RAM on against the critics


Paul and Linda McCartney RAMIn my last article on criticism I focused on John Lennon. Let’s have a look at what happened to Paul McCartney who had to deal with criticism in a different and more prolonged way.

McCartney had, unlike John, lived his life almost without any form of criticism at all, right up until the end of the 60s. Then it hit him hard. Blamed for the acrimonious way the Beatles split up and appearing to attack the other three and their business decisions, it placed McCartney as the outsider. The press and the public seemed to always side with Lennon and the others. While Lennon’s first solo efforts were seen as deep, McCartney’s were seen as shallow. He suddenly found himself in a place where, just a year or so earlier he was hailed as Britain’s greatest songwriter, responsible for YesterdayMichelle, Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper, Hey Jude and Let it Be, his new efforts were seen as pale and trivial.

Today we know better. Listening to Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed of 1970’s McCartney we can imagine that a followup to Abbey Road would have been every bit as great.

In 1971 McCartney recorded his second solo effort and his first post-Beatles LP, entitled RAM. He’d been in a panic as to what to do following the split. The pressure to deliver something spectacular must have been enormous. His solution was a great one: just do what would be fun. He retreated to his Scottish farm and with the help of his new wife Linda, created the new album.

When it was released it face almost universal scorn. Lennon reportedly hated it (it contained secret messages to Lennon encoded in the themes of the songs Too Many People and Dear Boy). Even Ringo, who nearly always managed to stay positive and not take sides said that “there wasn’t a good song on it”. However it did spawn a massive US number one single with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

Everyone, including McCartney’s own record company despised the fact he’d credited the album to ‘Paul and Linda McCartney’ and the ‘fan’ backlash against Linda continued. That had begun with his marriage to Linda in 1969 – how could ‘their’ Beatle, leave beautiful and talented Jane Asher (she left McCartney by the way) for this plain, American divorcee? Paul took his family on tour with him throughout the 70s with his band ‘Wings’ and Linda sang (and played) in the shows and on the records, giving rise to the joke, ‘what do you call a dog with wings? – Answer: Linda McCartney.’

But what makes the story of RAM all the more curious is that in May 2012 it was re-released in remastered form, on multiple CDs, DVD box sets and as 190g vinyl record to universal acclaim, with radio stations and rock magazines showering praise and awards on it.

They even went as far as saying that RAM was McCartney’s best ever album.

And Linda turned out to be a devoted wife, loving mother, talented award winning photographer, famous celebrity chef, founder of and instigator of soya protein vegetarian food. When she tragically died from breast cancer in 1999, everyone loved her.

So it just goes to show, even when you face what seems like universal criticism, you can never really be sure of the context, which might be different for every critic. Getting criticism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. People will always have their own agendas and reason for slagging you and you work off.

So take care. You may well have just produced your greatest work too.

(In 1995, the famous and successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry disappeared. His friends got worried. It was because he’d had a bad review for a show. He said he’d felt as low as he thought possible. If his talent and his track record wasn’t enough to fend off just one bad review then it’s no surprise the rest of us suffer.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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The two year creativity rule and how the Beatles used it


(or Why you must turn She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows)

Beatles US visit 1964 ink drawing  by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1964. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Most things in popular culture have a shelf life of just two years. Two short years before they run out of steam, become passe or boring and disappear, or, change form into something different, and then last another two years.

If you look at the pop charts, there are few artistes there from earlier than two years ago.

Just take a moment to look at your own life. The two year rule appears to work there too.

It’s as if human projects, be it friendships, affairs, or bands, clubs or gym membership begin with an enthusiasm which powers it long enough to last 600 – 700 days before the energy runs low. If the project doesn’t have another burst of enthusiasm, it will fall apart. But if it does get another injection of energy, it will change, hopefully for the better.

If you look at television series, the first two seasons have a similar feel. The third has to change the format somehow which either makes the show a hit and lasts another two years, or loses it’s audience and dies off. When the format ceases to innovate for that third series and tries to keep everything the same, even if it appears to the writers that their stuff is as good as ever, often it has become a parody of itself, re-treading old ground and becoming self-referencing. This is the point it either develops a cult following, or flops and fades away.

It’s the same with our lives. The two year rule reminds us that we must constantly innovate, but must be prepared for drastic change every two years.

If you’ve been in a job, in the same role for two years, the third year will seem repetitive and stale. If you don’t get promotion, changes in your role, more responsibility or something else, you’ll get bored and it will begin to affect other areas of your life.

There are plenty of examples of how best to use the two year rule but my favourite is the story of the Beatles.

Beatlemania arguably began in autumn 1963. The Beatles were enjoying universal success in the UK with their third number one, She Loves You and had just performed for the nation live at the London Palladium. This is our starting point. They slowly evolved, producing hit after hit for the next two years, conquered America and the World, keeping within their winning mop-top formula, keeping the girls screaming and everybody buying their records.

Then the two year rule took effect in late 1965. If they had produced another ‘Merseybeat’ happy-go-lucky song and album at that time they could have gone the way of all the other early sixties beat groups. They didn’t. They went in the studio and recorded Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966). In just under three years from recording She Loves You they had produced something which was just about as far away from that song as is possible to get, and which at the time sounded like nothing on Earth. (It incidentally and unintentionally lay a foundation for modern electronic dance music too).

Beatles Revolver 1966 ink drawing by Ayd Instone

The Beatles in 1966. Drawing by Ayd Instone.

They became the market leader in this new phase of ‘psychedelic’ music. A phase which again, like every other, had a shelf life of two years. Again, many bands tried to stick with this new sound past 1968. They would come to be seen as the next batch of old fashioned yesterdays groups. Instead, the Beatles went (as they described it) ‘back to basics’ on their White Album, which appeared as a literal antithesis of the garishness of Sgt. Pepper which came before it.

This re-found ‘rawness’ heard on The White Album, the Get Back sessions (later released as Let it Be) and Abbey Road took them through to 1970 when another change was due. The change they chose then of course was to work apart.

The musical styles that followed also adhered to the two year rule as the Beatles handed the batten to a new generation of bands to carry it forward. But very few other acts managed to do as they did and survive the two year change and stride the changes that inevitably come, in music and in every field.

From the early 1970s onwards music went through a number of mainstream trends, (some overlap but essentially are) the heavy rock/folk rock of 70-72 into Glam Rock 72-74, Disco 75-77, Punk 76-78, New Wave 78-80, New Romantic 81-83 and so on.

Where are you in your projects, work and life? Have you been working within something for nearly two years? If so you may need to work out what will innovate and revitalise it before it loses power and is overtaken by newer ideas from outside.

Here are a few ideas to do every two to three years:

  • reignite your personal relationships, partners and friends with a celebration.
  • If you are in business, think of a new product or service to launch or a completely new marketing campaign to revitalise the old
  • Start a new hobby or take an existing one to the next level by getting advanced training, new equipment or new players and partners to join in with
  • Go somewhere new for your holidays
  • Have a massive ‘spring clean’ in your home, work and life, getting rid of what no longer serves or is broken

Ask yourself this question: If you’re doing well right now, at the top of your charts with your own She Loves You – how can you top it? How can you create something bigger, better, more influential and yet still very much you: what will be your She Loves You into Tomorrow Never Knows transformation?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Creativity and the Beatles

This is adapted from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.

Pipedream – the song I wrote in my sleep


This is one of my favourite songs that I’ve written. My subconscious wrote it. Many songwriters have described how their songs were ‘transmitted’ to them and all they had to do was write them down. Sometimes they had to leap out of bed to catch the tune that played in their head before it was lost.

This has happened to me quite a few times, the first and greatest was this song, Pipedream. I awoke in the night with the song fully formed, with music, lyrics and title complete. I jumped out of bed and played and sang it on the guitar as quickly as possible. It shows that creativity is something that can happen in your sleep and that you should always keep a notebook or some recording device to hand as you never know when inspiration may spark a wonderful idea.

Paul McCartney said that about the creation of ‘Yesterday’, (which became the most recorded song ever). In early 1965 he woke with a melody in his head. It was so powerful that he was sure it must be an old jazz tune. He played it to a few people, but no-one knew it. At that time he didn’t have the words, and as it was breakfast time it came out as “Scrambled eggs… oh how I love your legs…”.

He later worked out the real lyrics and the song was released on the Help! LP in the UK and as a No.1 single in the US. (At the time the Beatles found the song too sentimental to release as a single in the UK). Paul McCartney nearly always wrote about other people in his songs, unlike John Lennon who nearly always wrote about his own feelings.

It wasn’t until 1995 that Paul realised, while compiling the Beatles Anthology that his 1965 song about the loss of a lover was actually about the very real loss of his own mother a few years earlier from cancer. Have a listen to the song again with this context in mind and you’ll hear a pain coming directly from Paul’s unconscious that he wasn’t aware when he wrote it.

Pipedream became my second music promo from the 50 minute film ‘Ayd & Jase – The Visitation’. Filmed on cine Super8 in August 1991 in and around Odiham and Hook in Hampshire by John Bloor. Like ‘The World Turns All Around’ it was featured on ITV’s ‘Freescreen’ programme in 1992. The song was written and recorded that same month, again with me playing all the instruments.

See the Pipedream video on YouTube here.

Pipedream became a live favourite and I perform it to this day. There are other recorded versions (some with mandolin instead of harpsichord) but this is still the definitive. Perhaps in 2021 I’ll suddenly realise what it was really about…

You can see the other song from the film, The World Turns All Around, here

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Chaos and Creation in Your Backyard


In December last year Paul McCartney hosted a special solo performance from Abbey Road studios and performed unusual versions of his Beatles and solo songs. He also gave demonstrations into how he wrote and recorded them. We were shown a rare insight into how the creative processes involved in those hit records didn’t end with the writing and performing of the song but permeated throughout the recording sessions. Even the methods of recording and production were ‘played’ as an instrument.

Strawberry Fields Forever began as a simple acoustic guitar song from John. All four Beatles and producer George Martin worked as a team to give their creative experimental best to interpret it into possibly their greatest single track with dr um tape loops, the mellotron (the first ever ‘sythesizer’), orchestral sounds and effects laden guitars. You can read more about the Beatles in this book.

It reminds us that the creative process should flow on long after the initial idea or spark of inspiration has occurred. It should turn into action, creative action that exploits the best interpretation of the idea.

It reminds us of the concept of experimentation and how out of controlled chaos come the best ideas. Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations. The limitations, such as time limits, budget constraints or even ability are often derided but they all act to force the spontaneity into the relevant form which is so essential for the finished work to be a success.

Creativity is like the chaos of a river, controlled by t he restrictions of the riverbank, guiding it through the countryside. Without the riverbank it would just be a flood plain, directionless, formless and flat.

What are the processes of chaos and creation that go on in your backyard? What are the limitations that shape your work? If you were to host an event like McCartney’s Abbey Road performance to discuss your life’s work, what techniques and serendipitous events could you reveal? When were the moments of experimentation that led to methods that have propelled your life and career onwards?

Creativity isn’t just that eureka moment (we all have those all the time). It’s the process that turns that moment into something new, something worthwhile.

For more see:
www.aydinstone.com
www.sunmakers.co.uk