in any book, and Sharp fills them with insightful commentary from founding members Graham Nash, Allan Clarke, and Tony Hicks. From the band’s earliest days, they comprised a writing trio that would hit its peak on the mid-1960s albums For Certain Because, Evolution, and Butterfly. The topics range from why The Hollies were never as big in America as they were in England; Nash’s departure to join forces with David Crosby and Stephen Stills; and the admiration that lifelong friends Nash and Clarke have for The Everly Brothers. Aside from Nash’s autobiography Wild Tales, this is the best book around for avid Hollies fans.

Play On! Power Pop Heroes Volumes 2 and 3, which will cast the spotlight on more current power bands, are scheduled to come out later this this year. 

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