Time To Get Alone

slopesOut of all the songs that Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys have produced, it’s odd that this one particular song has always struck such a chord with me.

Why? I’m not all together sure. The wintry sentiment coupled with the charmingly personal lyrics are all very endearing. And, if you pay attention, the production will blow you away.

Dig deeper and you’ll find classic Brian innocence and heartfelt yearning for escape, with more nods to that earth-mother-goddess character we’ve spoken about before.

The lyrics may be idealised escapism, but the story around the production of the song is somewhat tragic, starting with hope and ending in emotional manipulation.

The song was eventually released on 1969’s 20/20 Album, where it was sandwiched among a rag bag of left overs to fulfil a recording contract. All very “Beach Boys”.

Listen, listen, listen

But let’s start with the song.

Brian has said (in the Friends / 20/20 Liner Notes)

“Time To Get Alone” was another waltz. The intimacy of the lyrics, such as “I looked in your eyes and what did I see, I saw love in your eyes,” coupled with the moving instrumental track and Carl’s voice and our voices made for a spectacular record.

And it is a spectacular, shining record. Listen to how the waltz background is constructed. Instead of a single instrument playing a straight 3 hits of the chord we find a staccato pattern created by different instruments merged and intertwined with each other. Piano, Harpsichord, Harmonium. Fantastic stuff and classic Brian.

Out of the two Beach Boys versions available, you really must seek out the the alternate version on the “Hawthorne CA” collection. This adds something very special to the middle eight. (More of which, later).

The harmonies and production are all glorious, but something doesn’t quite sound right in the 1969 context. Something is wrong. What can it be?

Waiting for the day

The initial track for “Time to Get Alone” was actually created in 1967. There then followed various attempts at overdubbed backing vocals (instigated mainly by Carl) before the record was rolled out to the world in 1969.

The details form the Hawthorne Liner notes state this:

Basic Track 10/14, 10/15/67; Lead vocals 11/67, Backing vocals 10/68 
Lead: Carl and Brian

This timing falls slap bang in the middle of a very interesting time for Brian and the Beach Boys. Scholars of Beach Boys history will know that SMiLE was abandoned in April ’67. The consensus seems to have Brian as a burned out drug casualty overcome by the magnum opus that was Sgt Pepper. Or Capitol playing funny games with the nascent Brother Records. Or Mike just being a penis.

“Smiley Smile” was sent out as the proverbial “bunt instead of a home run” (as Carl said at the time). A rag bag SMiLE replacement of “acid casualty doo wop” that is used to prove the point of an ailing Brian. Yet “Time to Get Alone” (along with other pop bombshells) was being recorded at this very time, between SMiLE and Wild Honey. Huh?

Now to the first shock of the day.

Not Meant for You

See my friends (no Beach Boys need apply)“Time to Get Alone” is NOT a Beach Boys song.

Nope, it was not originally for the Mike-ster and company. For the original recording of “Time to Get Alone” Brian teamed up with his good friend Danny Hutton (far left of this photo from early 1967 when Brian called up all his friends to greet him at LA Airport in an effort to rally the troops for an ailing SMiLE project).

The group was called “Redwood” and Brian spent a great deal of time and energy recording this and other tracks in the summer of ’67. (Redwood would become Three Dog Night, the very popular late sixties pop-rock-blue-eyed-soul outfit).

Redwood recorded two or more tracks with Brian in mid-1967. Darlin’ (the eventual Beach Boys hit) and Time to Get Alone. The original Redwood multi-track tapes were recorded in Summer 1967, with drums, bass, strings and trumpets and Redwood’s vocals. Audio experts have all but confirmed that the Beach Boys track (as released and the alternate version) have the exact same basic track as this Redwood version.

Hmm. So the Beach Boys version is not a re-recording but a re-using of the original Redwood tapes with a convoluted set of overdubs added first by Brian and then by Carl. (Oddly, a 1968/9 Beach Boys re-record does actually exist, but is unreleased. Also, do you want to see more on the recording, mixing? Oh, not that much. Oh well.)

Listening to the production and musical interplay you can really see how Time to Get Alone is the “natural artistic descendant” of Heroes and Villains. So what happened?

The Beginnings of a SMiLE

“Time to Get Alone” has always mysteriously and intriguingly been linked with SMiLE. How so? It was recorded much later (well a couple of months, which is like 20 years in 60s popular culture time) and never appears on any of the bootlegs or final released version of SMiLE, so why? To explain this we are probably best starting with the beginnings of the SMiLE idea itself.

Many people have argued long and hard about the SMiLE sessions. But let’s skip all the conjecture, ignore the baggage and go with the gut feeling you get from the music itself. What you have is an expansive, light, breathy, almost rustic sound that is juxtaposed with an instrumental deftness of touch and, of course, the fantastical lyrical meanderings.

So why did a twenty-something from LA suddenly grasp on to the idea of this rustic, layered, natural setting for SMiLE?

Lake Arrowhead Home

11981808Brian was in the Lake Arrowhead area of California in early 1966 to record the Pet Sounds promo videos. Bill Tobelman presents a fascinating theory about how this led to the idea of SMiLE. And it’s one that resonates with me more than any of the “they took lots of drugs and did crazy stuff” tales (repeated ad-nauseam by that curious band of Mike Love apologists ever since).

Tobelman points out all the fascinating details that would come to form the ideas and visions of SMiLE. He explains how Brian’s “trip” at Lake Arrowhead was an “enlightening spiritual experience in the conceiving of the Beach Boys’ next album and single.”

And all the ideas are there. Lamps, halls, towers, dams, railways, Indians. Take your pick!

It’s no coincidence that Brian moved back to live at Lake Arrowhead circa 2000… just as he set about completing SMiLE.

Lets go away for a while

It seems to me that “Time to Get Alone” encapsulates that personal escape that lake Arrowhead provided to Brian. The big ideas were for the grand spiritual and historic journey that became the SMiLE adventure… but “Time to Get Alone” is the personal side of that escape.

The middle eight in the alternate version (and the Redwood version) of Time To Get Alone clearly alludes to what we knew as the “Look” buy non generic levitra segment of SMiLE (what became “Song for Children” in the new SMiLE).  The suddenly expansive horns and joyful whistling echo a half forgotten melody that the protagonist may remember from earlier times. Perhaps it is a child like wish to escape, or perhaps a knowing nod to previous loftier ambitions. Or both.

To me, “Time to Get Alone” feels like an idealised adventure in the pine scented, snow clad hills around Lake Arrowhead, without the artistic weight of SMiLE and the beast it would become.

It is also interesting to note that in 2004 when Brian finished SMiLE and played it live, he chose to open the first set (after the acapella section) with “Time to Get Alone”. Nice.

But back to 1967…

Time to Get Alone

No PressureImagine for a moment an increasingly exasperated, but still very creatively active Brian in 1967. (I mean, cripes, he released Smiley, Wild Honey and had his Redwood experiment all in a matter of months). Imagine a Brian who is fed up of the baggage and manipulation that comes with the Beach Boys. Imagine the frustration with all the second guessing of his creative leanings. Imagine what a miserable place the studio would be when the boys show up.

This quote from Brian in 1968 (found in Look, Listen, Vibrate, SMiLE) kind of sums up the confused situation in Brian’s mind.

“Early 1967, I had planned to make an album entitled SMILE. I was working with a guy named Van Dyke Parks, who was collaborating with me on the tunes, and in the process we came up with a song called ‘Surf’s Up,’ and I performed that with just a piano on a documentary show made on rock music.

The song ‘Surf’s Up’ that I sang for that documentary never came out on an album, and it was supposed to come out on the SMILE album, and that and a couple of other songs were junked … because I didn’t feel that they … I don’t know why, I just didn’t, for some reason, didn’t want to put them on the album … and the group nearly broke up, actually split up for good over that, that one … the decision of mine not to put a lot of the things that we’d cut for the album SMILEY SMILE on the album, and so for like almost a year, we’re just now kind of getting back together … because I didn’t think that the songs really were right for the public at the time, and I didn’t have a feeling, a commercial feeling, about some of these songs that we’ve never released, and … maybe I … some people like to hang onto certain things and … just as their own little songs that they’ve written almost for themselves.

And a lot of times, you know, a person will write and will realize later that they’re … it’s not commercial, you know, but what they’ve written is nice for them, but a lot of people just don’t like it.” -Brian Wilson, 1968

I’ve always found it almost too obvious… “I’ll give you SMiLE then. Here you go: Smiley Smile…” (then blowing a raspberry… mainly to his band-mates, maybe to himself, maybe to the world in general?). Brian didn’t WANT to give SMiLE to “some” people. That’s the crux. At the same time Brian is recording a song about escaping the city and all the “people”. Time to Get Alone indeed.

Now this passive aggressive behaviour may not be all together adult and civilised but we ARE talking about the Beach Boys. What do we expect? The tragic thing is that it didn’t work. Chuck Negron (from Redwood/Three Dog Night) puts it like this:

“It all came to a head…when Mike Love, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine came to the studio and heard our version of ‘Time To Get Alone’…They manoeuvred Brian into the control booth and reduced him to tears. It was a cruel and pathetic scene. Danny, Cory and I were in the studio and could see it all happening through the control-booth window. It was as if Brian had turned into a little boy. The conversation appeared quiet and calm, but we could tell it was emotional and intense.

The others were doing most of the talking, like overbearing, controlling parents. Brian would move away, and they would block his escape. We couldn’t hear what was being said, but I think a good lip-reader would have picked up something like, ‘We don’t give a shit about these guys, and we want those songs for us.’

We could actually feel Brian crumbling, and when he came out of the booth, a tear dropped down his cheek. His head was lowered and his shoulders sagged. It was the body language of a child who had just been scolded and punished. And this brilliant musical icon – whose songs defined one generation and influenced another – weepingly told us, ‘We can’t do this. I have to give the songs to them. They’re family and I have to take care of my family. They want the songs. I’ll give you any amount of money you want to finish an album, but I can’t produce it. They won’t let me.”

(Priore, Domenic (2007). Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece. p. 129)

This says it all. It is the tragedy of the Beach Boys and Brian. A mentally fragile Brian can’t escape this extended family of people grown so use to living off his talent.

No Break Away

Brian’s uplifting, personal, escapist statement is appropriated by the commercial wing of the family as they see a vague opportunity for a hit song. “You can give away your money, but your songs belong to us…”

All very healthy.

Can you then imagine this controlling “family” deciding to move a studio in to your own house so they can make it easy for the creative force behind the group to spend all their time providing the family with more songs? All he has to do is come downstairs and start recording with the Mike-ster.

You’d stay in bed too, wouldn’t you? (and it must have contributed to the full scale breakdown that happened in the following months). Very sad.

But that doesn’t detract from the song itself. It bristles with hope and joy and escape and I love it despite the sadness… or maybe because of it.

Call me crazy, but I have always somehow linked “Time to Get Alone” with the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye”.

That too was a heady pop swan-song to the creativity of 1967. One last shot at the stars before the back-to-basics movement took hold in 1968… A movement almost accidentally started by Brian in a sort of passive aggressive way in 1967. Ha! 


An Artist and A Machine

So, The Beach Boys. 2012. Reunion.

Problematic, cynical and shrink wrapped with a patchy album.

Many have compared the new album to Today or Summer Days… But it’s not really close. either in artistic endeavour or the charm of (most) of the filler fluff.

It’s very much of its time (hello autotune) and out of time (welcome back to the Mike-Love-good-time-automatic-lyrical-memory-generator). Mike seems to be continuing to try to write or put his stamp on the songs or presentation so they “connect” with people in some over-generalised way. As always, the results are just odd.

Yet somehow, as with so many albums that contain elements of Brian Wilson, the album digs in and elicits an emotional response.

The ending suite is a strange beast. It’s perhaps comparable (well if you squint a bit!) with “Curtain” (the last case of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot). That book was written 30 years before her death and placed in a safe, to publish when she was (nearly) gone. Most of Brian’s closing suite was written a while ago for the (supposed) purpose of ending the last ever Beach Boys album. It is a lovely section of music and seems to be a decent point to end things. Goodbye…

But then you find that it’s not an ending. More albums could follow. More songs, more LOVE. You realise what a strange bag the Beach Boys are. They’re full of long-standing creative contradictions and often lumbered with lowest-level common denominator Mike Love-isms and bullshit. But yet they still have that heart of pure elegiac magic.

Love me do

The Mike-a-tola has won (and lost) innumerable Beach Boy law suits over the years. The upshot being that very many Beach Boys songs now have “Mike Love” added to the credits (like a garish “price reduced” sticker slapped over the Brian Wilson full price original).

Without spending too much time on all the ins-and-outs of this, it is obvious from the majority of cases that Mike considers small arrangement suggestions and lyrical tweaking to deserve a full co-credit. Hmmm. Think about all the bands you know and look at their song writing credits. There are very few democratic credits out there for the entire band. That drum pattern has to be written and affects the song. That guitar lick and that harmony. Whose idea was that? Everyone must surely sue? (And yes, Mike WAS diddled out of the co-authorship of California Girls and other hits back in the day (by Murry, Brian’s father, if you believe the stories) which has doubtless festered and created the monster that we have seen practically ever since).

All you need is Love

Over the years, it’s obvious that Mike has regarded commercial success as the “only” success. It’s been his biggest bragging right as well as his biggest fear (when artistic endeavour might put the hits in jeopardy). Imagine being an artist dealing with anyone who spouts that you should not “**** with the formula” while being bullied to give up your outside productions. You’d get all passive aggressive too. Smiley-smile indeed. If you were unfortunate enough to discover cocaine AND have a mental illness then you’re way out of luck.

More than anything, the mid 60’s Beach Boys (sans Brian) were touring musicians making a living from Brian’s ideas and productions. They had provided the amazing vocals (once they learned the arrangements) and even got to add to the backing tracks. They would certainly add ideas too, but listen to most of those prime-time sessions and they are not really helping with the writing, production or arrangement. They are just trying to hit the notes. Or goofing cheapest generic levitra around. (If I had really “written” a song, I would at least want to have some opinions at the recording?)

But the touring Beach Boys would fly around the world as the public face (the marketing department, if you will) getting all the screaming girls, meeting all the hip new bands and doing important press interviews. It seemed like a good trade off.

It was only years later that the Mike-ster seemingly wanted to be retrospectively recognised for writing the success. “Look at me. I’m the one who added that “x” factor to make them hits. I’m the leader on the road. Look at me.” (also, give me some money).

Carry That Weight

Remember too (particularly when you see all the ridiculous “drug casualty” post SMiLE stories), that Brian first had a nervous breakdown in 1964 and was eventually checked in (possibly at his own volition) to a psychiatric hospital in 1968 to treat his mental illness. He was self-medicating to cope with his illness, the obvious stress within the band and possibly to help deal with long standing problems relating to his childhood abuse.

This is a mental illness that is pretty much referred to directly in the hit single “Break Away” and was brought to a head by the thought of caring for and disciplining his own recently born first child. (Ironically, Break Away was written WITH his father, showing how complex the Wilson family relationships were if you scratch the surface. Everything is nuanced and conflicted).

Carl may have been relieved that the “problem” was been treated, but do you think deep down some of the band were relieved that they may still get some more hit songs? Were they relieved that THEY had a future, rather than actually treating the illness over the long term?  I’m sure that the stigma that many people had relating to mental illness back then (people like Mike Love?) would really muddy the waters. Very sad.

Love is all around

For many years it seemed that record companies prevented the Mike-a-doobie-doo from realising his true vision for the Beach Boys (by demanding Brian be involved in this-or-that album). He finally managed to reach his goal when various political and social shit-fits allowed him to create the Beach Boys as “America’s band” and they embraced a warped return to some hellish lyrical mid-teen netherworld for the rest of time. Where Brian’s music has often inhabited this uncertain realm of near adulthood and emotional fragility, Mike, as always, takes that teenage lyrical and presentational sledgehammer… and keeps on hitting.

You get the feeling that eventually, Love may try for a new craze of Corpse Surfin’… one last chance to cruise the “chicks” and drive the “scene” in his open top Coffin, lying in state while his rotting body spits out auto tuned lines guaranteed to manipulate, I mean “connect” with his audience.

Mike’s algorithms for finding and singing about stuff that people “want” were way ahead of their time. If Google search wrote lyrics about having “a nice time on a beach (and leering at girls)” or “driving my nice car (and leering at girls)”, it’s likely the results would be the same as the guff that Mike Love has always “written”.

In fact, if Mike Love had actually thought about it, he could have invented a lyrical location based Google search and AdWords sevice in 1964 and got paid for his fantastically accurate tailored results. Maybe he did. Sue Google, Mike…

And this is why the new album is so utterly bizarre. It’s like the entire history (good, bad and indifferent) of the Beach Boys played all at once.

“America’s band” alongside, Love-you and Summer Days. 


Apple Watching

applelogo_x4wzp6i3Apple prides itself on the elegance and simplicity of its designs and user interfaces.

Most of its products from the last 15 years have defined both the industries they compete in and the chapters on iconic design in weighty coffee table literature.

Compared to the majority of their obsessively feature-check-box driven competitors, Apple is a beacon of technological minimalism and beauty.  If Apple references various modernist checkpoints in their design, other companies (and I’m REALLY looking at you Motorola) base their entire catalogue on the grotesque interior of a teenage boy’s bedroom.

This is one of the reasons why so many obsess about Apples design choices and interface decisions. There really is no one else in technology that seems to take so much care and attention with their top-of the-range but still mass-market consumer orientated products. So many companies seem to simply blind buyers with faux-science and marketing; or even attempt to blatantly scam them to part with their cash. Nice.

Even today, in 2012, Apple buyers are accused of stupidity and blind devotion by choosing to buy a particular product with their own money. “You could have saved at least £2.50 if you had bought a build-your-own cheap arsed plastic netbook” or something. Thanks for that, internet!

So it’s particularly ironic that most Apple watchers are actually highly critical of Apples design decisions. If they do something stupid or unfathomable, boy will we point it out.

And the weird thing is that most of the time no one pays a blind bit of attention to these glaring blotches on Apples design copybook. Unless a shit-fit has anything to do with Google services or Samsung knock-offs, no one notices. Odd.

And yet there are so many things that Apple watchers see that are wrong or bizarre about Apples choices. Let’ take a whistle buy levitra in india stop tour of the things currently bugging me:

The iPad Music App

This is a frustrating and obtuse way to play your music. It seems handicapped with having to load all the artwork in to every view… so it just hangs and stutters pretty much all the time (on iPads old and new). You are constantly moving back and forth through menus and playlists in the single viewing pane while waiting for the artwork to populate each view. Testing.

And then, if you have the iOS6 Podcast App, all podcasts and podcast playlists simple disappear from the Music App. So no podcast playlists for you if you want to download podcasts on the go! Hmmm.

It is even more unfathomable if you remember the highly optimised Music app in iOS3.2. It was clear, fast and simple; with list views and a sidebar to make navigation quick and easy.


The iOS Podcast App

Talking of the pod-cast App, this is a stark example of the sort of design some fear Apple is turning to more and more. The fake reels and pretend tape-player could just be OK (perhaps) if they actually served a purpose.

If you pressed or swiped the moving tape to go forward and back, this design conceit would be more like an enjoyable Easter egg.  It would be something you discovered and thought, “wow, that’s cool”. You would probably still use the buttons, but it would be an innovative use of the touch interface.

But no. The tape just spins with no purpose, and worse, the graphics make it hard to navigate and see how you get the pod-cast information tab back. But with the information showing, selecting a time point in the pod-cast becomes impossible. Stupid-headed and a skeuomorphic step too far! (to use the suddenly hipster discovered annoying word of the year) .

More annoyances to come…


A song a year: The Beach Boys (pt2)

It’s an up-tempo duo of songs with “Little” in the title!

1963: Little Deuce Coupe

More than any other Beach Boys song, “Little Deuce Coupe” encapsulates that joyous Brian Wilson boogie-woogie beat. From the swinging opening drum fill to the quintessential counterpoint harmonies, this is the Boys polishing their early sound to near perfection. (“Fun Fun Fun” may be the better, more iconic car song, but I just love the swinging boogie woogie piano-and-drum rolls in this song. Love ’em!)

Also, if I was going to give Mike just one annoying, nasal whine of a vocal, then this is probably it… well this and the next song. Generally I’ve never been able to make peace with his vocal style, but I can stand one or two of his less grating efforts if the songs are good enough.

Roger Christian penned some mystifying (to British ears, at least,) lyrics about pimping a 1932 Ford Coupe (the result being not dissimilar to the yellow hot-rod that the cowboy drove in the film “American Graffiti”) and Brian added what seemed to be some sort of code referencing a pink slip! (a term used for the vehicle registration documents – means the guy owns his car and isn’t borrowing it from parents.)

Although known and imitated for their soaring harmonies, it is also worth noting how understated Brian was when he wrote and arranged these early Beach Boy vocal parts. He never overplayed his hand. This is something so blatantly lacking from some of the knock-off-groups that try to mimic, misunderstand or deliberately bastardise versions of Brian’s original sound for that Mike-Love-inspired-oldies-circuit-from-hell. Shame on them!


1964: Little Honda

Yes, yes, yes… “Don’t Worry Baby” is possibly the finest song to grace a B-Side. And “I Get Around” on the flip A-side of that monumental 45 is THE perfect pop bombshell (complete with an early appearance of the infamous and eventually ubiquitous LA Harpsichord that signalled a musical and lyrical desire to move to pastures new)

But I’m going with another song from that astoundingly well buy generic levitra formed 1964 “All Summer Long” album.

“Little Honda” is a gem that adds more subtle but essential elements to the Wilson cannon. (And it just may be the finest unprompted product placement of all time!)

The raucous backing track uses every single trick that you can muster in 1964 to shout POWER, like some sort of proto-Jeremy-Clarkson-set-to-music. There’s an early appearance from a driving fuzz bass that is complimented by some sustained harmonic hums from the vocals that mimic the engine drone. It’s all a bit avant garde really, but the song never wears its experimental and artistic credentials as an overblown badge of honour. Any experimenting is done purely to further the cause of the musical idea itself.

The chorus then takes off with enough power and gear changes to achieve near Earth orbit. Go Little Honda indeed. But the whole time we are talking about the tiny Honda Cub motorcycle and its minuscule 50cc engine. Wonderfully ridiculous.

“Little Honda”, more than almost any other song, shows Brian’s mix of epic sweeping production ideas mixed with a slightly silly sense of humour. What could be more Brian Wilson? The thing is that the joke or idea never actually overpowers the joy of the song. It not too knowing; it doesn’t try too hard. The whole song comes across as an affectionate and sincere tale about youthful exuberance and freedom. If it’s ridiculing anyone, it’s poking fun at the Beach Boys themselves (who were recording engine sounds and singing po-faced songs about massive engined cars only a year before).

Brian has an ability to tread this fine line between parody, joy and art like very few others (which must have scared the shit out of certain other band members). My good friend badhedgehog calls it “emotional honesty”, and that’s exactly what it is.

Note: They didn’t get a penny from Honda to write the song, making what must have been the best advertising jingle never written as an advertising jingle!

A song a year: The Beach Boys (pt1)

A couple of other folks have chosen their favourite songs by an artist during a particular set of years. Thought I’d hop on and give it a go. No surprise that I’m doing the Beach Boys.

1962:  The Lonely Sea

Rare EP with Lonely Sea, from FranceI’ll start with Brian’s first collaboration with Gary Usher.

“The Lonely Sea” is a ridiculously early indicator of all the things that Brian would come to master.

It may have been released in 1963 (on the “Surfin’ USA” album), but this was an outtake from 1962’s “Surfin’ Safari”. So 1962 it is! This also leads one to question: Who in the name of Mike-Loves-Receding-Hairline chose that début LP line-up? I mean… Who? Out of the 12 songs on that patchiest of patchy albums, precisely 12 of them aren’t fit to polish the fret board of this melancholy masterpiece. Early groupe politique?

The song itself is an intense, emotional and sonically interesting composition with an added touch of sincere imitation conjured up from Brian’s musical upbringing.

The sound is practically a melodic “Music Concrete” (if you can actually have such a thing?) with the sounds vividly mimicking the waves and endless undulations of the ocean. This idea that music could sound like, make you feel like, and talk about a particular subject already points to the multiple-meanings and textured sonic layers of SMiLE. In 1962!

The lyrics are an example of how Brian (with help from his collaborators) wrote about a comforting female presence (almost an earth-mother-goddess low cost generic levitra character) which the protagonist felt he could never live up to. This is a subject that would appear many more times in Brain’s writing (and had already being displayed in the earlier “Surfer Girl”, often documented as the first song Wilson wrote).

The spoken section in the middle is a typically Wilsonian non-ironic pastiche of music that Brian grew up with (remember that Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” was only 2 years old!). The imitation is so close (in time) to its doo-wop and crooning origins, and is delivered without a hint of a knowing nod or wink, that we don’t know if it’s a serious take or an early homage. And that makes it brilliant!

You can compare Brian’s hesitant yet sincere spoken section to how McCartney uses the same device seven years later with “Oh Darling” on Abbey Road. McCartney may be a melodic genius, but he does tend towards the “LOOK AT ME I’M DOING A PASTICHE” school of song writing. Something Brian (and Lennon) tended to avoid. (see also “Honey Pie”, “When I’m 64” and even “Yesterday” for other examples of the sledgehammer McCartney pastiche, but that’s another story!)

To sum up, I can’t state enough how amazing it is to see all the ingredients of Brian’s craft in place on such an early song.

Blimey – all that for one song? I’d better get to the point a bit better for the next ones! 

Yesterday Once More?

Hmmm. A couple of weird things about that “rock” collection of Beatles songs “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

1RevolutionThe Beatles
2Paperback WriterThe Beatles
3And Your Bird Can SingThe Beatles
4Helter SkelterThe Beatles
5Savoy TruffleThe Beatles
6I’m DownThe Beatles
7I’ve Got a Feeling (Naked Version)The Beatles
8Back In the U.S.S.R.The Beatles
9You Can’t Do ThatThe Beatles
10It’s All Too MuchThe Beatles
11She Said She SaidThe Beatles
12Hey BulldogThe Beatles
13Tomorrow Never KnowsThe Beatles
14The End (Anthology 3 Version)The Beatles



The product page contains a bizarre, inaccurate and just plain BAD set of sub-radio-sports-reporter liner notes. Not good.


I’m amazed that this collection has not been really, REALLY slammed in the comments and reviews. A Beatles compilation like this in the 70s/80s/90s would be just MASSACRED by fans (with justified shouts of “cash-in” or worse…)

And third…

What’s missing and what’s the point?

This is ostensibly a collection that tries to make the Beatles look as cool as possible (in an not-ironic-ironic R*O*C*K kind of way) to a peculiar section of modern music fans. Look at the selection of artists that say how great the Beatles are…

First up is David Grohl (OK, fine and genuinely nice).

Then it gets a bit bonkers.

The Killers (hmmm), Arcade Fire (okay…), Band Of Heroes generic levitra with dapoxetine (Why?), Linkin Park (Oh my God), Maroon 5 (Jesus F*** My Eye Christ)

So who made this selection? What is it for? Why would you try to produce such a narrow collection of songs that attempt to paint the world’s greatest pop band as a mere one dimensional group of lad-rockers?

And why, when you’ve made a selection that tries to appeal to those rocking-punky-indie-fans, would you leave off Rain, Everybody’s Got Something To Hide, Come Together and (that rockiest of cheesy rockin’ rock that is) the Sgt Peppers Reprise?

Yes, I know we’re ALL going to choose different rock-tastic Beatles songs here, but if the idea is to appeal to a cross section of quirky indie-rock tastes with a “value” collection then why not just have a “randomly pick 14 tracks of that Beatles shit” button and be done with it.

Better yet, use the iTunes Genius selection system to mirror your own peculiar musical tastes in 14 tracks of great value Beatle goodness. Now that would be interesting (but difficult to sell and explain to the record companies!)

Small Problems with Big Screens

So smartphones are getting BIGGER. Four and a bit inches is the new de facto standard for top end smartphones and you can just see them getting bigger and bigger.

What started as a clandestine operation to make the units big enough to keep battery life just about tolerable for the notoriously power hungry LTE chips, has mutated in to a arms race to pocket oblivion.

That instant in-store impression of a massive screen (next to any tiny display afflicted competitor) means phones are bucking the decades old technological trend of miniaturisation and now are being sold on the very fact they are bigger. Fine, the mobile revolution sort of promised the full web in your hand, but here is where it is going to get very odd.

If you are aiming an app at a mobile app store, you usually need two versions. One for tablets and one for smartphones.

Android is already struggling with any sort of traction in the tablet based app market place, so what happens when a sizeable (but still a minority) of your smartphones are approaching mini-tablet sizes? We are already starting to see problems with mid-range sensibly priced Android sets being deemed to have screens that are “too small”. Too small? Do Android apps now demand a massive screen?

An app for a 5 inch smartphone is going to have to be one of three things:

  • Be custom designed for that screen
  • Use a impossible to use too-small tablet version
  • Use the massive looking 3.5 inch version.

Only one of these options is actually acceptable to the end user, but how many devs can afford to target a single device with the pitiful returns and rampant piracy that blights the Android market?

I would argue that to have any chance of addressing the largest part of an already fragmented market, you are going to have to design your smartphone app to work on a base 3.5 inch screen (and then have a proper tablet version for at least 7 inch tablets). The question is, what happens to apps on those top of the range big arse smartphones? Do they become odd men out? To show them off at their best they are reliant on web browsing, media playback, custom apps from the manufacturer or apps that are screen size agnostic. What an odd state of play for your top of the range products!

From the outside, this fragmentation looks bad (for users and app developers) but think about it. Fragmentation brings power to the individual device manufacturer. The only power they really have on Android. They can stand out with their own apps and features that WON’T work on that very similar but different Android set. And THAT is the problem for long term Android app development for ALL devices. Google kind of wants you, but Samsung probably doesn’t!

Welcome to the almost future…

For more years than I care to remember, the tools and processes for design have remained pretty much the same.

It might go something like this:

  • You get the project / idea.
  • Go and sit at your desk and fire up that PC…
  • Google some research and get together some “inspirational” images
  • Maybe sketch out some ideas on some paper next to the mouse (but probably not these days!)
  • Launch Illustrator on the PC (or similar Vector drawing program)
  • Import or scan in your ideas
  • Trace / copy / create Ideas using your mouse and LOTS of keyboard shortcuts
  • Be creative and perhaps add some Photoshop “sheen” to the final design
  • Print some ideas to show people
  • Edit your design as needed
  • Check it and export for web / print

…and there you go. You may use a Mac or a PC or add a Wacom device to draw on screen, but basically it’s been this way for ages.

The PC always seems to be MANDATORY in the design process, even though it feels like the least creative part of the endeavour. It forces you to sit at an office desk and do everything in that same seat. You have to be a researcher; and then be “inspired” and creative; and then be all technical; and then proof and output your design. There are no real boundaries to the tasks and you have to really concentrate to avoid the tools creating the design, rather than you using the tools for what YOU want to do.

So, I thought I would see just how much you can do on an iPad now. just to ruffle up this staid design buy levitra 10mg process…

…and it was uplifting to find that I could now use a process that only involved ONLY the iPad for a project that I would have thought MUST use a PC – it went something like this:

  • You get the project / idea.
  • Grab the iPad, go outside or sit on the sofa do some research
  • Save some “inspirational” images to the camera roll
  • Wander around some more – doing thinking!
  • Maybe sketch out some ideas in Sketchpad Pro or ArtRage apps and save to camera roll
  • Grab some Tea and perhaps sit at the dining table…
  • Launch InkPad, import your ideas then trace / copy / create!
  • Show people the design on the iPad screen, then edit, check and export to dropbox for web / print

It was just SO much nicer to design without feeling so restrained by the desk and PC environment. I loved using the iPad for everything, and even though you can’t do some more complex Illustrator gubbins at the moment, I was surprised by just how much I could do – and how much FUN it was.

InkPad also has a surprising amount of pro-level tools too. Transparencies, paths, cut-outs and layers are all handled nicely, and it even lets me load in custom fonts from my dropbox account. Oh, and it costs a fiver. Not £500.

So, for the first time in many years, I was genuinely excited by the design tools and the process I was using, as well as the design itself. These tablets and the cloud are really going to change things for design in the future – and it’s a future that’s almost here, right now!




Playing the Game

Google Play now sits firmly atop the web crown jewels of Google’s search page. It’s fifth in line to the throne, and has been thrust ahead of some of the long-time Google big guns (such as GMail, YouTube, Docs and Calendar).

At first I found it surprising that the Android Market is suddenly GONE. (Surely it was much loved and heavily recognised among the geek elite?) But Android’s relegation to a bit-part feature is actually fairly obvious when you think about it.

From the start, “Android” seemed to be an all too quirky little moniker designed, I assume, to get the geeks and R2D2 fetishists on board during the OS’s difficult entrance into the market.

But the Android path to glory (in the smartphone market share stats, at least) was so quick that it must have taken even Google by surprise.

And now Android has MASSIVE market share, investment, time and geeky kudos. But really tiny profits – and a sea of litigation and burned bridges.

As far as I can see, Google’s endeavours have so far led to:

  • A massive fall out with one time friends, Apple.
  • An impending case with Oracle about the very foundations of Android.
  • One big corporate success – and it’s Samsung, not Google!
  • A load of other handset makers all struggling.
  • A strange purchase of an old fashioned hardware vendor, in Motorola. Perhaps to fight patents? or look beyond Android?
  • Stabbing net-neutrality right in the back, all while getting far too cosy to the incumbent carriers.
  • The loss of a lot of good will among some users and commentators.

Now the masses are flocking to get a smartphone or tablet and Google REALLY doesn’t want to be saddled with a mobile services brand that competes using the Android name, not the Google name, in an area that’s vital for future mass market growth. Or looking at it more pessimistically, an Android brand that may crash and burn among the wreckage of patent litigation, fragmentation and vendor mismanagement.

Imagine trying to explain to a mass market how Android is… erm… usually Google services… but is also a catch all term for an Open Source OS that buy cheap generic levitra online manufacturers and programmers use… and then, in the case of Amazon and B&N, customise and “fork”… and then remove Google services from. Yuk!

To the larger market, Android is the petrol or the tyres you use on your car. Important, for sure, but you never go and specifically look for a Michelin or Shell car. Google wants to at least be a “Ford” or “GM” in the mobile market (compared to Apple’s “BMW” or “Mercedes”).

It definitely doesn’t want to be a geek friendly afterthought lagging behind the phone vendors and carriers in public recognition (with Google’s good name used by these companies to reassure their own financial departments – while they further annoy the big G by futzing around with the Android experience.)

So, instead of having a victory parade for Android and its services, Google suddenly dumps the name “Android Market”, THE connection between the apps and the Android OS – and it covers them in a sprinkling of fresh Google dust with the new name “Google Play”.

There, everyone will now think of Google when getting all their mobile apps, games and videos. Sorted!

But will they? Will Google Play become an iTunes type conglomeration of apps, music and videos that could even make a profit in the future? Or will “Play” become another Google project that runs out of steam?

Make no bones about it, Google is WORRIED about Android being forked by competitors and detracting from the vital Google mass market mind-share. They needed to act quickly and shore up possible future revenue streams and market presence. And so we have “Play”.

I’m sure Google doesn’t want to just serve ads to the mobile market in the future (the main argumanet about Android’s financial viability) – and it must be worried about its continuing reliance on the “fools’ game” that is internet ads. I mean, just look at the state of desktop browser ads: does it really do Google any favours?

Interesting times. But it all looks set for a Google Play Motorola Tablet, and a wider sprinkling of the Google Play brand. It is still a terrible name, though!

A TV for the masses?

All this talk of the iPad3 and a new AppleTV got me thinking about the ongoing “Apple making a TV” rumours, and the late Steve Jobs stating that they had “cracked it” when talking about the TV market (quoted in his bio just before he died).

Many comentators have assumed this to be some sort of big screen TV based Siri implementation… But ask yourself, “how many times have I ever wanted to talk to my television?” (other than abusing some dreadful d-list celeb fest.. or the news… or are they the same?) The constant rumours of voice controlled Apple TVs has even led our friends with the perpetual Xerox (cough), Samsung, to pre-copy the idea in their latest universal remotesthis is a sure sign that it ain’t gonna happen!

The problem remains though… How are Apple going to sell enough TV’s to make people develop for the device or  service, and create a thriving ecosystem that matches their iPhone and iPad markets? They’ve had a dirt cheap (for Apple!) ATV2 box on sale for 2 years and have sold 2 million or so units. That may well be good for the “extra TV set top box” market, but it’s not good compared to their other iOS devices. Nowhere near. Hence its perpetual ‘hobby’ status within Apple.

And then I had a thought, (careful now!) the ONLY way Apple could get Apple TV in to millions of homes buy generic levitra canada directly and without messy regional cable TV company deals is to use the iCloud strategy. Give something away.

So, let’s say Apple packages a new ATV3 WITH every single new iPad3!

BANG! 40+ million iPad3’s in the coming year, all with an accessory that enables you to connect it to your TV. Nothing extra to buy. No confusing choices and difficult decisions between ALL those other set top boxes desperately trying to grab your attention. You’ve already got a new Apple TV box with your iPad. Just connect it up to any old HDMI TV and away you go!

I really can’t see an “Apple TV” having a real ‘game changing’ effect in any other way. Will they really try a slightly more expensive but lovely screen based 40″ or 50″ TV set that’s sent in to a commoditised market that is already crippling long term players like Sony, Philips and Panasonic? I can’t see it.

But the new ‘Tim Cook’ Apple making a daring/costly play like giving away an AppleTV box with an iPad. Hmmm, perhaps! They have the money…

…but then again, they haven’t made that money by giving things away! So it probably won’t happen. But imagine the ecosystem suddenly available for the AppleTV, it’s services and all its AirPlay uses if EVERY new iPad had one? Game changing indeed! (and it may just explain the rumoured price rise with the new iPad3…though I’m sure those retina displays aren’t’ cheap either!)

Not Quite Good Enough

Technology and Design are funny old games!

Design (both in-print and online) is usually about working up an idea until someone signs it off…

…and you would expect to find that it ONLY goes live when it’s being checked, proofed and approved by anyone with an interest in the thing.

Yes, you’ll find a few exceptions (and opinions!) but, by and large, a first draft isn’t thrust in front of the public with promises that this ad or website or magazine will look a ‘lot better’ in a few weeks time when, erm, we’ve actually finished it.

Now, the technology sector is a bit different (we won’t cloud things with the industrial design side of technology development) – our concern is with the way new technology is shepherded in to the mindset and ownership of consumers.

Not waiting for the gift of sound and vision

It seems that getting the latest technology advances ‘out there’ is the overiding concern of the majority of the firms in the more commoditized areas of the industry. And because you can probably update and tweak and improve things with firmware updates, it’s seen as fine by all-and-sundry.

In fact, the ‘business’ is full of people bemoaning that such-an-such technology is not used in this or that item, even when the technology is simply not ready for ‘prime-time’. New tech sells magazine and blog ads and no one seems to mind that many of the new gadgets are not up to scratch (often for their primary task). It leaves you wondering if everyone just hates accessible technology so much that they are willing to suspend critical and functional analysis just to hype a feature promise?

Too Little too LTE?

Just look at LTE phones – super fast internet connections on the move – GREAT! But they are BIG, to accommodate the new chips, and currently the batteries last only a few hours when used. Phones can even drain when plugged in and CHARGING in the car. Amazing. Not ready. And not even a firmware update will improve the fact that the underlying chips are too power hungry and the technology is NOT READY for public use.

So what do the critics do? In many cases they’ll just ignore the battery issues and pretend the very ‘bigness’ is now THE feature that matters the most. Firms even invent categories like SUPERPHONES to hide the fact that they have basically being saddled with a HUGE flat battery eating early concept phone.

Anyone buying this item will impress like minded ‘geeks’ for a few weeks (with the ‘newest’, ‘fastest’, biggest phone) before going back to dreaming about a firmware update… and then pretty soon they will focus on the next thing that basically fixes all the stupid errors on the current product. (I know this. Been there, done that, hacked the system!)

In the meantime a community will develop around the item, and they will hack and ‘root’ and mod the thing to run a webserver or flush a toilet . And they’ll generic levitra australia also decorate the OS with a gaudy teenage-bedroom-like set of backgrounds and icons that make you want to vomit.

You say you want a revolution?

And also cast your mind back to the CD-Rom revolution.

Cartridge consoles were almost killed overnight as this great new technology appeared. We gasped at the promise of the new format that allowed you to store 650+MB of date. THINK of the possibilities? The only problem was the CD-Roms were 1x and 2x speeds (i.e REALLY SLOW) so games suddenly went from being instant-on arcade game in your house, to you sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting… for the crummy CD drive to load.

It took about 3 years for the technology to be acceptable and cheap enough for mass market, but anyone refusing to join the CD-party was technologically slaughtered.

Can we work it out?

So we have a inglorious circle of design, function and finances.
The early adopting sector of the market will cajole, fund and cheer these hapless unfinished early releases all day long. It’s enough to keep everyone in jobs and constanly waiting on the thing that will do EVERYTHING perfectly. And it is a nice bonus for firms as they keep developing the technology until it IS actually good and cheap enough to be used in ‘comsumer’ grade technology.  (Think of it as someone paying extra for your early sketches and designs. You’d be delighted – but it would eventually cloud and confuse the quality of your output).

But what has this done over the years? Basically it has detroyed the ‘average’ consumers ability to trust and believe in what technology should do. Everyone is now used to the ridiculous way new technology and PCs need to be mollycoddled with updates and virus checks .They’re used to having to ask a gadget savvy kid or relation to help them set up this or do that, too. It’s certainly not the Jetsons version of an easy tech-filled future.

But there will always be some companies that benefit from ‘doing things properly’ – waiting a bit to release a fully working product (even if some functions are missing in a bid to make the product more ‘useable’ straight out of the door).

Apple (obviously!) and Nintendo (now and again) are the best examples of running assymetrically with the above thinking. Even things like Sky+, XBox360 and PS3 show the benefit of constantly improving a platform. Often these companines may take a bit of a price hit early on to allow them to get something that is better than ‘good enough’ (but expensive) to market. And then they stick with a few models to make sure there is a larger market and unfragmented ecosystem for the future.

And we can only hope that the success of some of these companies will drive players like Samsung, HTC and LG to up their game and look to innovate and polish rather than copying, hyping and shoving it out the door.