Thursday, December 17, 2015

Our Salute To "Rubber Soul" ... Part 2

50 Years Ago This Month the landmark album "Rubber Soul" was released.

"Rubber Soul" was released in the U.K. on December 3rd, 1965 ... incredibly it was The Beatles' THIRD new album to chart that year!  In the UK, "Beatles For Sale" kicked off the year at #1, followed by the soundtrack to "Help" and then "Rubber Soul".  Here in The States, we got "Beatles '65", followed by "The Early Beatles" ... (a bunch of tracks first released in America on the Vee Jay and Tollie labels prior to Capitol Records pushing the band) ... followed by "Beatles VI", "Help!" and "Rubber Soul" ... FIVE albums in one year.  It's an absolute wonder that The Fab Four hadn't burnt out by then.  Instead, they soared to even greater heights on their next two releases, "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".  Incredible in hindsight ... at the time ... and with the benefit of 50 years of subsequent releases that have never measured up to what The Beatles accomplished in just six short years.

For the first time ever in America, there was no single taken from the album.  (The Beatles name did not appear anywhere on the front cover either ... also a first.  I guess by this point in time there wasn't a person left in the universe who didn't already know who these four guys were!!!)  In fact, it was the closest a US album release resembled its British counterpart since "Meet The Beatles" first hit the streets in January of 1964.

Additional, non-British singles continued to be released here in The States by Capitol records throughout 1965 and 1966 ... but nothing was culled from "Rubber Soul" specifically ... although I feel quite certain that tracks like "Michelle", "You Won't See Me", "If I Needed Someone","In My Life" and "Drive My Car" would have all proven to be successful chart singles if only given the chance.

The US version of the LP (released three days later) rode the chart for a year ... peaking at #1 on January 8th and staying there for six straight weeks.  

The album had a decidedly "John feel" to it.  (This was especially true of the US pressing, which featured seven Lennon tracks compared to four by McCartney and one by Harrison.)  Most would agree that some of John's all-time stand-out compositions grace this album:  "Norwegian Wood", "Girl" and "In My Life" among them.  Never again would he be such a dominating force on a Beatles album.  John got deeper into drugs (and Yoko!) and Paul assumed the reigns on their subsequent releases ... a point of contention later down the road.

Today, The Beatles ... in their own words ... recall the "Rubber Soul" recording sessions and this new era of recording ... (from the "Anthology" book)   kk

JOHN LENNON:  We were getting better, technically and musically.  We finally took over the studio.  I think "Rubber Soul" was about when it started happening.  It was Paul's title.  It was like "Yer Blues", I suppose, meaning English soul.  "Rubber Soul" ... just a pun.    

PAUL McCARTNEY:  I think the title "Rubber Soul" came from a comment an old blues guy had said of Jagger.  I've heard some outtakes of us doing "I'm Down" and at the front of it I'm chatting on about Mick.  I'm saying how I'd just read about an old bloke in the States who said "Mick Jagger, man ... well, you know, they're good ... but it's plastic soul."  So "plastic soul" was the germ of the "Rubber Soul" idea.  
Later, when we made "Sgt. Pepper", I remember taking it 'round to Dylan at the Mayfair Hotel in London.  I went 'round as if I were going on a pilgrimage.  Keith Richards was in the outer room and we had to hang around and then went in to meet Dylan.  It was a little bit like an audience with The Pope.  I remember playing him some of "Sgt. Pepper" and he said "Oh, I get it ... you don't want to be cute anymore."  That was the feeling about "Rubber Soul", too ... we'd had our cute period and now it was time to expand.

RINGO STARR:  There was a lot of experimentation on "Rubber Soul", influenced, I think by the substances.  George Martin knew about it and used to get annoyed ... well, not really annoyed, he would just go "Oh God" because things would take a little longer.  When we did take too many substances, the music was shit, absolute shit.  At the time we'd think it was great, but when we came to record the next day, we'd all look at each other and say "We'll have to do that again."
Grass was really influential in a lot of our changes, especially with the writers.  And because they were writing different material, we were playing differently.  We were expanding in all areas of or lives, opening up to a lot of different attitudes.  I feel that we made it on love songs ... all the initial songs were love songs.  Now we get to "Rubber Soul" and begin stretching the writing and the playing a lot more.  This was the departure record.  A lot of other influences were coming down and going on the record.
"Nowhere Man" was good.  "Girl" was great ... weird breathy sounds on it.  "The Word", another great track ... George Martin on harmonium, Mal "Organ" Evans on Hammond.  We were really getting into a lot of different sounds and I think the lyrics were changing, too, with songs like "Drive My Car", "Norwegian Wood", "You Won't See Me", "Nowhere Man" and, of course, "Michelle".   

GEORGE HARRISON:  "Rubber Soul" was my favorite album, even at that time.  I think it was the best one we made ... we certainly knew we were making a good album.  We did spend a bit more time on it and tried new things.
Songwriting for me, at the time of "Rubber Soul" was a bit frightening because John and Paul had been writing since they were three years old.  It was hard to come in suddenly and write songs.  They'd had a lot of practice.  They'd written most of their bad songs before we'd even got into the recording studio.  I had to come from nowhere and start writing and have something with at least enough quality to put on the record alongside all the wondrous hits.  It was very hard.

JOHN:  "Rubber Soul" was the pot album and "Revolver" was the acid.
Like anything, people go in trends, and the trend now is to think that "Revolver" was the change.  And the trend before was to think "Rubber Soul" was the change ... and then the other trend was "Sgt. Pepper".  But the whole thing was a gradual change.  We were conscious that there was some formula or something ... it was moving ahead.


PAUL McCARTNEY:  The album cover is another example of our branching out ... the stretched photo.  That was actually one of those little exciting random things that happen.  The photogapher, Robert Freeman, had taken some pictures round at John's house in Weybridge.  We had our new gear on ... the polo necks ... and we were doing straight mug shots; the four of us all posing.  Back in London, Robert was showing us the slides.  He had a piece of cardboard that was the album cover size and he was projecting the photographs exactly onto it so we could see how it would look as an album cover.  We had just chosen the photograph when the card that the picture was projected onto fell backwards a little, elongating the photograph.  It was stretched and we went, "That's it ... "Rubber So-o-ul, hey, hey!"  Can you do it like that?"  And he said, "Well, yeah, I can print it that way."  And that was it.

GEORGE HARRISON:  I liked the way we got our faces to be longer on the album cover.  We lost the "little innocents" tag, the naivety, and "Rubber Soul" was the first one where we were fully-fleged potheads.    


There was no single released from "Rubber Soul" ... the Double A-Side hit "We Can Work It Out" / "Day Tripper", released the same day (but not included on the album) was climbing the charts while the album was making its mark. 

Most of the history books will tell you that The Beatles started recording their new album in October of 1965 ... but Mark Lewisohn's book documenting ALL of the sessions The Beatles held at Abbey Road Studios shows that the track "Wait" was started as early as June of that year.  Incredibly The Beatles were still putting the finishing touches on their previous LP, the soundtrack to "Help!" ... and on the 17th of June they recorded Ringo's contribution to that album, "Act Naturally", as well as takes 1-4 of "Wait".  (They also did the mono mix of "Yesterday" at this same session.)  It is believed "Wait" was originally recorded for consideration for the soundtrack album but, at the final mixing session the very next day, it was left behind.
The Beatles then went off on another tour while their latest film opened in theaters around the world.  (In fact, on August 29th, they stopped at The Hollywood Bowl ... and this performance was recorded and eventually released some twelve years later as a compilation of BOTH Hollywood Bowl appearances, 1964 and 1965.)

Recording in earnest for the new LP began on October 12th when The Fab Four laid down tracks for "Run For Your Life" (takes 1-5) as well as Take One of a new title which was then known as "This Bird Has Flown".  ("Norwegian Wood")  When one considers that the new album was expected to be out in stores in time for Christmas, it is really quite remarkable that The Beatles could knock out something of the caliber of "Rubber Soul" in just six weeks!  (And, in the midst of it all, they also cranked out the "Day Tripper" / "We Can Work It Out" single as well as this year's Fan Club Christmas Flexi-Disc!)  

Over the next three weeks, The Beatles recorded eleven more tracks, including "Drive My Car", "If I Needed Someone", "In My Life", "Nowhere Man", a couple of rejected versions of "I'm Looking Through You", "Michelle", "What Goes On", "Think For Yourself", "The Word" and both sides of their brand new single, "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out".

A deadline of November 11th was imposed ... by this date ALL of the album's material had to have been recorded so that proper mixing could take place in time to press the album to meet its December 3rd release date.

As such, The Beatles held a mammoth, marathon recording session on the 11th of November ... it was of epic, "Please Please Me" proportions ... thirteen straight hours in the studio ... during which time they completed "You Won't See Me", "Girl", the final revamped version of "I'm Looking Through You" and the resurrected "Wait". (The album needed fourteen tracks, after all!)

On November 15th ... just 44 days after the first official session ... the new LP was mixed.  It was released 18 days later on December 3rd, along with their new single "We Can Work It Out" / "Day Tripper".  Incredible!  

All of The Beatles acknowledge the "Rubber Soul" sessions as the first time they truly took control in the studio ... taking as long as they wanted and needed to in order to capture the sound they were going for.  The American version (with its two "Help!" soundtrack hold-over tracks, "I've Just Seen A Face" and "It's Only Love") tended to have a more "folksy" vibe ... there seemed to be a lot more acoustic material than what you'd heard on their previous LPs, much of which was taken from their live stage shows fill out the 12 or 14 required tracks.  (kk)

DRIVE MY CAR - I probably hear this Beatles song more than any other today ... if only because every radio station in town seems to use it as the background music for their traffic reports, which run several times a day.  A great track with a somewhat oblique lyric ... of all people, we saw The Jonas Brothers put on a killer performance of this song at The White House recently when Paul McCartney was awarded The Gershwin Prize of Popular Songwriting ... (kk)

One of the stickiest was "Drive My Car" ... because we couldn't get past one phrase that we had:  'You can buy me golden rings'.  We struggled for hours.  I think we struggled too long.  Then we had a break and suddenly it came ... "Wait a minute, 'Drive My Car!"  Then we got into the fun of that scenario.  "Oh, you can drive my car."  What is it?  What's he doing?  Is he offering a job as a chauffeur or what?  And then it became much more ambiguous, which we liked instead of golden rings, which was a bit poofy.  "Golden rings" became "beep beep yeah".  We both came up with that.  Suddenly we were in LA ... cars, chauffeurs, open-top Cadillacs and it was a whole other thing.  (Paul)

I played the bassline on "Drive My Car".  It was like the line from "Respect by Otis Redding.  (George)

NORWEGIAN WOOD - I remember this one being played like a single at the time ... John Lennon fessing up (in a somewhat obscure way) about an affair he had been having at the time, sugar-coated just a bit so as not to offend his wife Cynthia at the time.  It also represented the first use of the sitar on a pop record.  (This was the most basic use of the instrument ... George would get much deeper into the instrument ... and the whole mysticism of Indian culture ... in the months to come.)  The Stones would then steal this sound and use it on their next record, "Paint It Black".  (kk)

"Norwegian Wood" was the first use of sitar on one of our records, though during the filming of "Help!" there were some Indian musicians in a restaurant scene and I first messed around with one then.
Towards the end of the year, I'd kept hearing the name of Ravi Shankar.  I heard it several times and about the third time it was a friend of mine who said "Have you heard this person Ravi Shankar?  You may like the music."  So I went out and bought a record and that was it ... I thought it was incredible.
So I went and bought a sitar from a little shop at the top of Oxford Street called Indiacraft.  It was a real crummy quality one, actually, but I bought it and mucked about with it a bit.  Anyway, we were at the point where we'd recorded the "Norwegian Wood" backing track ... twelve string and six string acoustic, bass and drums ... and it needed something.  We would usually start looking through the cupboard to see if we could come up with something ... a new sound ... and I picked the sitar up ... it was just lying around ... I hadn't really figured out what to do with it.  It was quite spontaneous.  I found the notes that played the lick.  It fitted and it worked.  (George)

"Norwegian Wood" was about an affair I was having.  I was very careful and paranoid because I didn't want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside the household.  I'd always had some kind of affairs going on, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about the affair, but in such a smokescreen way that you couldn't tell.  I can't remember any specific woman it had to do with ... I was writing from my experiences ... girls' flats ... things like that.
George had jut got the sitar and I said "Could you play this piece?"  We went through many different versions of the song.  It was never right and I was getting very angry about it ... it just wasn't coming out like I said.  They said "Just do it how you want" and I did the guitar very loudly into the mike and sang it at the same time.  And then George had the sitar and I asked him could he play the piece that I'd written.  He was not sure whether he could play it yet because he hadn't done much on the sitar, but he was willing to have a go, as is his wont ... and he learnt the bit and dubbed it on after.  (John)

It was such a mind-blower that we had this strange instrument on a record.  We were all open to anything when George introduced the sitar, you could walk in with an elephant, as long as it was going to make a musical note.  Anything was viable.  Our whole attitude was changing.  We'd grown up a little, I think.  (Ringo)

YOU WON'T SEE ME - One of my favorite Paul LP tunes of all time ... and years later a hit for Anne Murray.  Catchy as can be ... and probably the track I've played the most from this LP. (It was reportedly written about his then-girlfriend Jane Asher giving him the cold shoulder and not returning his phone calls.)  This was one of the last tracks recorded for the LP, knocked out in just two takes as part of the final marathon recording session.  (kk)

NOWHERE MAN - And one of my LEAST favorite Beatles tracks of all time.  Still, I seemed to be in the minority on this one ... it became a Top Three Single here in The States ... and was probably most effectively used as Jeremy's theme in the animated film "Yellow Submarine".  (kk)
"Nowhere Man" was one of John's, coming from a big night the night before and getting to bed about five in the morning.  That was a great one.  He said, "I started one last night".  It turned out later that it was about me ... "He's a real nowhere man ..."  I maybe helped him with a word here or there, but he'd already got most of it.
Nobody ever had any notes written down ... we just used to sing a tune and it would come out good.  Part of the secret collaboration was that we like each other.  We liked singing at each other.  He'd sing something and I'd say, "Yeah" and trade off on that.  He'd say "Nowhere-land" and I'd say "For nobody".  It was a two-way thing.  (Paul)

I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good.  I was just sitting trying to think and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and going nowhere.  Once I'd thought of that, it was easy and it all came out.  No ... I remember now ... I'd actually stopped trying to think of something.  Nothing would come.  I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up.  Then I thought of myself as a Nowhere Man ... sitting in this Nowhere Land.
"Nowhere Man" came words and music, the whole damn thing.  The same with "In My Life".  I'd struggled for days and hours, trying to write clever lyrics.  Then I gave up and "In My Life" came to me ... letting it go is the whole game.  (John)

THINK FOR YOURSELF - George Harrison's first contribution to the album ... with an interesting fuzz bass line by Paul.  (kk)

Paul used a fuzz box on the bass on "Think For Yourself".  When Phil Spector was making "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah", the engineer who'd set up the track overloaded the microphone on the guitar player and it became very distorted.  Phil Spector said "Leave it like that ... it's great."  Some years later everyone started to try to copy that sound and so they invented the fuzz box.  We had one and tried the bass through it and it sounded really good.  (George)

THE WORD - Another one I've never been particularly fond of.  In hindsight, the precursor to "All You Need Is Love", I guess, which wouldn't come until two years later.  (kk)

It sort of dawned on me that love was the answer, when I was younger, on the "Rubber Soul" album.  My first expression of it was a song called "The Word".  The word is "love"  "In the good and the bad books I have read; whatever, whatever, the word is "love".  It seems like the underlying theme to the universe.  Everything that was worthwhile got down to this love, love, love thing.  And it is the struggle to love, be loved and express that just "something" above love that's fantastic.  I think that whatever else love is ... and it's many, many things ... it is constant.  It's been the same forever.  I don't think it will ever change.  Even though I'm not always a loving person, I want to be that ... I want to be as loving as possible.  (John)

"The Word" could be a Salvation Army song.  The word is 'Love' ... but it could be 'Jesus'.  It ISN'T, mind you ... but it could be.  (Paul)

MICHELLE - A sure-fire #1 Hit single had Capitol or Parlophone decided to go that route.  Instead, the duo of David and Jonathan (songwriters and producers Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook) recorded it ... and saw it peak at #12.  (kk)

I wrote the middle eight of "Michelle", one of Paul's songs.  He and I were staying somewhere and he walked in and hummed the first few bars, with the words and he says "Where do I go from here?"  I had been listening to Nina Simone ... I think it was "I Put A Spell On You" ... there's a line in it that went "I love you, I love you, I love you."  That's what made me think of the middle eight.  "I love you, I love you, I l-o-ove you." 
My contribution to Paul's songs was always to add a little bluesy edge to them.  Otherwise "Michelle" is a straight ballad.  He provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the sadness, the discords, the bluesy notes.  There was a period when I thought I didn't write melodies; that Paul wrote those and I just wrote straight, shouting rock and roll.  But of course when I think of some of my own songs ... "In My Life" or some of the early stuff, "This Boy" ... I was writing melody with the best of them.  (John)

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The melody to "In My Life" has always been a point of contention between Lennon and McCartney.  In 1980, John did an interview with "Playboy Magazine", detailing who wrote what for The Beatles.  When Paul was shown the list, he made a few amendments, most notably the music to "In My Life", which he says he composed completely on his own on a mellotron at Lennon's house. (See "In My Life" comments for more on this.)  kk

We'd just put out "Michelle" and I remember one night at The Ad Lib Club David Bailey hearing it and saying "You've GOT to be joking ... it IS tongue in cheek, isn't it?"  My reaction was "Piss off!  That's a real tune", and was quite surprised that he'd think that.  Looking at the sixties now, I can see why he did, because everything was very "Needles And Pins", "Please Please Me" and suddenly ... "Michelle".  It came a bit out of left field, but those are often my favorites.  (Paul)

WHAT GOES ON - A complete throw-away ... but finally a chance for Ringo to join his bandmates in the songwriting arena.  Reportedly, this was an old, resurrected Lennon - McCartney track discarded ages ago ... and nobody really seems to know for sure what Ringo contributed to the collaboration ... but it became his first songwriting credit.  (kk)

GIRL - One of the prettiest (and lushly produced) John Lennon ballads ... and of course we ALL know about the "tit-tit-tit-tit" tongue-in-cheek background vocals!  (kk)

"Girl" is real.  There is no such thing as THE girl ... she was a dream ... but the words are all right. It wasn't just a song and it was about THAT girl ... that turned out to be Yoko in the end ... the one we were all looking for.
It's about "Was she taught when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure ... did she understand it?  Sort of philosophy quotes I was thinking about when I wrote it.  I was trying to say something or other about Christianity, which I was opposed to at the time because I was brought up in the church.
I was pretty heavy on the church in both books, but it was never picked up, although it was obviously there.  I was talking about Christianity in that you have to be tortured to attain heave.  That was the Catholic Christian concept ... be tortured and then it'll be all right ... which seems to be true, but not in their concept of it.  I didn't believe in that ... that you HAVE to be tortured to attain anything.  It just so happens that you are.
We've always done dirty little things on records.  In "Girl" The Beatles were singing "Tit-Tit-Tit-Tit" in the background and nobody noticed.  (John)

I'M LOOKING THROUGH YOU - My album had the false start intro ... which is the only way I knew this song until the '70's when it came to light that this was an anomaly.  To this day, it's the ONLY way this song sounds right to me.
The Beatles remade this track a total of three times before hitting on the version that finally made the LP.  The others are quite radically different ... proving that the lads weren't going to give up on a good song idea ... they'd just keep working it until they found something that fit!   (kk)

IN MY LIFE - Perhaps John Lennon's greatest achievement with The Beatles as a songwriter ... although it is said that Paul composed the music for this one and Lennon handled the lyrics.  If this is the case, one of the best TRUE Lennon and McCartney collaborations of all time.  (kk)

Most of the time we wrote together.  We'd go and lock ourselves away and say, "OK, what have we got?"  John might have half an idea, something like for "In My Life":  'There are places I remember ...' I think he had that first as a lyric, like a poem, 'Places I Remember'... and we'd work out the extra melody needed and the main theme and by the end of three or four hours we nearly always had it cracked!  I can't remember coming away from one of those session not having finished a song.  (Paul)

George Martin had a very great musical knowledge and background and he could translate for us and suggest a lot of things.  He'd come up with amazing technical things, slowing down the piano and things like that.
In "In My Life" there's an Elizabethan piano solo ... we'd do things like that.  We'd say "Play like Bach" or "Could you put twelve bars in there?"  (John)

PRODUCER GEORGE MARTIN:  "In My Life" is one of my favorite songs because it is so much John.  A super track and such a simple song.  There's a bit where John couldn't decide what to do in the middle and while they were having their teabreak, I put down a baroque piano solo which John didn't hear until he came back.  What I wanted was too intricate for me to do live, so I did it with a half-speed piano, then sped it up, and he liked it.

"In My Life" was, I think, my first real, major piece of work.  Up until then it had all been glib and throw-away.  I had one mind that wrote books and another mind that churned out things about "I love you" and "you love me" because that's how Paul and I did it.  I'd always tried to make some sense of the words but I never really cared.
It was the first song that I wrote that was really, consciously, about my life.  It was sparked by a remark a journalist and writer in England made after "In His Own Write" came out.  He said to me, "Why don't you put some of the way you write in the book in the songs?  Or why don't you put something about your childhood into the songs?"
I wrote the lyrics first and then sang it.  That was usually the case with things like "In My Life" and "Across The Universe" and some of the ones that stand out a bit.
It started out as a bus journey from my house on 251 Menlove Avenue to town.  I had a complete set of lyrics, naming every sight.  It became "In My Life", a remembrance of friends and lovers of the past.  Paul helped me with the middle eight musically."  (John)

Funnily enough, this is one of the only songs John and I disagree on.  I remember writing the melody on a mellotron that was parked on his hall landing.  (Paul)

Most of my good songs are in the first person ... "In My Life", "I'm A Loser", "Help!", "Strawberry Fields" ... they're all personal records.  I always wrote about me when I could.  I didn't really enjoy writing third-person songs about people who lived in concrete flats and things like that.  I like first-person music.  But because of my hang-ups and many other things, I would only now and then write specifically about me.  (John)

WAIT - I've always lumped "Wait" and "The Word" together ... as the weakest tracks on this LP.  This track was originally recorded for the "Help!" soundtrack ... but then shelved and not used.  (kk)

IF I NEEDED SOMEONE - One of my all-time George favorites ... I feel this one measures up to just about anything Lennon and McCartney had created up to this point.  Great melody ... great guitar (reminiscent of what The Byrds were doing here in America at the time) ... and great vocals.  What's not to like???  (Later covered by The Hollies in Great Britain ... and Chicago's own Cryan' Shames here in America.)  kk

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE - Although John HATED this song, it was one of my favorites ... next to "You Won't See Me", the track I played the most.  (Even did it with my high school band)  I remember hearing this one on the radio quite a bit at the time, too.  (kk) 

I never liked "Run For Your Life" because it was a song I just knocked off.  It was inspired from - this is a very vague connection - "Baby, Let's Play House".  There was a line on it:  "I'd rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man", so I wrote it around that.  I didn't think it was all that important, but it was always a favorite of George's.  (John)

(Note:  The US album also included "I've Just Seen A Face" and "It's Only Love", two holdovers from the British "Help!" album ... but omitted "Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "What Goes On" and "If I Needed Someone".  "Nowhere Man" and "What Goes On" were paired as a single in March of 1966 while "Drive My Car" and "If I Needed Someone" were saved for the "Yesterday ... And Today" album, which also included several of The Beatles' recent US singles ... and a couple of advance tracks from "Revolver", which wouldn't be released until August of '66.)  kk

The Beatles Story ... in their own words ...


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From our readers ...

What a cool way to enjoy the Forgotten Hits salute to "Rubber Soul" ...

Hi Kent -  
Enjoying your Rubber Soul article with my favorite coffee cup ;-)  

Thanks for your continued efforts to keep this music alive and well.
Mike Stineman
Much has been made over the past fifty years about the distorted photograph used on the album cover ... but have you ever wondered what the ORIGINAL, uncropped photo looked like?

Hi Kent- 
Re: Rubber Soul at 50 ...
This photo appeared just a few years ago.
Love your blog!
- Mike Lane