Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Beatles





My favorite band of all time. Ever.

There, we've gotten that out of the way. Ever since I started this blog, I've been planning on writing posts expounding on my favorite bands and musicians, one by one. I've done some posts dedicated to some of them, but I have yet to begin writing the in-depth posts on each. This is the first, and I might as well start with the *ONE* band that occupies the highest point on my ranking of all-time bands...even the other timeless bands are just *this much* below The Beatles. It has to be that way...it just does.

I'm not going to bore you, my readers, with the history of the band; it's been chronicled endlessly over the last 50 years and will continue to be until the end of time. In a nutshell, they all grew up knowing each other in Liverpool, England. They properly founded the band in 1960, released their first single in 1962, and produced as nearly flawless an output as is possible until 1970.  To this day, they remain vital, timeless, and hugely popular, both with those old enough to have been listening while it was happening, as well as those too young to have experienced the magic firsthand.  They were the first band to be a self-contained unit, writing all of their own songs and playing their own instruments. In John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they had not just two extremely gifted songwriters and lyricists, but two gifted COMPOSERS. The music they wrote was, is, and always will be timeless. When you hear a Beatles song being played by an orchestra, a string quartet, or a simple acoustic guitar, even without words, you immediately know what song it is and the sound is not just that of a rock and roll song, but of a piece of music that can be appreciated by anyone, of any age, anywhere.  Everyone, EVERYWHERE, knows who The Beatles are and knows many, many of their songs. Even if you're not a fan, you know The Beatles.

They also pioneered the use and expansion of the recording studio in ways no one had done before. Prior to The Beatles, the studio was used to capture as live a sound as was possible. If you could play it onstage, you could get the same sound on tape. They were the first band to use the studio to create new sound textures and effects, which in turn expanded the mood and feel of their music. Now, music too complex for 4 guys to simply walk onstage and play could be created in the studio. The fact that they did what they did with primitive (by current standards) equipment makes it all the more mind-boggling, especially now. For instance, Sgt. Pepper was recorded entirely to 4-track tape. Mull on that for a while and try to wrap your head around it...amazing, no?

I'll get into some specific examples of the magic of their music, but first I'd like to explain my personal connection to the band. I grew up constantly listening to music...my parents always had music playing, and my mum always tells the story about how my dad had taught me the different bands so that when we'd go into a record store, I could name all of the bands on the posters as a toddler. Listening to my parents vinyl and cassettes, and to the radio, I grew up loving all sorts of great music, including The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and many other personal favorites (who will be the subjects of future posts). But the band I always zeroed in on were The Beatles. Then, in 1987 when their albums were first released on CD, my uncle (himself a huge Beatles fan) made tape copies of all of the albums and gave them to me and my brother.  Up until then, I'd only ever heard the songs that were played on the radio. Now, I could listen to EVERY song The Beatles had ever recorded and released, and man, was I blown away. Apart from a (small) handful of songs that were only just okay, they were ALL GREAT.  I am and always have been a sucker for a great hook and vocal harmonies, and The Beatles had these in spades. From the melodies to the harmonies, the musicianship to the lyrics, and everything else, I was absolutely smitten.  In 1990, I decided I wanted to start playing an instrument, mainly due to The Beatles. I started originally on bass but moved on to guitar, and taught myself to play by playing along to Beatles records, as well as records by loads of other bands. Ditto for my lifelong love of singing...I spent countless hours singing and re-singing Beatles songs...I'd sing the main part, then I'd replay the song and sing each individual harmony part one after another. I still do that to this day, and it's a major reason why I know every word to every Beatles song!  I even grew my hair into a Beatles haircut as a teenager, which wasn't easy since I was cursed with thick curly Greek hair, but I sported that for a while in high school and was damn proud of it.

I've been an Anglophile, especially musically, my entire life (and that's going to be the subject of another post in the future...sensing a trend here?) and The Beatles are amongst the British bands that encapsulate why I love British rock music. It (British rock music) is the perfect (and honestly, only) amalgam of American jazz and blues, country, rock, R&B, Music Hall, classical, and folk (both American and British) that is able to synthesize it all into a sound unlike any other.  Instead of trying to go on and on about it, which has been done to death in countless books, I'll just let the music speak for itself with some of my favorite songs (notice I said *some*; there are FAR too many for me to include them all).


The first song on their first album and still an ass-kicking rock song

 
I still get super excited when I hear this one start!

           
The one that started them off huge in the USA...this is still a GREAT song.



From their 4th album, showing a maturing songwriting and story-telling talent




                 
Just a great song

                      
Another favorite, this time introducing Indian instrumentation into rock music



                      
The first acid-rock song. Killer bass and drums in this one. And it was a B-side!

                       
Universally acknowledged as their best song ever. The height of psychedelia.

                       
Hard to pick between this and Strawberry Fields Forever (they were a double-A-side single in early 1967)



                 
One of my favorite songs of theirs




One of my favorite songs, by anyone EVER...this has gotten me through so many tough times. It was John Lennon's favorite song that Paul ever wrote...that means a lot.



                          
One of my all-time favorites of theirs. Gorgeous all around.

                                          
Another classic. This one rocks...play it loud!

                                      
The beginning of the "Big Medley" on Abbey Road, and a great song weaving different sections together.

                          
Another kick-ass rocker, from the Rooftop Concert. Again, PLAY LOUD!


I honestly could have picked another 50 songs, these are just a handful of classics and favorites.  I really don't know what else to add...these guys were not just a mere rock band, they blazed just about every trail: the first self-contained band to play all of their own instruments live and in the studio, the first to write all of their own material, to co-produce themselves (along with the only person who can truly be called "the fifth Beatle," legendary producer George Martin), the first to play big headlining tours in huge indoor and outdoor venues, and the first to be mass-marketed with all of the merchandising. They also pioneered so many recording techniques, both specific to their songs as well as techniques that have now become commonplace in studios (ADT, flanging, phasing, tape loops, sampling, varispeeding, etc). They led the way in fashion with their hair, clothes, styles, as well as with their classic album art and packaging (they were the first band to have albums with no band name on the front [Rubber Soul], no title or any writing [Abbey Road, The Beatles], full bleed covers [Abbey Road], inserts [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles, Let it Be, Magical Mystery Tour], printed lyrics [Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles], etc) not to mention the loads of iconic photos and album covers [ie the half-shadow cover for With the Beatles]. The list could go on and on...

...just like their music always will!

10 comments:

  1. Timely post! I've been going through their catalogue (I have the 2009 stereo remasters) the last few weeks, mainly because the Beatles are one of three artists that calm my four-month-old down when he's crying (the other two are Frank Sinatra and Earth, Wind & Fire...go figure).

    The Beatles are the greatest pop/rock band of all time. That's the beginning and the end of it.

    I reread your post about your favorite Beatle being Paul, and I have to agree. A few notes on that:

    1) Paul wrote "Let It Be," probably the Beatlsiest of all Beatles songs, in my opinion. He wins for that alone.

    2) John's lyrics...kind of suck during the latter half of their career (Revolver on). Sure, "I Am The Walrus," "Across The Universe," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Dig A Pony," "Come Together," and "All You Need Is Love," for example, are great songs, the lyrics are pretty much meangingless, drug-fueled navel-gazing hippie gibberish. Paul's lyrics, on the otehr hand, always sound like he spent a lot of time on them: they are clever, heartfelt, thought-provoking, and sometimes even cute. Paul for the win (though John's lyrics for "Revolution" are brilliant).

    3) Paul, throughout his entire Beatles career, and up until today, can write honest, sincere, non-ironic and non-cynical love songs. I like that.

    Favorite Beatle:
    1) Paul
    2) George
    3) John
    4) Ringo (though it kills me to put him "last")

    Favorite Albums:
    1) Abbey Road
    2) Revolver
    3) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
    4) White Album
    5) A Hard Day's Night
    6) Rubber Soul
    7) Let It Be
    8) Magical Mystery Tour
    9) Please Please Me
    10) Help!
    11) With the Beatles
    12) Beatles for Sale
    13) Yellow Submarine

    I'm not counting the Past Masters albums here, or Let It Be...Naked, or the Anthologies, or the Greatest Hits, or Live at the BBC, or any bootlegs. And these rankings are subject to change daily.

    Well, that about covers it for me!

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  2. Well said! Paul could be/can be a calculating and ruthless bastard according to many, but you have to admit he's absolutely brilliant in terms of musical talent and deserves to be the most lauded and successful songwriter and composer of the 20th century. One knock on him from Lennon was that he (John) usually wrote very direct lyrics, while Paul tended to wrap his feelings/statements up in more obscure layers of lyrics. So it's interesting you said what you did about how Paul's lyrics get to you :-)

    My lists change constantly, but for me lately:

    Favorite Beatle:
    1) Paul
    2) John
    3) George and Ringo

    (I love 'em all, can't put anyone last!)

    Favorite albums:
    1) The Beatles (White Album)
    2) Sgt. Pepper
    3) Revolver
    4) Rubber Soul
    5) A Hard Day's Night
    6) Please Please Me
    7) Magical Mystery Tour
    8) Abbey Road
    9) With the Beatles
    10) Beatles for Sale
    11) Help!
    12) Let it Be
    13) Yellow Submarine

    but again, I love them all in their own way.

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  3. I dunno about Paul's lyrics being obtuse. I can kind of see where John was coming from, but at least they form a coherent narrative. I mean, what does "Sun King" mean? "Across the Universe"? "Come Together"? "Because"? "Dig A Pony"? Whereas "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "Ob-la-di Ob-la-da," Here, There, and Everywhere," etc. seem to be pretty direct to me. I love Paul.

    What do you think of Let It Be...Naked? I think it's a bit of a mixed bag. Personally, I find the version of "Let It Be" inferior to the version on Past Masters 2, or even the one much-maligned Let It Be album. I like "I, Me, Mine" and "The Long And Winding Road" much better without the strings and choir. "Across The Universe" actually doesn't bother me with the Phil Spector overdubs; that said, I find the Past Masters version (John and Yoko's backing vocals) superior to the Let It Be...Naked one. What say you?

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    Replies
    1. Lennon readily admitted many of his lyrics were garbage (he cited Dig a Pony in particular). Funny you mention Across the Universe, that was one he always cited as a favorite of his own.

      I like LIB...Nekkid, it's got some good cuts on it, and I agree with you on Long and Winding Road and I Me Mine. However, it was a bit of an ego-trip for Paul as, while Phil Spector did overdo Let It Be (George Martin famously said that it should have been credited "Produced by George Martin, Overproduced by Phil Spector"), I've listened to loads of the Let It Be rehearsals and outtakes, and a lot of it is just crap. The best non-overdubbed bits ended up on the album...quite a lot of fixing was necessary to make it a legit album.

      BTW, 2 corrections: the version of Let it Be on the original album is the same as the single version on Past Masters 2...only the solo overdub is different. And the original Across the Universe from 1968 has 2 Apple Scruffs Paul dragged in from the sidewalk on backing vocals, no Yoko :-)

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  4. Huh. I always thought that was Yoko on the high backing vocals. Hah!

    Regarding "Let It Be," I thought that was what I said. I guess I didn't specify that the solos were different (which I should have).

    "Overproduced by Phil Spector," haha! I like that. Also, Let It Be is the only Beatles album to be produced by A MURDERER. Just a little factoid of rock n' roll trivia for ya!

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  5. Yeah, Phil Spector was a wacko from way back...read some of the stories of when he "produced" John Lennon's solo stuff in the early to mid-70s...what a nutjob!

    I've been re-watching the Anthology DVDs and pulled out my huge hardbound Anthology book, too. Great, great stuff. I am hoping this new Beatles Live! Project that is slated to be released next year is as good (I am pretty sure it will be!).

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  6. I recently listened to the three Beatles Anthology discs for the first time in a very long time, and I have to say that they are excellent, particularly 1 and 2. 3 drags a little, especially on the first side, where it's mostly acoustic White Album demos (interesting, but not revelatory, and on the whole, 3 has precious few "unreleased" or "coveted" recordings, although "Come And Get It" and "Not Guilty" are cool ("What's The New Mary Jane" is terrible, and I am very happy it never made it onto an official Beatles album).

    In general, these discs strike a great balance of being a history of the band and being listenable, especially the first two with their intermixing of live performances with audio clips and demos or working versions of songs of a particular era. And the demos, on the most part, are very listenable! Whoever edited these discs did a fantastic job; it's remeniscent of Frank Zappa's You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1, where performances by his earlier groups melded seamlessly into peformances by his later groups--sometimes mid-song--with stage patter and audio thrown in for good measure. These are great discs for true Beatles fanatics, though if you don't fit that bill, you'd probably be bored to tears.

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    1. Not Guilty totally should've been on the White Album. Mary Jane, too...it's MILES better than Revolution 9. Leave My Kitten Alone should've bumped Mr. Moonlight off of Beatles For Sale, and I really like That Means a Lot, would've loved it on Help! Agree on Come and Get It, too...that would've been great on Abbey Road, but I read that John turned it down.

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  7. Yeah, "That Means A Lot" is good. I also like "If You've Got Trouble."

    I dunno, I kind of like "Revolution 9"; it's like the soundtrack to a really creepy horror film. Maybe if "Mary Jane" was finished, it couldn've been better?

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    1. I don't mind Revolution 9 in doses...it's kind of interesting. Mary Jane *was* finished, man :-).

      If You've Got Trouble is ok, but the lyrics are pretty shit and it does reek of a mailed-in writing job, which Paul and John readily admitted later on. The fact that Ringo says "ah, rock on, anybody!" speaks to how lame they knew it felt.

      My holy grails are still to hear Carnival of Light, the 27-minute Helter Skelter, and the original slow Roy Orbison version of Please Please Me. Also the full band attempts at Yesterday they made

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