JUST LIKE STARTING OVER

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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 "

Musically, the past that McCartney mines is more Wings than Beatles. Memory Almost Full is an eclectic collection, from the mandolin-based sing-along "Dance Tonight" and the jagged power pop of "Ever Present Past" to the arena rocking bombast of "Only Mama Knows." The five-song medley at the end of the record has drawn comparison to the suite that closes Abbey Road.

Memory Almost Full also catches the artist staring into the abyss -- and still trying, as ever, to manage his image.

"On the day that I die," he sings on "The End of the End," "I'd like to jokes to be told, and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets that children have played on and laid on while listening to stories of old."

Lennon revisited

On Lennon's behalf, Yoko Ono has devoted much of her widowhood to making sure that the music he created during his brief solo career -- he lived 10 years after the Beatles broke up in 1970, but recorded for only five of them -- continues to be heard. This has meant releasing hours of studio outtakes and alternate versions of familiar songs, lending previously unreleased performances to a succession of films, and issuing an interminable series of best-of discs.

Instant Karma: The Campaign To Save Darfur, due out June 12, provides a particularly promising venue for her efforts. Lennon's focus on reporting his personal experiences and feelings -- more than once, he compared songwriting to journalism -- has made him a difficult artist to cover. But the first singles from the new collection -- R.E.M. making "#9 Dream" their own, and Green Day reading a spare, "Working Class Hero" -- are utterly winning.

Both performances have found their way onto local radio, and Green Day played "Working Class Hero" on the American Idol finale last month. (A rumored appearance by McCartney never materialized.)

The Instant Karma lineup reads like a cross section of the hip and the huge: there's Christina Aguilera, Black Eyed Peas, Jack Johnson, the Flaming Lips, Aerosmith, Corinne Bailey Rae, Los Lonely Boys, Regina Spektor, Lenny Kravitz, Matisyahu, Jakob Dylan with Dhani Harrison. More than 50 artists participated in the project, which includes the 23-track double CD and additional recordings available by download only. Ono waived her royalties.

"It's wonderful that, through this campaign, music that is so familiar to many people of my era will now be embraced by a whole new generation," she said in a statement. "John's music set out to inspire change, and in standing up for human rights, we really can make the world a better place."

Magic of Wilburys

On a more modest scale, Olivia Harrison also has been working to preserve and promote her late husband's musical legacy. Harrison had been preparing a series of reissues of his post-Beatles material when he died; the Wilburys records are the latest to get the treatment.

The teaming of Nelson, Lucky, Lefty, Otis and Charlie T. Jnr. Wilbury -- more familiar as Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty -- turned out to be the surprise hit of 1988. With an army of acoustic guitars and a backstory by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was the infectious sound of old friends cracking each other up.

For Harrison, who wrote much of the material officially credited to the ensemble, such songs as "Handle With Care," "End of the Line" and "Heading for the Light" were some of the brightest and must durable music of his solo career. He always seemed to remember the Wilburys experience more fondly than his time with that other band.

"The thing about the Wilburys for me is, if we'd tried to plan it, or if anybody had said, 'let's form this band and get these people in it, it would never happen, it's impossible,'" he would recall. "It happened completely, just by magic, just by circumstance."

Orbison's death less than two months after the release of Vol. 1 scotched plans to perform the material live. Harrison, Dylan, Petty and Lynne -- now Spike, Boo, Clayton and Muddy -- plugged in two years later for the crunchier, wittier Vol. 3.

Before his death, Harrison spoke hopefully about a third record they never got to make. The two they did complete, out of print now for more than a decade, have become collectors' items. Both will be reissued June 12 in a single volume in vinyl, CD / DVD and digital packages, with bonus tracks: a B-side, a charity album track, and a pair of previously unreleased songs.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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