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Music Reviews: June 2018 issue

Here are selected music reviews from Goldmine’s June 2018 issue: from Ringo Starr reissues to Harvey Kubernik's latest books.

(Vinyl Reissue)

5 Stars

Goodnight Vienna
(Vinyl Reissue)

3 Stars

"Congratulations. How dare you? And please write me a hit song." The contents of a telegram John Lennon sent Ringo Starr in 1974 speaks volumes about the hitmaking machine Starr had become in the wake of the demise of The Beatles. After a slow start out of the gate with the 1070 genre exercises Beaucoups of Blues and Sentimental Journey, Starr hit the Top 10 on both sides of the pond with the classic singles “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” in 1971 and 1972, respectively. And in 1973 and ’74, the hits just kept on comin’ -— five Top 10 hits were culled from the Ringo and Goodnight Vienna albums, with two (the George Harrison-penned “Photograph” and a cover of the golden oldie “You’re Sixteen”) reaching No. 1.

Rightly considered to be not only the commercial but the artistic pinnacles of Starr’s recorded career, Capitol/UMe has released remastered editions of Ringo and Goodnight Vienna on 180-gram heavyweight vinyl, with the remastering more than ably handled by one Ron McMaster. (Great name for a remastering engineer, right?) Said remastering breathes new life into both records, with a newfound sharpness and clarity breathed into tunes such as the stately, Paul McCartney-written “Six O’Clock” (a hit single that never was), Allen Toussaint’s brassy “Occapella,” and a slinky, spicy take of Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby,” with the late Marc Bolan on guitar.

Both records are notable for their cast of musical characters, which include John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison (all three were onboard for Ringo — albeit never together — as both songwriters and performers), as well as heavyweights such as the aforementioned Marc Bolan, Robbie Robertson, Steve Cropper, Klaus Voormann, Levon Helm, Billy Preston, Nicky Hopkins, Jim Keltner, Tom Scott, Bobby Keyes, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Harry Nilsson and Martha Reeves (all featured on Ringo). Lennon, Preston, Robertson, Voormann, Cropper, Nilsson and Hopkins returned for guest shots on Goodnight Vienna, and were joined by luminaries such as Dr. John (his piano solo on the otherwise slight “Oo-Wee” is pure gold), guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, and Elton John, who handled the keyboard duties on the lighthearted “Snookeroo,” which was custom written for Ringo by Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.

But Ringo is clearly the headliner in the all-star(r) affairs, and his affable personality and genial, everyman vocals add to the fun, whether he’s trying his hand at sincerely emoting (on Harry Nilsson’s wonderful ballad “Easy for Me” from Goodnight Vienna) or gamely covering pre-Beatles classics such “You’re Sixteen” and the Platters’ “Only You” (for which Lennon recorded a guide vocal for Starr to follow).

Again, both LPs sound absolutely fantastic and great care was taken to replicate the packaging of the original releases, from the custom record labels down to Ringo’s gatefold sleeve and booklet with drawings from Klaus Voormann. While Ringo is certainly the more consistently successful of the two releases — Goodnight Vienna includes a few less-than-stellar cuts, including a bland version of Roger Miller’s country balled “Husbands and Wives” — both albums are worth picking up, as they showcase Ringo Starr as a musical force to be reckoned with. He’d never reach these heights again, but it was fun while it lasted.

—John M. Borack

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Last Man Standing
Legacy Recordings (CD)

3 Stars

Just as Willie Nelson's about to celebrate his 85th birthday comes a new album called Last Man Standing. What’s clear is that the years have only made this American music master better. And in this case, better comes in the form of a laid back, easy rider version of ole Shotgun Willie. 

The album, his 11th with Legacy Recordings is a real tasty treat that is reminiscent of the Fort Worth sounds of Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark. The music has soul, unfolds with ease, and Willie casually rides along, pulling back on his vocals and putting the whole thing into cruise. In fact, the song that embodies this best is the title track that opens the record. It’s a funky slow ride that he steers forward like a late night trucker behind the wheel. It’s hands down fun from start to finish.

While the record was cut at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, it has an inherent Texas feel to it. Songs like "Ready To Roar" ladder right up to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. It’s a "Limestone County"-infused waltz if ever there was one. Texas swing sits right in Willie’s wheelhouse and here he just shines. There’s also the ballads, the place where Willie’s legend is often anchored. There’s a realness to his delivery on songs like "Me and You" that make them something that you connect to quickly. That’s their magic.

There’s the comedic turn on "Bad Breath" that doesn’t quite land like a well told joke. And toward the end of the record the album comes apart a bit, losing some focus as songs seem like they were added in haste. The closer "Very Far To Crawl" is a dark downer and an odd way to wrap up what otherwise can be considered a fun ride. But overall, it’s a record that’s pretty much complete 'feel good.' When you spin a barrelhouse rocker like "I Ain’t Got Nothin'" it’s hard to keep the foot from tappin’ and keeping time.

One of the things Willie has been blessed with (and let’s face it, has earned) is one of the best backing bands in music. These cats are right there with Lyle’s Large band and Vince Gill’s Time Jumpers. The guitar picking evident here by James Mitchell is awe inspiring, interrupted only by the steel work of Mike Johnson. This is no time to forget the fiddle play offered on this record by Alison Krauss. It glistens.

The record may best be a celebration of the long standing partnership Nelson enjoys with his songwriting collaborator Buddy Cannon. Their songwriting protocol involves sharing lyrics via text messaging, and that way of going about business is how these 11 songs came to be. Buddy has produced more than a dozen of Nelson’s records. Their writing is clever, in the vein of a trickster. Nothing gets too complicated, instead the intent seems to write music that the listener will enjoy as much as these two have making it. Given Willie’s method of doing each take differently in the studio, it sure sounds like the ones he went with sure do embody that writing strategy the best.

—Ray Chelstowski

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Cherry Red Records
(4-CD Box Set)

4 Stars

In a February 2018 interview with BBC Radio 6 Music, Clare Grogan, lead vocalist with the Scottish band Altered Images, said of the band, “We pretty much started off wanting to be Siouxsie and the Banshees because that was the band that we loved, so we naturally emulated that. And, as time went by, we were trying to discover what our own sound was.” That description perfectly encapsulates what the listener will find on this excellent 4-CD overview of the band’s work.

“Dead Pop Stars,” Altered Images’ debut single, is a fantastic blast of off-kilter pop-rock that certainly channels the Banshees. And it sounds light years away from the pop sheen of “Don’t Talk To Me About Love,” the big single from 1983’s Bite album. In between those two singles, the band went from echoing the Banshees and Buzzcocks to their own signature sound.

This set includes the band’s three studio albums for Epic — 1981’s Happy Birthday, 1982’s Pinky Blue, and 1983’s Bite — as well as a fourth disc of dance mixes of seven tracks. Bonus tracks include the 7-inch-single versions of some of the album tracks. An information-packed booklet of liner notes is also included.

Siouxsie and the Banshees’ patronage of Altered Images included giving them a support slot on a U.K. tour in 1980. Steve Severin of the Banshees largely produced Altered Images’ debut album Happy Birthday, except for the bouncy title track, which was added to the album late in the game and was produced by Martin Rushent. In addition to the title track, highlights of Happy Birthday include the atmospheric “Real Toys,” the Buzzcocks-sounding “Legionnaire,” and the off-kilter “Midnight,” which is the highlight of the album. As strong as the album is, it would have been even better if the fantastic “Dead Pop Stars” had been included. But the song does appear as a bonus track here.

The poppy but rocking “I Could Be Happy” is the standout track on second album Pinky Blue. The atmospheric title track and the dreamlike “Goodnight And I Wish” are other highlights of the album. And the band takes Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue” and make it their own.

Third album Bite shows a change in direction, which is indicated with the photo of a glam Grogan on its cover. Some of the album, including the fantastic dance-pop single “Don’t Talk To Me About Love,” was recorded in Los Angeles with Blondie producer Mike Chapman, with the remainder being done in London with Tony Visconti. Highlights of Bite include the dance rock of “Bring Me Closer,” the mellow “Love To Stay,” the pop-rocker “Change Of Heart,” and the mellow and understated “Thinking About You.”

The album of 12-inch dance mixes supplies a nice coda to the collection. While Altered Images existed only for a few years, this set shows how innovative and brilliant they could be.

—John Curley

Faber & Faber (Paperback)

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4 Stars

“This book was started in the sixties somewhere, as random notes,” Derek Taylor writes in the first sentence of his memoir, originally published in 1973. And it finishes much the same. It’s a series of vignettes by man who, as he readily admits, doesn’t really want to write a book. It’s a point he gleefully emphasizes by also running this critique from an editor who saw an earlier version of manuscript, which he found “contains much amusing, informative, interesting material. The problem is that overall it lacks direction, depth and cohesion. One episode follows another — seemingly at random — with little attempt at interconnection and too often subjects are touched upon and swiftly left half explored.”

That’s an assessment that still holds up today. The book is a great first draft that you wish had been more fully fleshed out. After all, Taylor has wonderful stories to share: about his time as The Beatles’ press agent on their first U.S. tour, as a Hollywood publicist looking after the likes of The Beach Boys and The Byrds, and as the head of Apple Corp’s press office, from beginning to nearly the end. And that just takes you to 1970.

It’s still a terrifically entertaining read, one that vividly depicts the highs and lows of the decade for Taylor: watching boxing films with Nancy Sinatra, attempting to stay in Mae West’s good graces, taking insult after insult from Paul McCartney (he comes across as the meanest of The Beatles), and trying not to show his horror when he’s confronted by a driver’s casual racism on that first U.S. Beatles tour.

As Time Goes By had been out of print for years; this new edition comes with an introduction by British author Jon Savage. Sadly, Taylor died of cancer in 1997. As one of The Beatles’ inner circle, he had a privileged position, making his observations of the Fab Four among the most insightful. At least we do have this volume of pen portraits of a bygone era, all related with Taylor’s trademark humor, self-deprecation, and love. Essential for Beatles fans, though you will be left wanting more.

—Gillian G. Gaar

Red Planet (Paperback)

3 Stars

Self-Published (Paperback)

4 Stars

This pair of books on the British rockers The Jam are nice complements to the 2015 memoir by Buckler, The Jam’s drummer, which was titled That’s Entertainment: My Life In The Jam. (Buckler’s That’s Entertainment was reviewed in the September 2015 issue of Goldmine—Ed.)

While That’s Entertainment is Buckler’s story, The Dead Straight Guide To The Jam is more of an overarching history of the band. Buckler joined The Jam in June 1973. The front of the book discusses how the band got together and its early years. The Jam were a trio: Buckler, Paul Weller (vocals and guitar), and Bruce Foxton (bass and vocals). But the importance of various people, including producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven to band manager John Weller (Paul’s father), as the “fourth member” of the band is discussed. Buckler also reveals that their label, Polydor, initially wanted to replace John Weller with a more experienced manager and that the band refused to sign unless the label let the senior Weller remain on board. One of the best bits of the book is Buckler’s discussion of The Jam’s disdain for making videos, how the band hated having to act in videos and the video shoots that sometimes seemed endless. The book also includes interesting insights from Buckler on what he considers to be The Jam’s top 50 songs, a discussion of cover versions by The Jam, tour dates, awards, books about The Jam and the individual members, and a listing of TV appearances. A good piece by Simon Wells on The Jam’s final concert in Brighton, England in December 1982 is also featured.

The Jam: The Start To ’77 is limited to 1,000 copies, all of which are signed by Buckler. The book tells the story of The Jam from their founding in the band’s hometown of Woking, Surrey, England in 1972 through the end of 1977. The main emphasis of the book is on 1977, since that year was the start of The Jam’s recording career and a year in which they released two albums of new material. The story is told in text by Buckler and co-author Ian Snowball while terrific drawings by Richard Schiller illustrate the book. It includes many comments by Buckler as well as remembrances from fans. The Jam’s tour dates for 1977, which included their first shows in the United States, are listed toward the back of the book. A second illustrated book about The Jam that concerns 1978 through the breakup of the band at the end of 1982 is in the works.

—John Curley

Damani (Hardback)

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4 Stars

Astrid Kirchherr was the first person to take artistic photos of The Beatles, seeing in them something no one else — not even The Beatles themselves — had recognized. Her iconic shot of the then-five piece group at a German fairground imbued them with a world-weariness beyond their age (no Beatle was over 20 at the time). She saw their underlying charisma at a time when they were still raw and unformed. As such, her photos provide an invaluable record of the group in their early years.

Her work has appeared in numerous Beatles books, including high-priced editions from Genesis Publications. This new book is not only reasonably priced, it also presents a spectrum of her work, from that first 1960 session to a headshot for George Harrison’s 1968 Wonderwall Music album. Beatles fans will have seen most photos before, though some have more detail. There’s an uncropped image of a very serious Stuart Sutcliffe, sitting in a chair in Reinhard Wolf’s photo studio (where Kirchherr worked), next to a mirror and adjoining table of liquor bottles; in the uncropped shot, you can see Kirchherr’s reflection in the mirror. There are also contact sheets with a few previously unseen shots.

The book doesn’t only present Kirchherr’s work; there are also a number of photos of her. There’s a series of shots from a 1963 trip to Tenerife when Kirchherr accompanied Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr on vacation. The group were rising stars, yet here they relax unbothered by the kind of crowds that would make this kind of trip impossible in less than a year. In 1964, she and photographer Max Scheler photographed The Beatles while they were shooting A Hard Day’s Night, and there’s a nice shot of Kirchherr and Starr sleeping on each other’s shoulder. The book also notes that several photos shot at this time were mistakenly attributed to Scheler, and are correctly credited here.

There’s an introduction with some biographical information, but Kirchherr herself isn’t interviewed at all. Which is a shame. It would’ve been insightful to have her discuss her work; details of how she set up the photos, her reflections on her pictures all these years later. It’s also a shame she felt too burdened by the “Beatles Photographer” label to give up photography entirely; she clearly had her own visual aesthetic, and it would’ve been fascinating to see how her work evolved.

It’s nonetheless a great way to pick up a range of Kirchherr’s photos in one volume.

—Gillian G. Gaar

THRAK: The Complete Scores
7D Media (Hardbook)

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4 Stars

Sheet music transcriptions of progressive rock albums have traditionally been a mixed bag. The rhythms are odd, the notes played elusive, and the otherworldliness of the music makes it hard to convey in the form of little black dots. Sheet music books of such bands as Yes and Genesis were sometimes lacking; despite good efforts made to present the music as accurately as possible, there could be errors, and indications that the transcribers just didn’t get the music.

One can only imagine, therefore, the challenges of presenting the music of King Crimson in sheet music form — and not just any King Crimson music, but the 1995 album THRAK, one of the most pivotal and complex collections the band’s released in its 50-year history.

Amazingly, it’s been done — and done well. THRAK: The Complete Scores presents the 13 pieces that comprise THRAK in accurate notation that, while not fully conveying the power and impact of this music, certainly presents it for appreciation in a different form, while serving as a helpful instruction manual for aspiring prog musicians who wanted to figure out just what the band played on this crazy masterpiece.

THRAK represented a new start for a band that has experienced many reboots since its formation in 1968. The four-piece version of the band, comprising founder Robert Fripp (guitar), Adrian Belew (vocals/guitar), Tony Levin (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums), went on hiatus in 1984, and there was no indication it was coming back in any form. That is, until a new King Crimson emerged, reuniting the 1980’s quartet, but adding an additional drummer (Pat Mastelotto) and bassist (Trey Gunn) for a six-piece “double trio” in which there were two players for each main instrument (guitar/bass/drums).

The band navigated this tricky formation in clever ways. As shown in a diagram on the CD cover (retained on the back cover of the new book), the six players were specifically placed in the stereo spectrum for the audio mix, with Gunn on the far left focusing on Chapman Stick (a guitar/bass hybrid that is hammered rather than plucked), Levin on the far right playing more conventional bass guitar (and upright bass), Fripp and Mastelotto on left-center, and Belew and Bruford at right-center. When one listened to the album on headphones, you could hear the different elements that, say, the drummers were bringing to the music, with Mastelotto laying down the core beat on acoustic drums on the left while Bruford played odd-timed accents on electronic percussion on the right.

With so much going on, that makes for an exciting, adventurous listening experience, but to actually document it as sheet music can’t have been easy. Yet here it is. Gabriel Ricco did the transcriptions and engraving, but the book also benefits greatly from the participation of someone who was there: Trey Gunn, who is credited with tablature and editing. His presence ensures the accuracy of the transcriptions here, and they are faultless.

Smartly, Ricco and Gunn break it down, line by line, according to who played what. So there is a line of “Guitar (Belew)” above a line of “Guitar (Fripp)” and so on. The introduction explains the unique tuning Fripp used on these recordings, while noting the standard tuning Belew and Levin used, along with the tuning of Gunn’s Chapman Stick.

This is not easy stuff. It is complex, challenging music, at times avant-garde in the best King Crimson tradition, and the multiple moving parts on the album result in layers of music that may seem buried on the recordings but are revealed in this form.

And that’s what this truly is: a new form of a classic album. If you want to hear it, there’s an excellent 30th anniversary edition that came out in 2016 and is still readily available. But if you’re open to experiencing it in a different way, or just looking to wrap your fingers around those snaky guitar lines on epics such as “Dinosaur” and “VROOOM VROOOM,” THRAK: The Complete Scores will be a worthwhile purchase.

—Howard Whitman

Ritchie Blackmore’s RAINBOW
Memories in Rock II
Minstrel Hall Music

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4 Stars

Trumpets sounded for him and hosannas were sung when Ritchie Blackmore returned to hard rock in 2016 after a prolonged, self-imposed exile, where he focused all his energy on medieval and Renaissance music. Devotees of the dazzling fret wizardry of his glorious past hoped for a grandiose world tour and a new album, and all of that could still happen. That year, however, they got just three shows in the U.K. from the revamped Rainbow – paltry rewards for such long-suffering patience.

Now comes a rousing, bombastic two-CD/DVD set of scintillating live recordings from those performances that mostly separates the wheat from the chaff, even if a half-hearted version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” strains to capture the heat and essence of the original. Otherwise, this collection of classics from Blackmore’s Rainbow and Deep Purple years sizzles, offering crisp, clear audio documentation of those concerts for those still angry over missing them, as well as an enlightening and entertaining DVD of revealing, behind-the-scenes interviews with a wide cast of characters, from band members to the crew. It gets particularly exciting when live and rehearsal footage pops up.

Still, it’s Blackmore’s fire and brimstone and sheer bravado that captivates, his fierce riffs and supernatural solos calling the faithful to worship on Memories in Rock II. As Blackmore and company bang out raucous, high-stepping romps through “Man on a Silver Mountain” with amplified crunch and segue seamlessly into an equally feverish detour through “Woman from Tokyo,” their slow, tantalizing readings of a roughed-up “Mistreated” – bluesy and cathartic – and a resonant “Soldier of Fortune” are to be savored rather than quickly devoured. The same could be said for the mystical “Child in Time,” where singer Ronnie Romero unleashes blood-curdling screams that give Ian Gillan a run for his money, and the dark magic of “Perfect Strangers” surges with relentless force.

Keep an ear out for the group’s new single, the ‘70s rock throwback “Waiting for a Sign,” with its nasty grooves. Fall under the enthralling spell cast by “Catch the Rainbow” before gathering ‘round for another wicked, snarling retelling of “Smoke on the Water” and witnessing the crazed, neo-classical chaos of “Difficult to Cure.” Blackmore’s story is one that never gets old.

— Peter Lindblad


By Gillian G. Gaar

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BMG (Hardback)
Genre: Rockabilly

The trailblazing rockabilly pioneer finally tells her story, from meeting up with Elvis, touring with an integrated band during the very segregated 1950s, and working with Jack White. A must for every Jackson fan.

Harper (Hardback)
Genre: Musical theater

When composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice unveiled Jesus Christ Superstar, they made the phrase “rock musical” no longer a contradiction in terms. Lots of detail over how classic works like Superstar, Evita, and The Phantom of the Opera were created (Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan was chosen as Jesus after Lloyd Webber heard his “primal scream” on a demo). Perfect for musical afiocionados.

Bloomsbury Publishing (Hardback)
Genre: Rock ‘n’ Roll, R&B, Soul

Robert Gordon knows Memphis music inside and out, as well as the colorful characters who populate the city. This book features published and previously unpublished stories about notable folks he’s encountered, and there’s a great piece on the fight over Robert Johnson’s estate. Pick up the tie-in CD (on Fat Possum Records), full of hot tracks for your own rent party.

Da Capo (Hardback)
Genre: Soul

A first-rate biography of Al Green, capturing his many personal contradictions, as a man of God who nonetheless had trouble walking the straight and narrow (not to mention his disinclination to pay his musicians). McDonough also examines Green’s work, illustrating exactly why he’s revered as a singer.


By Lee Zimmerman

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(Otherworld Cottage Industries)
Genre: Rock History
Summary: Kubernik fearlessly tackles a subject that’s been written and discussed countless times since the band first appeared some 50 plus years ago, that being the evolution and tumultuous journey undertaken by Jim Morrison and the Doors. Here again, Kubernik avoids any heady discourse and focuses instead on allowing those who were there --the band’s Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, as well as such noted fellow travellers as label executive Jac Holtzman, musical contemporaries Paul Katner, Grace Slick, Chris Darrow and Peter Lewis, producer Bruce Botnick and dozens of others -- offer their recollections from a unique first person perspective. A fascinating oral history told in remarkable detail, this is a Doors bio that ranks as among the more expansive.

Genre: Rock History
Summary: As a producer, record company executive, author, documentary maker, and contributor to any number of leading music publications -- Goldmine included -- Harvey Kubernik is in an ideal position to look back and analyze the seismic shift that transpired in music and culture half a century ago, culminating in the so-called “Summer of Love.” It’s a subject that’s been covered frequently, but wisely, Kubernik lets other authoritative voices -- ex Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, Yes guitarist Steve Howe among the many -- share their reflections and insights as well. A sumptuous, oversized book filled with colorful graphics and scores of little-seen photos, 1967 may not be the definitive word on the subject, but it’s certainly among the most expansive.

(Cave Hollywood Music)
Genre: Rock History
Summary: If the lengthy full title isn’t evidence enough, Inside Cave Hollywood is a remarkably ambitious tome, one that attempts to tie together the emergence of several ground-breaking artists and icons, any one of which could fill several volumes all on their own. Indeed, linking Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, the Supreme, Elton John, Frank Sinatra. Leonard Cohen, Motown and Chess Records in a single volume spanning less than 200 pages seems like overreach at best and an unwieldy attempt at worst. Best read as individual chapters without expecting a continuous trajectory to keep one’s interest intact, the book succeeds as a series of succinct snapshots that are brief but illuminative regardless.

(Otherworld Cottage Industries)
Genre: Rock History
Summary: Here again, Kubernik expounds on a subject that’s been covered more times than nearly any other literary discourse imaginable -- that is, The Beatles’ conquest of America and the subsequent generational changes that they left in their wake. Yet once again, the insights Kubernik gathers from others who witnessed history in the making -- some notable (Brian Wilson), others obscure (Ian Whitcomb), and still others situated somewhere in-between (Billy Mumy) -- take the narrative to a different level and offer opportunity to include details that are surprisingly revealing. (Cult deejay Rodney Bingenheimer’s description of a day spent with George Harrison during the Beatle’s lone visit to California in 1967 being one of the more fascinating examples.) Granted, It Was Fifty Years Ago Today isn’t the definitive volume its title might lead one to believe, but as far as detailing the moments behind the magic, it’s an intriguing read indeed.