RNR Globe’s exclusive chat with the esteemed host of SiriusXM’s Breakfast With The Beatles
On Paul McCartney’s birthday, Sir Paul called Chris Carter. On Ringo Starr’s birthday celebration at the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles, Chris Carter was the only person granted an interview with Sir Richard.
For the last two decades, these kinds of Beatles-related occurrences are commonplace for Carter. He hosts Breakfast with the Beatles weekday mornings on SiriusXM’s The Beatles Channel (8am-11am EST) and on Sunday mornings on Los Angeles’ KLOS (9am-12pm PST), purportedly the first and longest-running Breakfast with the Beatles program, of which there are many iterations across US terrestrial radio. Plus, he hosts Chris Carter’s British Invasion Saturday afternoons (12pm-4pm EST), which is rebroadcast on Sunday afternoons (4pm-8pm EST) via “Little Steven” Van Zandt’s Underground Garage Channel on SiriusXM, where The Beatles’ music frequently pops up. Carter, however, does not take any Beatles-related interaction for granted.
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The one-time owner of the independent New Jersey record store Looney Tunez, former bass player for Dramarama, sometimes band manager, and producer of the Rodney Bingenheimer documentary, Mayor of the Sunset Strip, has found his calling as a radio DJ. His encyclopedic knowledge of not just The Beatles, but all music of British origin has turned into a solid livelihood for Carter.
In the garage-turned-man-cave of his Los Angeles home, every inch of space screams: music fanatic/aficionado. The memorabilia here is not geared toward the casual fan who might pick up a Beatles lunchbox manufactured this century from a novelty shop. Besides stacks of vinyl of all sizes and speeds, framed posters and autographs photographs, guitars and wacky lamps, there are seriously culled objects you wouldn’t even know existed. As packed as this space is, everything is artfully arranged and immaculately kept. This space may have been a playroom at one point, but now, it serves as Carter’s office where he and his associate producer work on his weekly shows.
How is what you do different to a conventional radio DJ?
I was always the guy who would make you mixtapes and mix CDs. What I used to do on the side, I now do for a living. With Breakfast with the Beatles I have 60 songs every day, six days a week, with Chris Carter’s British Invasion, that’s 80 songs a week. That is about 400 songs a week I’m handpicking, putting sets together, researching and talking about. There is a standard I live by and I want the shows to have a certain quality. To achieve that, it is 15 hours of work a day. I have picked every song I’ve ever played, otherwise I couldn’t do it.
How do you keep your Breakfast with the Beatles shows fresh day in and day out, week in and week out?
Since I do it on a daily basis, I look at the date and see what the Beatles were doing. They were together for a decade. No matter what day you pick, something happened, whether it was in ’64, ’65, ’66, ’67. You make something of it. You tell a story, and that keeps it fresh.
What is an example of that?
In 1969 The Beatles were recording this George Harrison song, “Old Brown Shoe.” George was playing bass, which is weird, and Paul is playing the piano. That’s only about a minute, but you’re going to make “Old Brown Shoe” that much more interesting, as opposed to hearing it for the 1000th time and nobody tells you anything about it. Because it was 50 years ago today, people can wrap their head around that.
You also have themed days of the week on Breakfast with the Beatles that allow for Beatles-related music.
I have Mellow Monday Mornings—which we’ve stopped for the summer. I have Friends & Family Fridays. I find excuses to play Julian Lennon. Sean Lennon makes great records. I can play Badfinger, Harry Nilsson, Jeff Lynne, any of the Beatles’ friends. And I talk about it. There are some great Sean Lennon songs that are just like John that would freak you out. They’re hidden on albums that unless you bought that album and found it, you might have never known.
That’s another thing your job is as a disc jockey, if there’s a killer Julian Lennon song hidden on some album or Paul’s son James did an EP with a great cover of “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young, it’s up to you as the DJ to bring this out for people. If there is a Sean Lennon song that sounds like a Revolver song, I’m going out of my way to say, “Listen to this song, it sounds like “I’m Almost Sleeping’.” People don’t have the time to find that song. You’ve got to put it in context.
How do you keep Breakfast with the Beatles entertaining for both self-proclaimed Beatles experts and pop culture Beatles fan?
You don’t want to bore people with a bunch of trivia. It’s a fine line to walk when you’re talking to the hardcore Beatles fans and at the same time, you’re talking to a guy who has one Beatles album. You can’t talk down to one and be condescending to the other. You really have to not come off as a know-it-all. You have to be funny. That’s another thing about the Beatles, they were very funny. It was humor with everything, so if you get too serious about your Beatles, it can be really dry and not fun. You have to keep humor at the forefront.
Do you have that same ethos on Chris Carter’s British Invasion?
There’s nothing worse than somebody showing up a bunch of facts they didn’t write in the first place. They’re just facts that happened. I didn’t create them. You don’t want to be a geek. I’m just trying to tell you about them in a way that’s palatable and that’s fun and that’s going to make sense in what you’re hearing. Something I might enjoy if I heard it. Again, you can come off the wrong way, and that’s the last thing you want to do. You want to be likable and funny. I always go the humorous route instead of the serious route because the audience stay with you a little bit more.
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Can you illustrate what you present with Chris Carter’s British Invasion?
“Little Steven” created British Invasion show for me. It’s everything British rock ‘n’ roll. The actual ’64 to ’66 British Invasion and everything the British Invasion spawned or influenced. It’s mainly hardcore British Invasion: Beatles, Kinks, Who, Small Faces, then ‘70s glitter and glam: David Bowie, T. Rex, Slade, Mott the Hoople. The rest of it is BritPop: Oasis, Blur, up to right now with the brand new cool British band, so we’ll have Liam Gallagher, for instance. And then we go back to the ‘50s with Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, the whole British Elvis thing.
Do you have themes for Chris Carter’s British Invasion as well?
I’m a double Virgo so I can’t put a set of music together without having a theme of some sort. I just can’t play random songs. This week is the A to Z of the British Invasion: The Animal, The Beatles, The Creation, Dave Clarke Five…
Even with six Breakfast with the Beatles shows a week, you manage to also play them on your non-Beatles shows. How do you think their music continues to find fans in every generation after them?
It happens organically. It’s not me that reaches them, it’s the music. The thing about the Beatles, which is unlike all other rock ‘n’ roll groups in the world, and it has always been this way, if you were seven, you liked them, if you 17, you liked them, and if you were a 37-year-old housewife, you liked them. That’s unheard of.
Since day one people have been trying to figure out since what it was about these songs that are so lasting and iconic. To this day, you’ll find a six-year-old kid whose parents will play The Beatles for them and the minute they hear “Yellow Submarine” or “Penny Lane” or they see The Yellow Submarine cartoons, they’re attracted to it. It’s the quality. It’s not that the music is juvenile. If anything, it’s sophisticated. Kids like sophisticated, cool things.
When you go to see Paul McCartney in concert, you’ll see the family, you’ll see the guy in the tie-dye shirt and the big grey ponytail, you’ll see the yuppie guy who pulled up in his Bimmer. You’ll see a cross-section. That’s the way the Beatles always were. When you go see the Rolling Stones, you don’t see seven-year-old kids singing “Sister Morphine.” They’re singing “Penny Lane.” The Beatles put out 1, their greatest hits in 2000, and it was the biggest selling record of the 21st century.
How do you feel films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman and Yesterday are impacting popular culture and cultivating new audiences for those artists?
As time goes on, the fans that grew up with certain music and musicians pass away. Once the people that lived the generation are gone and you lose your connection, there is no one to tell you about them. Now you can watch biopics on Queen and Elton John and that is what is going to keep the legacy of all these artists. Yesterday is a perfect example of Danny Boyle, who is a Beatles fan, keeping the Beatles music in the public eye.
You have interviewed the individual members of The Beatles, with the exception of John Lennon, who was before your time, on numerous occasions. How do you keep the conversation from being too nostalgic for them, but still engaging for their fans?
I have interviewed Pete Best so I say I interviewed four Beatles. You have a million questions. How do you ask the right question? How do you keep them interested? I always ask them random stuff. When Paul called me unexpectedly on his birthday—which is nuts—he has a new song called “Frank Sinatra’s Party,” so I asked him if he remembered the song Frank Sinatra wrote especially for Ringo’s wife Maureen in 1968. Someone told Frank that Maureen loved Sinatra more than The Beatles so on her birthday, he changed “The Lady is a Tramp” to “The Lady is a Champ” with the lyrics: “She married Ringo/And she could have had Paul.” Paul’s response was, “No, get out of here”—you’ll find that The Beatles know nothing about The Beatles, which is really very frustrating—and he asked me to send me the song.
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