Just Like Starting Over

Though two Beatles are gone, this summer the music of all four will be everywhere -- in new releases, reissues and the 'Instant Karma' project

June 03, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,Sun Reporter

THE POLITICAL SCIENTIST LANGDON WINNER HAPpened to be driving across the country in June 1967 -- just days after the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

"In each city where I stopped for gas or food -- Laramie, Ogallala, Moline, South Bend -- the melodies wafted in from some far-off transistor radio or portable hi-fi," he would write. "For a brief while, the irreparably fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young."

Forty years later, former Beatle Paul McCartney will attempt to re-create that spirit on Tuesday, when Starbucks hosts a 24-hour "worldwide listening party" with his new CD, Memory Almost Full, set on repeat at more than 10,000 locations in 29 countries.

The release of Memory Almost Full kicks off an unusually Beatles-y summer. Next week brings a reissue with bonus tracks of George Harrison's two records with the Traveling Wilburys and a new collection of John Lennon covers by U2, R.E.M., Green Day and others to benefit the Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.

Ringo Starr, meanwhile, is said to be at work on a new record produced by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart. The former Beatle also has announced a new live album and a hits compilation.

While the Starbucks promotion seems unlikely to unite Western civilization, McCartney is hoping it will get his new record heard -- an increasing challenge for artists of his generation.

"Heritage" artists such as McCartney, the Rolling Stones and the Who remain sellout concert draws for audiences who want to see their heroes play "Hey Jude," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or "Won't Get Fooled Again" one more time.

But all are having difficulty getting more recent material on the radio, where it has a chance of reaching new ears. That's a shame, because over the past decade, both McCartney and Starr have been making some of the most interesting and entertaining music of their solo careers.

"If you look at the formats that are big in radio -- contemporary hits, classic rock, R&B, country, hip-hop -- there aren't that many formats out there," said Brian Garrity, senior business correspondent for Billboard magazine. "That leaves older artists that don't really slot into the sweet spot of those formats looking for alternative ways of getting exposure."

Sting promoted his 1999 single "Desert Rose" by lending it to Jaguar for a television commercial; John Mellencamp gave "Our Country" to Chevrolet. Other artists have turned up in such un-rocking venues as NBC's Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America and Oprah.

McCartney's decision this year to leave EMI, where he had spent nearly his entire recording career, for Starbucks' Hear Music label reflects another such effort. The coffee giant is credited with boosting the performance of Ray Charles' 2004 record Genius Loves Company, which topped the Billboard 200, went platinum and won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year.

"Starbucks has been really effective in terms of artists that don't slot into the sweet spots of mainstream marketing formats," Garrity said. "For the McCartney promotion, you're going to have literally millions of people walking into Starbucks and hearing this music."

McCartney also has completed a deal to get both Memory Almost Full and his solo catalog on iTunes, Apple's online music store. And he has released the video for "Dance Tonight," featuring Natalie Portman and MacKenzie Crook (Gareth, from the British version of The Office) and directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), on YouTube.

In the Baltimore area, McCartney has managed to win some airtime on WTMD. The Towson University radio station has been playing "Ever Present Past" -- provoking calls from listeners, program director Mike Vasilikos says, asking: "Is that Paul McCartney?"

"I can't speak to why other folks won't play it," Vasilikos said. "I scratch my head on that, too."

WTMD, with its Adult Album Alternative format, has also played new music by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Todd Rundgren in recent years.

"Paul McCartney is Paul McCartney. His history speaks for itself. But if it wasn't any good, we wouldn't play it. If there are artists putting out music that's still relevant, age doesn't scare us."

With songs including "Ever Present Past," "That Was Me" and "Gratitude," Memory Almost Full finds McCartney -- 64, at last -- in a reflective mood.

"In places it's a very personal record and a lot of it is retrospective, drawing from memory, like memories from being a kid, from Liverpool and from summers gone," he says in press materials. "The album is evocative, emotional, rocking "

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