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Toejam Football, or Why Billy Preston Hates August 8th

August 8, 2009

And a jolly Saturday to you, old chap!  I’m sure many of you are dressing up in your red sequined dresses to celebrate Dustin Hoffman’s birthday today, or perhaps you’re donning a stylish brown khaki outfit to celebrate the birth of famed actor Larry Wilcox.  But for some music fans, August 8th holds different and potentially darker implications than celebrating the birthdays of cross-dressing and police-impersonating celebrities.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover photograph.   The photo depicted the Beatles doing their best impression of the Simpsons in front of their Abbey Road studios.  This album cover has become one of the most celebrated album covers in the history of rock music.   Artists as diverse as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye West and the Friars of the Community of St. Saviour’s Monastery have recreated this iconic cover over the years.  Many around the world will raise a toast to photographer Iain MacMillan for creating a compelling piece of pop art from something as mundane as crossing the street.

Strangely enough, though, hard-core Billy Preston fans will likely hold candlelight vigils and prayer circles for the soul of their dearly departed benefactor.  Preston is perhaps best known for his collaborations with the Beatles on the Let It Be album and on one song from Abbey Road, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.  A former organist for Ray Charles, he was befriended by George Harrison and continued to record on the Apple label as a solo artist after the Fab Four’s demise.  Preston also is credited for working with the Rolling Stones on some of their best albums as well as composing Joe Cocker’s hit “You Are So Beautiful.”

But Preston’s career took a turn for the worse in the early eighties when he was convicted of insurance fraud for setting his own house on fire.  As if that wasn’t enough, then came that fateful day in 1991, when Preston was arrested and charged with exhibiting pornography to a minor.  The date of this encounter?  You guessed it, August 8.  Preston was also charged with a number of drug-related charges, which led to a brief stint in jail.  Preston overcame many of his problems in life–eventually  working with Eric Clapton and the Chili Peppers–and he passed away in 2006.  But as you revel in the genuis of the Abbey Road cover on this Ocho de Agosto,  take a moment to raise a glass to the late “Fifth Beatle” and remember his August struggles.

Fans will get to hear Preston’s organ once again soon on the remastered Beatles catalog, which is scheduled for release on September 9.  I for one am stoked about these releases, which are almost 22 years in the making.  And for the significant number of you that are both Beatles fans and Dr. Dre fans, it will please you to know that The Chronic is being remastered and re-released on September 1 as part of the attempted resurrection of Death Row records.  The new release features liner notes by producer Quincy Jones, who I guess figures that putting Chaka Khan and Kool Moe Dee on the same record and producing Thriller and We Are the World qualifies him to pontificate on an album with tracks like “Deeez Nuuutz” and “Lyrical Gangbang”.

Finally, speaking of Kool Moe Dee, one of my favorite rappers celebrates his 47th birthday today.  Long-time readers of the site know that I hold the artist formerly known as Mohandas Deweese in high reverence, particularly due to his ability to sport Porsche 5620 sunglasses without looking like a total bag, unlike Will.I.Am, who has no such ability.

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