The beatles and fashion
"Roll up, roll up for the Mystery Tour!"
Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Beatles fanatic (even if the Beatles are my favourite band) and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Beatles fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
I seem to remember almost perfectly that important moment when I finally and firmly established my ties with music. I was rummaging through my Dad's record collection one day, mainly just to wonder at the pretty pictures on the sleeves, when suddenly, upon disclosing the gatefold of Magical Mystery Tour and briefly glancing through the printed lyrics, my gaze fell upon a bizarre chorus that went 'I am the walrus GOO GOO GOO JOOB'. Much to my honour, I already knew what 'walrus' meant in English (animal picture books were among my first foreign reading), but the meaning of 'GOO GOO GOO JOOB' totally escaped me. (I suppose I'm not alone in that one, but it took some time to realize that). In fact, I was so intrigued I insisted upon the song being played to me - and then insisted upon the song being played to me one more time - and one more - and again - and again - and then they misplaced the LP player needle so that it captured the last few seconds of 'Your Mother Should Know' - and again - and then I wanted to play that song, too - and then the whole record - and then I borrowed a tape which had MMT on one side - and Sergeant Pepper on the other - and if not for that, I wouldn't be sitting here and reviewing Styx and Uriah Heep for yer pleasure.
I suppose practically everyone has got a story like this one to tell, although, of course, not everybody got his musical breakthrough with the Beatles. Many people did, though; fewer in the States and the UK, where rock music has been the norm of the day since God knows when, much and many more in other countries, particularly in the former "second world", where the Beatles had been one of the main symbols of spiritual resistance since the day they could be first heard on those territories. But that was a long time ago, by my current age measures, at least. Today, the situation is different, and the whole cultural paradigm has been so saturated with Beatles music, Beatles allusions, and Beatles references, that getting tired of the Beatles is a natural reaction. Once, I remember my being able to take a single album, like A Hard Day's Night, for instance, and playing it six or seven times straight in a row - no breaks, no intermissions, nothing; not even the Rolling Stones, my "number two" at that time, could boast the same (and, just so as to sweep out the myth about how the 'big four' on this site happen to simply be my childhood favs, I'd like to mention that Dylan came into my life at a much later date - maybe when I was around 17 or 18 - and as for the Who, the very first time I heard my very first Who songs - and hated them - was around the age of 21). Today, despite still having a bunch of Beatles songs in my regular playlist, out of politeness, I guess, there's very little desire in me to put on any Beatles album, even including the archive ones that came out relatively recently and couldn't have been digested when I was young. More than that: I actively cringe at the mere suggestion of putting on a Beatles album (by a guest at a party, for instance), and the sight of somebody having an active emotional response to 'Yesterday' - in all seriousness - turns me upside down. Oversaturation can do that to a man, yes. And I'm not the only one. The Beatles are huge; they're still huge after more than thirty years of non-existence, and they still have that amazing unifying power, bringing together the old and the young (as I could perfectly witness at the recent McCartney concert in Moscow), the English-speaking and the non-English-speaking, and, perhaps most important of all, the "elitist" and the "layman"; only recently I watched a heated TV debate between a raffinated classically trained pianist and a low-profile teen-pop manager scum, both of whom desperately tried to prove their supremacy by trying to bring the Beatles on their side. (I.e. the eternal argument of "this is genius from God!" vs. "this is cool entertainment for us teenies!"). And, as with all things huge, the hugeness is perfect reason for a backlash, a backlash that seems to grow wider and wider in recent years, but at the same time is still mostly restricted to people with a very active interest in music as opposed to people whose life does not necessarily center around music. "The Beatles are everything" is the kind of approach that tickles the nerves of the backlashers most of all. True enough, art does not grow in a vacuum. The Beatles did open a new page in popular music and did go on to become a major influence on millions of people, musicians as well as non-musicians, but the Beatles did not appear out of nowhere. Hence the school of thought that insists upon meticulously studying all the "innovations" and "revolutions" the Beatles are usually given credit for (and sometimes even those they're not given credit for) and proving that most, or even all, of them were appropriated by the Beatles rather than invented by them. Hence also the school of thought that insists the Beatles did not have any 'progressive' value at all, but were actually taking things that, in the hands of others, were bold and daring, and watered them down for harmless and inoffensive mass consumption. I am not going to dedicate this introduction to studying the arguments of the first school of thought in detail. Many of them are, technically, quite true. The Beatles did not invent rock music; they took it ready made from their Fifties' idols. The Beatles did not invent "seriousness" in pop; they learned it from Bob Dylan. The Beatles did not invent psychedelia; they were influenced by its first sprouts on the West Coast and elsewhere. And they weren't even the first pop band to proclaim their independence from corporate songwriting (you could name the Beach Boys and the Dave Clark Five here, among others). True, the use of a sitar on 'Norwegian Wood' does seem to be the first such recorded event, but, first of all, Indian influences, including sitar imitation, had been attested earlier (see the Kinks' 'See My Friends', for instance), and second, there's absolutely no guarantee that someday they won't unearth some totally obscure, limited-release-thirty-copies-only single by some garage band from Tupelo or wherever that happens to feature a sitar that one of the band members borrowed from his Dad, an aficionado of exotic instruments. Who knows? Fact is - it doesn't matter. The uniqueness and true greatness and innovation of the Beatles does not lie in the technical characteristics of their music. Yes, lots and lots of these technical elements were already present in music before the Beatles got around to them. But it took the Beatles, and nobody else, to make The People aware of these elements, to bring them home and make them seem generally acceptable where earlier they'd simply look like bizarre elitist novelty. It took the Beatles to make psychedelia spread like a "holy disease" all around the world instead of being locked up within the confines of Frisco or London's UFO club. It took the Beatles to make people believe pop music was more than just a form of shallow, temporary entertainment - here today, gone tomorrow. And it took the Beatles to make people believe, if only for a few years, that music could actually change the world. When it comes to discussing art, there are usually two positions. The "ivory tower" theory says that true art is the domain of the few; that people should actually work hard to "understand" art, and a single attempt to try and make "art" more accessible to the majority will kill its very essence. Ninety-nine percent of Beatles haters (or even "dislikers") I've had a chance of meeting live at the very top of that ivory tower (and the remaining one percent - IMHO! - were loonies). At best, they might look at the Fab Four with a certain condescension: "they're okay, but who needs them when we can listen to Captain Beefheart instead?"; at worst, they're like Internet wiz Piero Scaruffi, blaming them for steering the world away from "true" artistic revolution. I, however, never liked that theory, despite understanding and respecting the position of those who share it, and far prefer "the golden middle" - the approach that involves combining gradual evolution and innovation with traditional musical values. Radical revolutions suck, not only in political life, but in art as well; traditions do not appear out of thin air, they reflect certain natural tendencies in people's minds, and totally discarding traditional forms in favour of something previously unheard before is much like somebody discarding the traditional way of walking down the stret in favour of, say, crawling on all fours - just because this makes him different from the regular "sheep herd". And no other band in rock history, not to my knowledge at least, symbolized "the golden middle" as perfectly as the Beatles. They could take traditional forms - rock'n'roll, Tin Pan Alley, lounge muzak even - and imbue them with new content, as well as pour old content into new forms. They could take the psychedelic form and show, in a popular and accessible way, just why this form actually needed to be invented in the first place. And they did this with lots of things. Actually, if there's one phenomenon they truly innovated, it was the idea of constant development and self-improvement: no other band in the Sixties went through as many phases and stages as the Beatles (although many tried to "keep up"). Before the Beatles, a band or solo artist would develop a certain style or image, a "niche", and stick with it to the very end. Just how many Fifties' rockers or popsters, for instance, managed to make the transition into the next decade with a new artistic face on? After the Beatles, this became, if not the norm, then at least a frequently tried-on attitude. Sure would have been no David Bowie without the Fabs. In other words, one's position towards the Beatles can be evaluated from the point of view of the classic 'bottle half full'/'bottle half empty' dichotomy. For some people, the Beatles are musical criminals who took the artistic achievements of others and rendered them toothless and regressive by putting them within a frame of Grandpa/Grandma musical values so as to distract the average Joe from the truly great intellectual happenings of his era. But for other people, the Beatles are musical heroes who could take the artistic achievements of others and render them meaningful, emotionally resonant, and socially unifying by showing how well they could function within a traditional frame as well. And you can guess which confession I'm subscribing to. Moving much further into subjective territory, I'd still like to point out one more thing that seems to me to have been overlooked by many: not only were the Beatles among the most inspired and creative artists of their generation - they had the highest amount of quality control I've ever witnessed. Everybody knows the theory about the harsh, down-to-earth, sarcastic personality of John Lennon being the perfect counterpoint for the softer, more "schlocky", more romantic personality of Paul McCartney. Everybody knows the importance of George Martin, the "fifth Beatle", their main guide through the world of professional musical training and artistic experience. But I feel that there was still more to it; the Beatles must have had a certain way of assessing their music from the point of view of the average listener, being completely free of the "wow! I've written a SONG! AIN'T I THE GREATEST?" attitude of so many people who seem to think that if the notes are somehow strung together and the words are somehow sung without falling out of tune, there's no reason why this "thing" shouldn't be officially released. It is no simple accident that, apart from like maybe half a dozen most obvious 'blunders' that almost everybody agrees upon ('Mr Moonlight', anybody?), there's so little consensus about what constitutes the worst part of a certain Beatles album and what doesn't. Just look at all the reader comments for definitive proof. Whether the Beatles' music is going to live forever is a question that cannot be answered with certainty, but as far as I'm concerned, their legacy will live as long as rock music is remembered. Naturally, the audiences will be shrinking, because most casual music listeners normally prefer to digest things of the present instead of things of the past. But considering the amazing, unbelievable rate at which new bands, artists, trends, directions, genres, subgenres, styles have been coming and going in the past half century, and considering that despite all this, the Beatles are still going strong, I guess it's safe to say that no anti-Beatles backlash will suffice to throw them off the pedestal for quite a long time. And I honestly don't have a problem with that - I may have stopped listening to their music, but that doesn't mean I have begun to hate their music, and that's a big difference. Okay, lineup now (primarily for fourteen-year old Justin Timberlake fans): John Lennon - lead vocals, rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney - lead vocals, bass guitar; George Harrison - occasional lead vocals, lead guitar; Ringo Starr - occasional lead vocals, drums. Backing vocals - everybody, also tons of instruments played by almost everybody. Both John and Paul are great piano-lovers, while George is known for his passion for Indian instruments - sitar, sarod, etc. George Martin, their producer, also contributed a lot to the band;s sound, first as strings arranger, later with their experimentation with tape and sound effects (especially on Sgt. Pepper and other 1967 material).
Listenability: 5+/5. I cannot name even a single uncatchy Beatles song. NOT A SINGLE! Yes, even 'Mr Moonlight'.
Resonance: 5/5. This is a band with John Lennon in it, after all. Not that Paul or George weren't in it, too...
Originality: 5/5. I'll pass on that one.
Adequacy: 5/5. Okay, I'll refrain from cutting it down to 1/5 because of 'Revolution#9'.
Diversity: 5/5. I could only dream of a band embracing more styles and genres than the Beatles did.
Overall: 5.0+ = A on the rating scale. Highest rating ever.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
PLEASE PLEASE ME
Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11
The Beatles at their lightest - heck, the album seems to be floating five inches above ground all the time.
Best song: I SAW HER STANDING THERE. Or PLEASE PLEASE ME.
Track listing: 1) I Saw Her Standing There; 2) Misery; 3) Anna (Go With Him); 4) Chains; 5) Boys; 6) Ask Me Why; 7) Please Please Me; 8) Love Me Do; 9) P.S. I Love You; 10) Baby It's You; 11) Do You Want To Know A Secret; 12) A Taste Of Honey; 13) There's A Place; 14) Twist And Shout.
In the Beginning there was the Word, and the Word was...
...oh wait a minute. In the beginning the Fab Four were still unaware that they were Fab (or soon would be Fab, for that matter), and thus, a certain shy, not too self assured feel about this album. In the Liverpool caverns and Hamburg strip bars, they were ferocious rockers; for their debut sessions, certainly not without the soothing influence of George Martin, they truly let rip only once - on the album closer, the cover of the Isley Brothers' 'Twist And Shout', a certain classic that has long since overshadowed the original (a pretty rare case for the Beatles - most of the time, they preferred making legends out of self-penned material). Everybody is supposed to know the story about John Lennon's ruining his voice while recording it (Arthur Janow, where were you in 1963?), and indeed, few white singers would dare to match that kind of passion and aggressiveness in early '63. But passion or no passion, the boys can't allow themselves to forget about the melodic backbone of the song either (the main riff is the most "well-hummable" thing on the entire record), nor can they disregard the clever structure of the harmonizing. It ain't exactly theirs, but they do it full justice, not to mention the vocal crescendos would give Paul and George a not-to-be-missed opportunity to bring large numbers of little girls to premature pubescence by vibrating their hairmops while doing it live. However, just as 'Twist And Shout' bookmarks the end of the record, another terrific rocker bookmarks its opening, meaning that, despite having most of the songs recorded in a hurry, the guys did care a lot about careful song sequencing: go in with a bang to captivate the listener, go out with a bang to let the listener know they're going just as strong towards the end of all things. 'I Saw Her Standing There' would later become a stage favourite, and Paul is still doing it live to this very day, but if you ask me, the song could never be done full justice onstage because the greatest thing about it is the 'one two three FOUR!' countdown and the way the 'FOUR!' seamlessly flows into the upbeat, energizing guitar chords. It's still a fluffy pop song, essentially, as evidenced by the (relatively) innocent lyrics ("and I held her hand in mine" sure can be read as a latent allegory, but I honestly don't think Paul had any secret innuendo going on here) and the vocal harmonies in the bridge section, but hey! speed it up, sharpen it up, get George to play some Berry-licks in the solo, and all of a sudden, the nice clean lads aren't necessarily as "clean" as you'd want to think. And, for the record, that "WAAAAAH!" moment when they launch into the solo, with John and Paul both screaming their heads off, Ringo shakin' up the dust, and George playing the first garage chords - that moment was never to be repeated. That's true primal rock'n'roll excitement, right from the dancefloors of Hamburg out there. Dirty and dangerous. Never to be revisited. Catch it while it's hot! Still, that's just the gatefold. The other twelve songs are a rather natural phenomenon of their time, pure shiny pop for the likin' of the middle class, much in the manner of Roy Orbison, Cliff Richard and company, albeit already peppered with a bit of the hard-to-define Beatle spirit. Hard as it is to define, though, it's the true pepperoni of this here pizza. Yes, there's the title track, of course, which started life as a slow Orbison-like ballad and then got highwired like 'I Saw Her Standing There' and also profited highly from it - although 'Please Please Me' contains no true aggression; exultation and exuberation are my preferred words of choice here. And since it's so loud and proud and jubilant and guitar-happy, I guess in a certain sense you could call this song the first "power pop" number ever - at the least, you probably wouldn't get away without making an honourary mention of it in your history of this elusive genre. There's their very first, and their only not so commercially successful, single, 'Love Me Do', arguably the world's most straightforwardly repetitive song before the Ramones' debut, resplendent in its lumpy idiocy. There's the Harrison-sung, but Lennon-composed, 'Do You Want To Know A Secret', also repetitive, but this time also distinguished by cool-as-hell descending guitar lines that make you feel like you're climbing down a set of stairs for two and a half minutes, juxtaposing a brilliant refrain with an amusingly horrible bridge that contains probably the worst lyrical line ever written by a non-Ringo Beatle: 'I've known the secret for a week or two/Nobody knows but we two'. Actually, it's been often noted at this point John still wasn't much of a songwriter - not only did he become engaged in that business regularly at a later date than Paul, he probably lacked the self-discipline of the latter as well, and wasn't so quick about learning his stuff. We'll see him pick up on it quickly over the next few albums, out of acute jealousy, no doubt, but here, songs like 'Ask Me Why' are, without a doubt, among the weakest compositions credited to the Beatles' name - although even 'Ask Me Why' is quite memorable and not without a humble charm of its own (listen to John bumbling his way through the 'I, I, I, I, I' sequence and try hiding that smile off your face!). He then redeems himself with the lyrically introspective 'There's A Place', the first Beatles song to address something different from the classic stereotypes, but I must confess that I've never been attracted to that song because of its melody all that much either. To recompensate, why don't we sing a little song of praise to the great hidden gem on the first side - the pseudo-tragic love ballad 'Misery'? Better than anything else, I guess, it illustrates the simple and effective power of "the average Beatles pop hook", here represented by the inner rhyming in the verses ('I've lost her now for sure, I won't see her no more') and the way these verses, tragic and depressive by themselves, are transformed into almost a mockery of depression through John and Paul's doubletracked chanting. To be sure - in 1963, arguably the happiest year in the Beatles' lives, the year when they finally got pulled out of the world of risk, danger, and deprivations but hadn't yet overdosed on fortune, fame, money, and pussy, it'd be pretty hard to imagine them recording something like 'Help!' or 'I'm A Loser'. So if you happened to have just lost your girlfriend, my advice is - put on 'Misery' rather than any select Nick Cave album. Despite all the burgeoning songwriting, at this point (and up to Beatles For Sale) the amount of covers is still huge: while the boys always stuck to the 'number of covers shouldn't exceed the number of originals' golden rule, they weren't as of yet consistent and productive enough to strictly limit themselves to self-penned material. Fortunately, they usually either select material that was fine and "unruinable" to begin with, or beatlify subpar material so that it fits in well with the originals. Arthur Alexander's 'Anna (Go With Him)' totally gets by on the strength of John's theatrical vocal performance (gotta love the contrast between the quiet verses and the totally self-destructive bridge); George does a fine work on the hilarious oh-so-Carole-Kingish 'Chains'; and Ringo gets his first vocal treat on 'Boys', a somewhat weird choice that couldn't help but transform Ringo into an unlikely idol for the "non-traditionally sexually oriented" admirers of the band, and all this just because they were probably too lazy to invert the lyrics that sounded totally natural out of the mouths of the Shirelles! (Side note: unlike so many Ringo haters, I actually do like his voice: I totally disagree with the weird idea that the man could not sing. He didn't sing much - drummers aren't supposed to, unless somebody wants to bring up Don Henley - and when singing live, quite obviously experienced even more difficulties about it than his guitar-playing colleagues; but in the studio, he never really sang out of key (certainly Paul wouldn't allow him to), and there's a certain innocent "rusticness" to his approach that makes him contrast in quite a hilarious and endearing way.) Anyway: Please Please Me is often called the worst Beatles album (Beatles For Sale is, I think, the only album that frequently gets an even lower reputation), but this approach only makes sense if you compare it to what would come soon, and comparing it to what would come soon doesn't make sense because, pretty much like every other Beatles album, Please Please Me is a perfect reflection of the highest musical values of its epoch, an epoch in which pop music was as much capable of producing a Sgt Pepper as Jesus Christ was capable of thinking up the Mountain Sermon at the age of three. In 1963, pop music was there to please the average Joe and to relieve him rather than burden him - and what can be more relieving than the sight of four smiling, seemingly carefree, worry-less guys on top a balcony? (Amusingly, Ringo is shot in such a way that he actually seems bigger than everybody else, with Paul being the 'smallest' - no other photo of the band I know could let the good old drummer boy vent his 'inferiority complex' so successfully!) A more serious critique, and one that is mostly responsible for my rating this notably lower than the "Beatles average greatest", is that this album can be, more than anything else, divided into the "highlights" and "lowlights" parts - with a couple oddly selected covers and a couple poorly written Lennon originals not quite establishing the proverbial "plank of immaculacy". But I'd much rather, of course, take a constantly growing and expanding band like the Beatles over numerous bands that come into the studio fully realized, blow their wad on the first album and then make the rest of their career a gradual descent into blandness and irrelevancy. And no, I'm not naming names!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
WITH THE BEATLES
Year Of Release: 1963
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12
An ounce of darkness to dilute the pop happiness, and great melodies to boot.
Best song: ALL MY LOVING
Track listing: 1) It Won't Be Long; 2) All I've Gotta Do; 3) All My Loving; 4) Don't Bother Me; 5) Little Child; 6) Till There Was You; 7) Please Mr Postman; 8) Roll Over Beethoven; 9) Hold Me Tight; 10) You Really Got A Hold On Me; 11) I Wanna Be Your Man; 12) Devil In Her Heart; 13) Not A Second Time; 14) Money (That's What I Want).
Same people, same year - and yet the second album already is a major improvement over the first one (not that the first one was bad, not that the Beatles ever had a bad album, not that I deliberately wanna keep on apologizing, not that there aren't lots of people out there wanting to interpret this phrase as a condemnation of Please Please Me, not that all the "not thats" will ever help, goddammit). Just like before, there are still six covers on the finished product, but note the odd sequencing: the album opens with no fewer than five original compositions in a row, versus the two on its predecessor. By the time the first covers actually start to catch up, you'll just have to think highly of the Fab Four, or get the heck outta here.
Nevertheless, even the covers generally improve on the ways they did them before - and sometimes, improve on the originals. Thus, Paul throws in a sentimental rendition of the Music Man number 'Till There Was You' with one of Harrison's cleanest and most effective acoustic breaks ever; it's pretty hard for me to imagine that even an active hater of all things Broadway could have despised the number, so skilfully ripped out of its context and actually made believable. Nasty rumours about how the solo actually wasn't played by George abound, but given George's usual industriousness (wasn't he accepted as a permanent member because of his being able to play some complex solo that nobody else in the neighbourhood could reproduce?), I can't think of any other reason than pure nastiness for spreading the actual rumour. Another cover, Motown this time, Smokey Robinson's 'You Really Got A Hold On Me', is transformed by John from a professional, but generic R'n'B workout into a brilliant "epic" with an atmosphere that's close to sarcastic and even has a bit of darkness to it. I've heard people describe it as their favourite tune off the album, and that's understandable - while the melody does not belong to the Beatles, the interpretation is all theirs. Their slowest, most "plodding" number so far (and thus the only track on the album that reaches the three-minute length, although barely), it almost lulls you to sleep with its nasal Lennon delivery, but then brings you up to your feet in a flash as the boys trade lines with one another in a fashion that might not be as smooth and effortlessly flowing as those coming from the Miracles, but is every bit as convincing, if not more convincing and passionate. George is no slouch on the non-original material either, handling lead vocals on a ferocious 'Roll Over Beethoven' which, by 1963 standards, completely overshadows the source: the Beatles cling onto this Chuck Berry classic and work hard on it to suit it to their pop-rock style, and here we also have to thank Ringo whose cymbals, along with George's professional, but derivative guitar, really carry on the energy and all the butt-kicking. It's one of the tightest performances in all of the band's rock'n'roll history, and one of the very few moments when in terms of compactness and collected-ness of delivery they could actually compete with the Rolling Stones. While we're at it, I'd like to issue a note of protest to all those people who - like there was no tomorrow - keep complaining about such supposedly 'pedestrian' numbers as 'Please Mister Postman' that the boys were baking because they admittedly 'lacked good material' or something like that. Nope. Not at all. Since George Martin's failed attempt to saddle them with the sappy 'How Do You Do It' for a single they had complete artistic freedom in the studio, and their choice of covers wasn't random or filler-dictated. 'Please Mister Postman' was a decent enough Marvelettes number - excellent, unassuming Motown fare. In the hands of John Lennon, it is a mad, frantic plea of a guy who's truly foaming at the mouth, totally devastated by the lack of letters from his girlfriend; when he bellows, 'deliver the letter, the sooner the better', I can't help but being a little concerned for the fate of the postman in question. Yes, it's theater - I don't think John himself experienced any serious problems like these until at least the 1974 "Lost Weekend" - but what a show, ladies and gentlemen, what a show! But then, it's only covers, and that is all, why should we feel the way we do? Let's skim through the self-penned material instead. Let's see: With The Beatles contains at least one timeless classic, 'All My Loving', whose main musical attraction actually happens to be often overlooked in favour of the much more easily noticeable vocal hooks - a wonderful, unnaturally complex (for the Beatles at the time) flamenco-style rhythm guitar. A less inventive group would be well satisfied with the vocal hooks, sticking to boring barebones rhythm; not here, where first rate vocals truly deserve a first rate musical accompaniment. George's humble, simplistic boogie solo truly pales next to it. Few other originals from the album can be found on best-of compilations, as the Beatles were still saving their flashiest discoveries for single A-sides, but I still count only one nasty misfire, this time out of McCartney's hands rather than Lennon's: 'Hold Me Tight' is the kind of moronic ditty they truly should have outgrown by now. With its forced, and at the same time imbecilic optimism, it just feels out of place in between the aggressive 'Beethoven' and the sardonic 'You Really Got A Hold On Me', and what with my usual indignance at the term "McCartney Fluff", it's hard for me not to acknowledge that without songs like 'Hold Me Tight', there'd be far fewer grounds for its existence. (Ironically, a decade later Paul would write yet another song called 'Hold Me Tight' - IMHO, much better than the first one, but, alas, that's also one of those IMHOs that ain't shared by too many people). Everything else displays growth, growth, and growth. The once inexperienced Lennon now playfully experiments with the stop-and-start structure on 'All I've Got To Do', provides the band with a terrific vehicle for vocal harmonies on 'It Won't Be Long', and invents a wonderfully complex (and catchy - you thought I'd miss my chance?..) chord sequence for 'Not A Second Time', while George makes his composing debut with the acceptable, if not exactly genius, rocker 'Don't Bother Me', with lyrics that seem to be about lost love, but were actually written by him while lying in bed with a fever, and you know what? sounds more like about lying in bed with a fever than about lost love. Besides, it's hardly a coincidence that the most recluse and introspective member of the band would start his songwriting career with a song called 'Don't Bother Me'. Could have been his motto until the end. Perhaps the most notable thing about With The Beatles is this relatively weird 'slackery' on Paul's part: apart from the obviously second-, if not third-rate 'Hold Me Tight', and 'All My Loving', of course, he doesn't seem to be writing a huge lot on here. Maybe this is why With The Beatles always used to strike me as a somewhat bleaker, darker, more dangerous companion to the happiness-and-sunshine world of Please Please Me. Obviously, this contrast owes a lot to the difference between the two album sleeves - shiny happy faces in early '63 vs black-and-white no-smile colouring in late '63 - but it is a fact that there's too much George and John on the record and too few Paul. (Even the obligatory Ringo solo spot, 'I Wanna Be Your Man', plays with ominous overtones - be careful with your subconscious. The song was originally written for the Rolling Stones, who recorded it with ten times the fire and aggression, but some of the spookiness managed to cling on to the Beatles' own stockings as well). And when there's too much George and John and too few Paul, be prepared for a serious pepper overdose instead of sugar. This 'bitterness' can perhaps be best illustrated by comparing the last numbers on the two '63 albums. Both 'Twist And Shout' and 'Money' are powerful non-original Lennon screamers, but where the former is just sort of a vigorous youthful rallying battle cry, 'Money' is, of course, a piece of satire - sort of an undercover attack on the very values that, let's admit it, brought the Beatles into show business in the first place. And so it's one thing when Lennon spends his precious vocal cords on 'shake it-uh baby now', and quite a different one when he does likewise for 'now give me money, that's what I want'. And this is With The Beatles' main success - it is more than just a pop album, more than just 'shallow fluff'. It's got a bite to it, and a rather disturbing one for 1963. In fact, in terms of melody, musicality, and originality next year's Hard Day's Night might have it beat, but in terms of "relevance" it was actually regressing one step back - fortunately, not for long.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14
That one silly pop masterpiece to top all other silly pop masterpieces, you know.
Best song: I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER
Track listing: 1) A Hard Day's Night; 2) I Should Have Known Better; 3) If I Fell; 4) I'm Happy Just To Dance With You; 5) And I Love Her; 6) Tell Me Why; 7) Can't Buy Me Love; 8) Anytime At All; 9) I'll Cry Instead; 10) Things We Said Today; 11) When I Get Home; 12) You Can't Do That; 13) I'll Be Back.
Another major breakthrough for the band - a record consisting of nothing but Lennon-McCartney originals. They weren't exactly the first to do this, but arguably they were the first who could not only boast a collection of original songs that large, but also prove that all of them were, in fact, originals, rather than stolen R'n'B compositions with re-written lyrics (a practice that so often marred the work of their competitors). Not that the boys ever made a fuss of it themselves, or had their promoters put a heavy emphasis on this aspect. They didn't need it.
There is a bit of confusion about this record; although it's titled after the band's first movie, only the first half of it really contains the true soundtrack to A Hard Day's Night, with the second side being completely unrelated (although a short 'photoreel' set to 'I Cry Instead' used to open some VHS editions of the movie; I'm guessing it was some sort of early promotional thing). But that's the British edition; the American edition was the true soundtrack, leaving half of these songs behind and replacing them with instrumental versions of the remaining tracks that made or did not make it onto the screen. The American version is, of course, practically unavailable today, but if you ever happen to come upon a used LP in a dustbin, don't hesitate to pick it up if only for the superb instrumental performance of 'This Boy' (subtitled 'Ringo's Theme') - a great mood piece if there ever was one, perfectly accentuating a bored Ringo strolling through the riverbank in the movie (remember that?). But we're not really dealing with the movie here, mind you. The movie was blistering, smart, and multi-layered, showing the good sides of the band and life on the road as well as hinting at the bad ones. The album, on the other hand, is a thoroughly calculated affair: positive throughout, all gloss and shine and happiness and sentimentalism, with only a few bleaker spots on the second side for compensation. That weird ominous atmosphere of With The Beatles is all but gone. Am I sorry? Am I miserable? I ain't. The record leaves no space for misery. These songs are just so goddamn great that any attempts at "deepening" them with extra meaning and extra feeling would only ruin their brilliant simplicity. There's just so many of these little wonderful things to be said about this stuff I don't know where to begin. Well - how about from the very beginning? This is the third time in a row that the Beatles jump right into action, grabbing the listener and commanding his attention from the very first second. After the "one two three FOUR!" of Please Please Me and then the 'it won't be long YEAH yeah YEAH yeah!' of With The Beatles comes the famous opening power chord of 'A Hard Day's Night', and then, once again, the song is being launched without any frickin' intro. Running ahead - the Beatles wouldn't allow "intros" until Rubber Soul, and even then they'd be short and up to the point. Again, it's fun to see them wiggle their way out of their "instrumental deficiency" - about half of these songs don't have instrumental breaks at all, content to lure the listener with mighty vocal hooks, and when they do have instrumental breaks, they prefer to make them minimalistic and meaningful rather than have George play a barrage of energetic, but boring R'n'B chords. On the title track he simply mimics John's vocal melody, with great results; same thing, with greater results, on 'I Should Have Known Better'. Same thing, with even greater results, on 'And I Love Her'! Certainly such an approach can't be called "inventive", but what's so basically wrong about instrumentally mimicking a cool vocal melody? Compare it with George's two solos on the second side ('Anytime At All' and 'You Can't Do That'), where he doesn't do this - don't the solos on side A sound so much better? 'Anytime At All', in fact, is almost dragged down by that solo. It's interesting to see them further experimenting with song structure, like on 'If I Fell', for instance, a ballad where you can hardly define the borders between verse, chorus, and middle-eight, a song that has the feel of being played on one breath from beginning to end. Or 'I'll Be Back', where you can't actually tell what is the verse and what is the chorus, or just how many different bridges there are. This isn't "massive" experimentation by all means, but it's stuff like that that saves the album from ever becoming monotonous. It's interesting to see just how even the songs that are obvious "filler" are still unforgettable. The George-given 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' was most probably slapped together in a few minutes for that exact purpose, to give George something to sing, yet it sure ain't no 'Hold Me Tight'-like nonsense: with its chuggin' rhythm guitar, invigorating whoah-whoahs, and George's seriously nerdy vocal delivery (so nerdy, in fact, that it almost gives the lyrics extra convincing force - I could imagine a guy like that coming up to his passion and stating 'I've discovered I'm in love with you... ya know?'), it's actually a scream! So is 'Tell Me Why', which gets by due to its insane tempo, a chorus that threatens to fall apart yet admirably holds on, and, of course, the classic idea of singing 'is there anything I can do-o-o?' in an unexpected falsetto as opposed to the roughness and gruffness of the main delivery. Only one song doesn't seem to be rising up to the standard, and that is 'When I Get Home'. Actually, there's so much Lennon on this record that it's surprising he only really blows it once, not being nearly as "accomplished" a songwriter as Paul (in the early years at least), but when he does blow it, he blows it hard. 'When I Get Home' is pretty lame, and not just because its melody is less memorable (it is), but also because through all of its two minutes John is straining so hard to get his message across to us that when this message actually does get across, the immediate psychologic reaction is: "Now wait a minute... he simply wants to get home as quickly as possible?" After the angry brokenheartedness of 'I'll Cry Instead' and the anthemic posturing of 'Anytime At All', this goofy inadequacy is really a major disappointment. Fortunately, he quickly redeems himself with the threats and the pleading on 'You Can't Do That', but the flaw is already there. Paul does leave a serious mark on the album as well - with nothing less than three classics: 'And I Love Her', which even today, for me, is one of his most "easily tolerable" saccharine ballads (mainly because of the stern and solemn acoustic riff carrying the song), 'Can't Buy Me Love', which still remains one of the best rock'n'roll songs from these guys (and contains the only 'non-mimicking' guitar lead on this record that's actually quite worthy - get it on George!), and the mysterious 'Things We Said Today', a song whose lyrical optimism is in strange disagreement with its musical pessimism. Again, no matter how many live versions of that last song I have heard, whether it be from the Beatles or from solo McCartney, none of them ever matched the smoothness and preciseness of the studio original. Still, if hard pressed, I'd give first prize to John's 'I Should Have Known Better'. Words cannot describe the gorgeousness of that middle eight, can they? Where does it come from? And it's not just the trick of having each line end with a differently intoned exclamation ('oh-1', 'oh-2', and, most importantly, the 'uh-huh-huh!' falsetto with its orgasmic effect), it's the way the lines themselves are structured - so disconnected and unpredictable upon first sight, and then so logically "sewn" together with the '...you're gonna say you love me too...' conclusion. Likewise, that harmonica melody easily stands out as the most uplifting moment to come out of the year 1964. A Hard Day's Night is certainly the culmination of the "early" Beatles - still unburdened by 'heavyweight' musical matters and at the same time reaching absolute perfection in the 'lightweight' spheres. But the funny thing is, at least, according to my impressions, that it actually took them to achieve this kind of perfection in order for the entire proceedings to start looking a little "fake". In a way, the album is just too damn perfect. In a way, Please Please Me comes across as sort of more natural-sounding, if you get my drift. It's pretty obvious that the Beatles were getting too big for this kind of britches, putting way too much effort into songs that, in all honesty, didn't really deserve it (hence the occasionally annoying disparity between melody and lyrics). And it's not like I'm turning my nose at simple pop songs or anything - it's just that there's always scope, and there's always a pool of talent, and then they meet like the proverbial Aristotelian form and substance, and in this here case there's too much substance for too little form. Which, provided, is still way better than the opposite. But which also means there'd be a good direction for improvement.
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BEATLES FOR SALE
Year Of Release: 1964
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13
Maybe it's the album TITLE that's got to do with its reputation?..
Best song: I'M A LOSER
Track listing: 1) No Reply; 2) I'm A Loser; 3) Baby's In Black; 4) Rock And Roll Music; 5) I'll Follow The Sun; 6) Mr Moonlight; 7) Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey; 8) Eight Days A Week; 9) Words Of Love; 10) Honey Don't; 11) Every Little Thing; 12) I Don't Want To Spoil The Party; 13) What You're Doing; 14) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby
A 'marking-time album', I presume the expression is? Lack of easily detectable forward movement and all? Yes, the Beatles were tired and somewhat disspirited (at least, John and George certainly were, as it's their grumbling and bickering rather than Paul's or Ringo's that fills up much of the corresponding period as decribed in the Anthology). Tired of touring; disspirited through being so heavily pressed down upon by the whole business. Logically thinking, there's no way such a situation could not have affected their songwriting, and the drab autumnal colours and unusually scruffy haircuts (doesn't George's, in particular, look like it's begging to be grabbed by that strand and lifted off in one sweep?) seem to comply with that idea.
I would never agree, though, that there is absolutely no "progression" on Beatles For Sale. Oh yes, the obligatory magical number of six (covers) is back, not to mention that even some of the original material is pretty old - 'I'll Follow The Sun', in particular, is, like, one of their earliest attempts at songwriting from the Hamburg days - showing just how much time exactly they had in between touring, filming, and screwing. Likewise, there isn't exactly any serious development in sound recording techniques or, actually, the sound itself since Hard Day's Night. But if only for a moment we stop judging the Beatles by their own high standards and grant them the right to at least one or two albums that do not take us light years away from where we last finished, then you'll actually find quite a few nifty little tidbits about BfS that certainly weren't present earlier. For instance, the band's ability to create a "wall-of-sound" with something different from the traditional cymbal-heavy Ringo drum track - like George Martin's frantic boogie piano and John's echoey vocals on 'Rock'n'Roll Music'. Or a couple new sonic tones, like the "watery" organ on 'Mr Moonlight' or George's raffinated guitar ring on 'Words Of Love'. Or the false ending to 'What You're Doing'. Or Ringo's newly-found passion for the ultra-deep sound of the bass drum. The most serious improvement, however, the one that really matters (and that every critic since the birth of rock criticism has used as the main argument in favour of this album) are the lyrics. Of the two (three?) songwriters, John at least has finally begun to demonstrate a certain care towards the verbal message, courtesy of one Robert Zimmerman whom he'd become a serious admirer of since having first heard The Freewheelin'. True progress takes time, and John was yet a bit reluctant to fully sink in the world of Dylan-like absurdist wordplay (well, not that Dylan himself had sunk into it at an age as early as 1964), but the main principle - that some of the words at least should be listened to for their meaning - is certainly followed on some songs at least, most notably on 'I'm A Loser': 'Although I laugh and I act like a clown/Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown'. It's hardly a coincidence that the song also emphasizes John's harmonica playing - the instrumental breaks are divided in halves, one of which is John stretching himself on the small metal bar and only the other one is the typically jangly Harrison solo. For all of John's sympathy towards the instrument, only two or three earlier Beatles songs had distinct harmonica solos, most notably "throwaways" like 'Love Me Do' or 'Little Child'. This is, then, a very marked foray into the "singer-songwriter" world, and if I'd ever be asked to compile a sort of "John Lennon: The Man In The Music" anthology, there's no question that 'I'm A Loser' would be, like, the perfect opener for such a thing - both chronologically and symbolically. That said, 'I'm A Loser' is far from the only song on the album to have this pessimistic feel. 'No Reply', 'Baby's In Black', 'I Don't Want To Spoil The Party' - sheez, you don't even need to listen, just one look at the titles is enough to see that something must have snapped in order for them to engage in so much gloominess after all the relentless joviality of Hard Day's Night. Most of the melodies for these ones have been worked on by John and Paul in tight collaboration, but the words are clearly John's, and it's all about lost love, lost love, and still a bit more lost love. They don't sound that gloomy; the melodies can be twisted both ways, and John always sings as if he were perfectly aware of putting on a show; there's no cheap imitation of a "look at me I'm so miserable even though my bank account is doubling every day" attitude. (For more details, see the demo versions of 'No Reply' captured on the Anthology series, the ones that eventually degenerate into laughter and goofiness). But, not being entirely sincere, they're not utterly fake either. That's the wonder of John. The more Paul-dominated songs are predictably sunnier and, as expected, unbelievably catchy - especially the peculiar 'What You're Doing' which to me has always seemed the great lost pop gem of this album. Everything about it is immediately attractive: the unusual drum intro, the "looping" riff (one of the first of its kind, I think, although the principle was later on bettered by 'Satisfaction' and even by the Beatles themselves with 'Day Tripper'), the odd volume wobbles for the guitar-and-piano instrumental break, and the already mentioned false ending. Personally, I like it a lot more than the also cool, but somewhat overrated 'Eight Days A Week' - a bit simplistic and definitely unbalanced; the second longest song on the album (a swaggering two minutes forty-nine seconds! PROG ALERT!), it doesn't even find time for an instrumental passage, preferring instead to repeat each verse twice and thus presumably serving as the main inspiration (or, rather, "negative inspiration") for the Residents' Commercial Album fifteen years later. Charming pop melody anyway, charming enough to have had Procol Harum cover it. Curiously enough, yet another major art rock band - Yes - later covered yet another highlight off this "lowlight" album, 'Every Little Thing'. Well, guess if we're covering such a banal band as the Beatles, we might as well cover something other than 'Yesterday'. The covers are also well done, and this time count me partial, since three of them at least are great pieces o' woogie-boogie that rock me pants down. Besides 'Rock'n'Roll Music', representing the final and utmost downfall of former elitist and classical music aficionado George Martin as he stoops to pushing the keys in an almost Jerry Lee Lewis-like fashion, one shouldn't also forget the cutesy, but delightful rendition of Carl Perkins' 'Honey Don't', featuring one of Ringo's finest vocal performances ever - once again it makes me wonder why people keep blaming his capacities when he practically makes the song his own; and finally, George paying tribute to same Carl Perkins with 'Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby', also done in an echoey manner which makes this version grander and far more "massive" than the original wimpy rockabilly performance. (And I'm saying that in order to justify the existence of these versions rather than denigrate Carl's originals, mind you). There's also a slow rock'n'roller here - 'Kansas City', learned by the boys from Little Richard and therefore given to McCartney to bellow it out in fine fashion; and Buddy Holly's 'Words Of Love'... well, I've already said it but I gotta repeat myself: that sure is the sweetest guitar tone ever to be heard from George Harrison's guitar. Oh, what I'd give to hear it on one other song at least. But neither Big Star nor Badfinger agreed to give me the pleasure, which is probably the greatest accusation I could ever produce for the entire power pop scene. In any case, it's interesting to see the tendency: the further the band progresses, the more they try to get away from covering material by contemporary artists and the more they concentrate on the music of their teenage days. And the better results they get, because clearly, rock'n'roll material was far closer to their spirit than Motown, no matter the quality of the recording. Proof? The sixth cover - 'Mr Moonlight', arguably one of the, if not the weakest link in the band's entire catalog. It's not that there's anything badly wrong with the performance; it's just that there's nothing particularly interesting about it. Might as well have been done by Manfred Mann or an even more faceless outfit of the epoch. With an arrangement and a pace so lacklustre, John's hoarse wailing in the middle-eight only makes matters worse. Come to think of it, maybe that is why Beatles For Sale is so often given the cold shoulder? Just because it's got the most boring Beatles track ever on it?
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Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13
Simplistic pop for mature audiences or mature pop for simplistic audiences?
Best song: HELP!
Track listing: 1) Help!; 2) The Night Before; 3) You've Got To Hide Your Love Away; 4) I Need You; 5) Another Girl; 6) You're Going To Lose That Girl; 7) Ticket To Ride; 8) Act Naturally; 9) It's Only Love; 10) You Like Me Too Much; 11) Tell Me What You See; 12) I've Just Seen A Face; 13) Yesterday; 14) Dizzy Miss Lizzie.
Unless we are dealing with the American issue of this record, its A-side is supposed to reflect the actual soundtrack to the movie, while the B-side contains seven independent songs - technically repeating the formula of A Hard Day's Night (while the American release trustily repeated the formula of its own Hard Day's Night by stuffing the LP's other side with disposable instrumentals). But already the actual music is light years away from the level of 1964. By August '65, when the British LP came out, the competition was hot, and now that Bob Dylan had shown the way to making pop music count as real art, it was no longer just about retaining the top position on the charts; it was just as much, or even more about pushing the boundaries.
Help! is a soundtrack to a commercial movie (add: to a really fun, but very silly commercial movie), so it couldn't push them boundaries way too far. But it did what it could. Rubber Soul might have announced the arrival of the New Beatles in all their glory and shining armour, but it was Help! that had sown the seeds for it, and thus become the first obligatory buy for the snob-minded few who are only willing to take up the "intelligent" Beatles and leave the pre-1965 stuff to pre-pubescent girls. (Silly people who don't know what they're missing, but hey, it's their problem.) At least two of the songs on here - the title track and 'Yesterday' - broke new ground in ways unheard of before, and quite a few more are rebelliously threatening to overthrow the formula and establish a new age in music-making. The lyrics, the arrangements, the gimmickry, the complexity, everything is taken to a new level. I still have a few friends who occasionally shed tears while listening to 'Yesterday', you know - yep, that might be hard for you the jaded music fan to believe, especially if you've been too busy listening to Neutral Milk Hotel and Mouse On Mars these last few years to throw on a Beatles record, but then, not everybody has got enough time or willpower to keep on exploring. Some people are quite happy to be left alone with Paul McCartney, his acoustic guitar, and George Martin's brilliant string quartet arrangement, and there's nothing wrong with that. The most widely covered song in pop history (although, funny enough, I don't happen to have even one version of it by any other artist in my collection, primarily because it was mostly covered by big commercially-oriented non-rock acts, of course). The first use of this kind of chamber music arrangement on a pop record - not the first use of strings, of course; orchestration was widely popular in pop music ever since pop music appeared as a genre, but string quartets, something we usually associate with XVIIIth century elitism, were definitely not. Kudos to George Martin for figuring out what kind of arrangement would go better along with Paul's song - but an even bigger kudos to Paul who actually wrote the song best suitable for such an arrangement. Just as much as the big breakthrough of 'Yesterday' is pure Paul, so is the big breakthrough of 'Help!' pure John. Paul is the Music Guy; 'Yesterday' is a triumph of form over substance (where 'form' should, of course, be understood in a very respectable sense of the word). John is the Feeling Guy, and so 'Help!' is a triumph of substance over form. A pop rocker that wasn't thought of too much when it first came out - in fact, I dare say all those people who'd first heard it in the movie theatre thought it was basically about getting help to get that bloody ring off Ringo's finger or something. Only later on John admitted that the song was actually quite personal; in the early years it was almost as if he were ashamed of disclosing himself to the public that much. (When they're performing the tune on Anthology, he introduces it with laughter and grinning - as if begging the audience not to take the message seriously). But you don't really need to hear his confession in order to understand the intimate emotions expressed within. 'Help me if you can I'm falling down/And I do appreciate you being around/Help me get my feet back on the ground' - face it, it's just as hard to picture lyrics like these on a pop record in 1965 as it is to hear a string quartet on one of those. Not even Dylan himself could gather enough courage to make himself look so vulnerable. Next to such stunning originals, it's obvious that any cover versions of songs by any other performers would look stale, and that it would be absolutely impossible to persevere in the Beatles For Sale formula. Indeed, the only reason I can think of for closing the album with Larry Williams'/Little Richard's 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie' instead of 'Yesterday' would be to remind the audience that the band are still rockers at heart rather than sappy "sugar-coaters". And it's a mighty fine, energetic performance, with George punching out the song's only guitar line like a man possessed and John yelling at the top of his lungs so as not to discredit the glory of 'Twist And Shout' and 'Money'; but this time, the cover is betrayed, murdered, and left to the vultures by its context. Who needs a mighty-screamin' John Lennon who is obviously faking it now that we can have ourselves a mighty-screamin' John Lennon who isn't? Much better - or, rather, much more adequate - is the second choice, a straightforward comedy tune called 'Act Naturally', given out to Ringo to satisfy his ambitions. The original plan was to give him the somewhat more rocking 'If You've Got Trouble' (which can be heard today on Anthology II), but, fortunately, the idea misfired, maybe because they correctly guessed that it simply wasn't the kind of material that the drummer boy could tackle too well. His is the lightweight comedy department, and that's what 'Act Naturally' is: lightweight comedy, delightfully catchy and inoffensively childish. Besides, the lyrics seem to fit Ringo's elevated status as the movie star in all Beatles movies only too well. Everything else is original material - in fact, this would be the last time that a song by any other artist but the Fab Four would ever appear on a Beatles album. George finally comes into his own as a composer; his two contributions are still far removed from his classic mantra-yoga-contemplation style, but then it was still 1965: everybody had to pass an exam in generic pop songwriting before being allowed to move on to 'bigger' things. And George passes his with flying colours. So maybe they are a little too generic - watch John successfully modifying the accepted verse-chorus-middle-eight structures whereas George is ever so strictly sticking to them; but then there's Paul, who's still going strong with generic song structures after all these years and doing fine. Besides, who can resist Ringo's delightful rhythmic chunka-chunka-chunking (or should that rather be clucka-clucka-clucking?) on 'I Need You'? (Which sort of reminds me that Help! is a big breakthrough for the drummer as well - he brings in tambourines and bongos a-plenty, very significantly modifying the rhythm section sound compared to all the previous records). And who can resist the playful duet between the guitar and the electric piano in the instrumental part of 'You Like Me Too Much'? Or - which sort of goes without saying - the catchiness of both? Obviously, both Paul and John are still capable of contributing "obsolete" kinds of material, mainly ballads that sound like toss-offs written at the last minute (and which are nevertheless heads and tails above the very best stuff by the Dave Clark Five and their breed). This concerns stuff like Paul's 'Another Girl' or John's 'It's Only Love' - the former is bouncy, energetic, memorable, and fun, but suffers from exceedingly leaden lyrics and repetitiveness; the latter has gone on record as one of the few Lennon songs John had always loathed himself, although this has, of course, more to do with his own nature than with any horrendous flaws within the song itself. Again, the lyrics are probably the weakest point (although, mind you, it's the only time on a Beatles record that you'll ever encounter the phrase 'I get high' - how come the BBC people never said anything?); musically, there's a fine, unique guitar sound and an even finer high-pitched vocal delivery from John, ending in a marvelously modulated falsetto climax that John probably picked from Brian Wilson - and almost ended up putting the master to shame. But on an album where songs as these two count as 'filler', what's to be said about the non-filler? Advanced moves everywhere. 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' is John's first direct attempt at following in Dylan's shoes - acoustic shoes so far. But that melody wasn't directly pulled from any Dylan record, nor was the luverly flute coda. 'I've Just Seen A Face' has Paul frantically plucking his guitar as if it were a banjo, particularly on the raving instrumental break, resulting in an entirely new type of sound (and the rapid-fire vocal delivery has got to count for something as well - has he, too, been busy listening to 'Subterranean Homesick Blues')? 'Ticket To Ride' has sometimes been called "the first heavy metal song", and while this is a heavy exaggeration to say the least (no heavy metal song was ever covered by the Carpenters!), it certainly sounds way meatier and more imposing than any other Beatles song up to that date. Part of the success is taking a Byrds-derived guitar jangle and having it followed by a heavy, "clumsy"-sounding, and pretty complex drum pattern - the other part is, of course, finding the kind of unbeatable hooks that the Byrds themselves could only master on a very fine day, when they weren't too busy bitchin' between themselves. Finally, 'You're Going To Lose That Girl' features three-part vocal harmonies that also sound like nothing they'd ever done before - and prove that the Beatles could easily compete with the Beach Boys in that department on their own territory. They just didn't want to, you know. Of course, he who wishes to still write off Help! as "early, immature Beatles" is fully within his right to do so. After all, it's the soundtrack to their most "immature" movie ever, isn't it? But this sure don't answer the question of how in the blazes did they manage to become "late and mature" over all of the exactly four long months that separate this album from Rubber Soul. Thus, let him who wishes to stay in question land stay there forever. I prefer to dwell in a land of answers.
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AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10
The best (and the only) bet for a live Beatles album; unfortunately, a case where 'best' equals 'barely audible'.
Best song: SHE'S A WOMAN
Track listing: 1) Twist And Shout; 2) She's A Woman; 3) Dizzy Miss Lizzie; 4) Ticket To Ride; 5) Can't Buy Me Love; 6) Things We Said Today; 7) Roll Over Beethoven; 8) Boys; 9) A Hard Day's Night; 10) Help!; 11) All My Loving; 12) She Loves You; 13) Long Tall Sally.
Seven years after the Beatles had dissipated, George Martin was finally urged to do something with the live tapes that were culled from several American gigs in the early Sixties. As one might easily understand, the recording quality was (to put it mildly) quite inferior, whereas the girls' screaming was quite superior. I actually have a bootleg recording of the entire August 1965 Hollywood Bowl gig and it's plain impossible to hear anything at all. It should be noted, then, that, profiting from the much improved recording technologies of the Seventies, George did an excellent job of cleaning up the tapes and improving the sound in all ways he could without having to resort to fake overdubs and stuff like that; I imagine that the amount of work done about these tapes could probably equal the restoration process of da Vinci's 'Last Supper'.
Even with all that work, if you happen to be Mr Sound And Quality, please do not bother tracking this down. The 60s are naturally known for the shitty sound of their live albums, but even next to such stinky releases as the Beach Boys' Concert, the Stones' Got Live or the Kinks' At Kelvin Hall, this is one of the most impressive ear-destructive machines ever. The sound just keeps coming and going - sometimes there are occasional bursts of delicate clearness, but then the usual mess sets in and you just can't hear either Harrison's guitars or Lennon's vocals, or both, or anything. And pretty much every second song audibly begins only upon the fifth second or so, when the whole band kicks in and the engineers have stabilized all the levels. (Poor George suffers the most when he has to open the song with a lead line - particularly 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie'). That said, once your ears get attuned to the noise, there's no doubt about it - it's definitely a live Beatles performance, signed, sealed, and delivered. The only official live Beatles' recording - if you don't count the BBC archives and the semi-legal crappy 1961-62 Hamburg tapes which certainly do not showcase the boys at their best. And, whatever be, it shows us one interesting detail: even with waves of fame and fortune going through their heads every day, the Beatles weren't really as bad live as some of the rumours go. True, they do not stray too far away from the original versions of the songs - but in 1965, neither did anybody else in the pop/rock world; it took the psychedelic age to bring improvisation and experimentation onto the live platform as well. True, there's an air of haste about the performances: the numbers are frequently shortened and sped up, as if their only wish was to play the set as quickly as possible and get away with it - which it actually was, because being surrounded by thousands of screaming girls may seem fab for an initial while, but eventually is bound to become a pain in the ass, not to mention the eardrums. So 'Twist And Shout', for instance, is reduced by an entire half, and they cut the ending to 'Things We Said Today', not to mention that the song is played at twice the necessary speed at least. Yet, on the other hand, let us not forget that at this point in their career, they could have played all their songs offkey - heck, they could have played anything in any way possible - and nobody in the audience would have noticed; considering this, it's important to realize that they actually play quite well. Maybe they weren't able to hear each other, but if you tell me that's intuitive coordination out there and nothing else, I'm getting new respect for these guys. Technique-wise, George shows himself to be quite an expert improviser: he doesn't always repeat the studio solos note-for-note, adding some diversity to the process. His lead work on 'She's A Woman', in particular, is magnificent, and when he's given the right to sing, he predictably selects 'Roll Over Beethoven' and delivers the goods - actually substituting the classic intro for the one of 'Johnny B. Goode'. Insignificant detail, perhaps, but it just goes to show that it did matter to them what they were playing - that they weren't there just because they were making money from the event. Well, that too, of course. But there was real fun involved, as well. One thing that does sound incredibly lame is the stage banter in between tracks. Naturally, it is kept to an absolute minimum (every extra word spoken means less free time for the creative mind!), but it's so shockingly naive and confused. Of course, this was way before the whole conception of "stadium rock", with its anthemic posturing and its waves of hands and its cigarette lighters and "HOUSTON, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?" and "LOUDER, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" and all that. And thank God it was, too. But then, let's be honest: if you do go to a stadium concert, you go there to be ready to rock, not just "enjoy the show". Paul is the lamest, of course. 'We'd like to carry on with a song from our first Capitol album... we hope, we hope you'll enjoy the song, a song called 'All My Loving''. They're not here to enjoy the song, you dummy. They're here to enjoy you. So just keep on shaking that moptop. As for John, he's all about wisecracking - which, I'll bet you anything, gets lost on the audience just as effectively as Paul's smalltalk. One thing that doesn't sound lame, in fact, sounds downright awe-inspiring when you think about it, is... yep, the audience. Sometimes I actually think that the real reason George Martin went along with Capitol's plans to issue the album is a secret desire to remind the young audiences of the Seventies (such as his daughter, whom he quotes as asking him the immortal question 'were they as great as the Bay City Rollers, daddy?') of the sheer power associated with the band back then. And I see his point. In a certain way, no amount of reading up or listening to the actual studio recordings will be able to communicate the immensity of the Beatles' importance than that one short second at 1:55 into 'She's A Woman' when Paul goes 'whoo!' and George steps up to the mike with the guitar break and the screaming, which you already thought was unbearable, excessive, and overwhelming, suddenly rises a couple hundred decibels. That's when you feel that adrenaline rush, just as acutely and vividly as the 17,000 present members of the audience must have felt it. No other live album, club, arena, or stadium, has anything even remotely approaching that. People have definitely calmed down a bit since 1965 - and it's a big question indeed whether that level of excitement may ever return. It should be kept in mind that the actual recordings are drawn from two, not one concerts: about half of the tapes are from 1964, and the other half from 1965 (that's why one can be muddled by the boys' constantly saying things like 'like to play a song from our last LP' and then starting to play something from either Hard Day's Night or Help). Without the voiceovers, though, you couldn't really tell, as the recording quality sucks equally on both. As for the material, it's all standard Beatles' concert fare: hit singles mixed with a few lesser known album tracks like 'Dizzy Miss Lizzie' (where John almost defyingly improvises the lyrics - one thing he'd never manage to take from Bob Dylan was good memory) or the already mentioned 'Things We Said Today'. Of course, according to the laws of the live show, they open with a bang - 'Twist And Shout' - and close with a bang ('Long Tall Sally', although the regular closer for the 1965 shows was 'I'm Down', not present here; I have it on my bootleg and it's awesome). On the way, George is given one number as well as Ringo - and here I'd just like to attract your attention to the fact that, for once, this live version of 'Boys' is far superior to the studio one. Why? Because Ringo's such a darn good yeller. Apparently, having to sing and drum at the same time invigorated him and pumped up his adrenaline level, so he doesn't really sing, he roars out the tune while bashing out the rhythm with a proto-Bonzo-like energy, and the song truly cooks as a result. Elsewhere, you get what you want - 'She Loves You', 'Help!', 'Hard Day's Night', 'All My Loving', etc., thirteen songs in all. I'd be thinking they could have easily cleaned up some more tracks, like 'I'm Down' or 'I Feel Fine', but maybe these were deemed to be spoiled beyond repair. Or maybe they didn't want to leave the bootleggers penniless. Note also that the album, so far, has eluded being officially released on CD; my own version happens to be a Russian bootleg (not to be confused with the "double bootleg" that reflects the actual performance rather than the George Martin-enhanced version). Fans will still have to hunt for it in used vinyl stores.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14
In which the first foot finally becomes firmly embedded in the muddy banks of that other shore.
Best song: NOWHERE MAN
Track listing: 1) Drive My Car; 2) Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); 3) You Won't See Me; 4) Nowhere Man; 5) Think For Yourself; 6) The Word; 7) Michelle; 8) What Goes On; 9) Girl; 10) I'm Looking Through You; 11) In My Life; 12) Wait; 13) If I Needed Someone; 14) Run For Your Life.
It's all in the title, man - it's all in the title. Not that the title actually means anything (apparently it's Paul's periphrasing of "plastic soul", which has little to do with the record contents either), but like John once said, it's just the first Beatles album where they actually thought about an appropriate title. And an appropriate photo, might I add - perfectly attuned to the trippy clouds gathering on the horizon. That's about all that can be said about the album's supposed conceptualism, but it ain't that insignificant, either.
Funny how time flows by. Two years ago, a song like 'Wait', with its catchy chorus, cool contrast between the semi-accappella verses and powerful refrain, and strangely dramatic coda, would have been a major highlight on any record. Here, though, it seems so pale and flaccid next to pretty much everything else that I've never ever brought myself to liking it all that much. It's not just the technical fact that it's a Help! outtake - it's that by late '65, both John and Paul could have written fifty songs like these in the matter of half an hour and sell them to neophyte performers for moolah a-plenty. So maybe I'm actually glad that it's here, sort of like a reminder - "this is what we would still sound like if we didn't worship the idea of progress". So that's one breakthrough: the straightahead love song formula has been destroyed. Help! only boasted one non-love song, 'Act Naturally', and that one only for comic relief; the title track was also hardly a love song in essence, although it was one in form. Rubber Soul has at least three songs that have nothing to do with love whatsoever (one of them even written by Paul!), plus two that only deal with the matter in a very indirect way ('Norwegian Wood' and 'In My Life'). More important, the album as a whole doesn't have the usual lovey-dovey feel - all due to John's ever-increasing bitterness and bile level and Paul's growing quirkiness and - occasionally - detachment. Most important, the one song that deals with love directly ('The Word') is applicable to "universal" love rather than any particular case of it, and can be seen as one of the first generalising anthems about the Thing ever written within a rock context. There is, I think, yet another important boundary that separates Rubber Soul from its predecessors, which I don't see mentioned too often. The music - the sound - is getting seriously different. The guitar tones are harsher and dryer, and the melodies, all of a sudden, are practically all riff-based. This is the first Beatles album, in fact, to which I'd gladly agree to listen with the vocals wiped out (and sometimes did, because the stereo mix niftily allows you to "instrumentalise" everything by shutting off the left channel. Or was it the right channel?), because the Fab's abilities for creating dazzling musical sequences have finally and firmly caught up with their abilities for creating equally dazzling vocal panoramas. In fact, the traditional Merseybeat harmonies are left behind the door more frequently than ever - 'You Won't See Me' and 'Nowhere Man' are, what, like, the only songs here to feature complex vocal arrangements? Seems to be that way. In short, The Big Riff Revolution heralded by the 'Day Tripper' B-side, released around the same time, has arrived. Maybe they were envious of Keith Richard. But if the music has changed, the traditional quality control has not. Somehow they let 'Wait' slip through their fingers, but everything else, as usual, is above criticism - in the meaning, of course, that if I do find something to criticize it for, it'll just end up looking like I had to find something because I have to justify the 14 and not the 15. Well, I don't. It's my fuckin' system and besides, I've never really liked the album cover. Too much hair and Ringo looks like he'd been sleeping on the floor for the past three weeks. Oh wait, he always does that. Never mind. They're still working collectively as hell, but with every subsequent release the individual personalities get delineated better and better. The biggest individual advance on here, though, is undisputably George's, as he initiates and completes the transformation from second-hand imitator into a lonely guy with a vision all his own. 'Think For Yourself' is not one of my favourites, but it'll always occupy a place of honour as the first in a never-ending series of George's "inobtrusive sermons" - for now, not so much religious as purely ethical ("try thinking more if just for your own sake"), but fun, honest, and in this context, rather rocking. The harsh fuzz effect on the rhythm guitar shows them successfully incorporating the Yardbirds' achievements into their bag of tricks, but the sound is not aggressive - the song's a warning, after all, not a revolution call. Although the 'do what you want to do' chorus does sound weirdly commanding - as in, if you don't, we'll make you, even if we won't be there with you really. George's other contribution, 'If I Needed Someone', is more interesting melody-wise, and the "jangly" guitars have long since been noted as - most probably - borrowed from the Byrds. However, in terms of "progress" I'd say it rather hearkens back to 'Don't Bother Me' - and, in a sense, to 'Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby', which, now that I think of it, wasn't a random choice for covering: George really used to embrace misogyny, didn't he? I wouldn't even exclude the possibility of his arriving at the Byrds' sounds through misogynistic motives (which Gene Clark was also famous for). But, whaddaya know, it's only rock'n'roll. In true classic rock'n'roll, there's often little difference between women and insurance salesmen as long as you get to fuck both. Of course, George's contribution number one, as we all know, doesn't even belong to a song of his - it's his sitar playing on John's 'Norwegian Wood'. Very amateurish, of course, but give the man a break, he'd only had it for, what, a week or so? He doesn't even really exploit its "sitar-exclusive" capacities much; that wouldn't arrive until Revolver. You could put a mandolin in there, heck, a banjo, even, it'd still work... but then again, who knows, maybe it wouldn't. As for the song itself, it's John's second attempt at something slow, lazy, dreamy, and folkish, and it works just as good as the first time, if not better. It's also his first attempt at lyrical storytelling - who knows, maybe his confidence got somewhat boosted by the success of his absurdist story books. Certainly the idea of combining adultery with arson was novel at the time - and don't forget the sitar. Two other typically-John songs - 'Girl' and 'In My Life' - have become alleged classics as well. There's little I can say about either, except that God's in the details, of course: for 'Girl', it's the "deep air intake" between the two 'girl... girl' parts of the chorus, and for 'In My Life', it's the falsetto coda. These are the tiny asymmetrical parts that add true perfection to the already formally perfect buildings. It's also funny how, although - formally again - 'In My Life' is a straightahead love song, you really tend to interpret it as nostalgia. Everybody is liable to pay attention to 'there are places I'll remember all my life', but not everybody pays equal attention to the 'of all these places and lovers, there is no one who compares with you' bit. This attitude is perfectly summarised by the first minutes of the Beatles Anthology video, where the song accompanies flashbacks of Beatles past. But the one John song that'll always stay with me is, of course, 'Nowhere Man'. I have no idea where that one came from. I can imagine people coming up with 'Girl' or 'Norwegian Wood', but in 1965, there was only one guy in the whole universe to come up with 'Nowhere Man', and that's the guy. See, 'Nowhere Man' isn't even a trippy song. It's dreamy, but it's not psychedelic. It takes you away, but it doesn't "blow your mind" in the sense that we're all used to. It's like... well, it's all being said with one note actually, the electric bulb-like little PLINNNG! at the end of the solo. That's what it is, exactly, for lack of words. It's sweet spiritual dreamland. John would return to this state many many times over - from 'I'm Only Sleeping' to 'Across The Universe' to 'Dream #9' - but, arguably, was never able to top it. [Of course, some wise Internet maitre like Piero Scaruffi would probably pull a Karl Marx on us and call this opium for the people, but if it is, I would kill for a pipeload of such prime stuff.] In stark contrast, Paul seems to be procrastinating a little. Tunes like 'You Won't See Me' and 'I'm Looking Through You' are perfect pop songs, no doubt about it, and feature lyrics that are far less cliched than, say, 'Another Girl' - and seem to make a big self-conscious deal about maturation, too, what with lines like "I have had enough, so act your age" and "you don't look different, but you have changed" strewn all across the floor. In fact, melodically 'You Won't See Me' is one of my absolute favs of the period. But if we're after real growth, we're not getting it here. And we're not even getting it on 'Michelle', really, because incorporating elements of French chanson is... well, sort of not exactly "growth", if you get my drift. Not that I'm putting down 'Michelle' or anything. If there's one brand of sap in the world that can be bottled without fear of turning to vinegar over the years, it's the McCartney sap of 1965-67. Besides, the idea of making the bass carry the melody pays off in an awesome way. In the end, I'd say it is 'Drive My Car' that should be counted as Paul's prime achievement. The very fact that they put it at the beginning of the album seems to reflect that. They'd always open the record with a rocker in the past, but not this kind of rocker. This kind of rocker isn't exactly the kind you'd expect teenage girls to shout their head off to when played live (if it was ever played live in Beatle times, which I'm not sure of). Not only does it mock teenage girls (so George and John weren't the only ones), but it doesn't have even one tiny drop of sentimentalism. Sarcastic all the way, from the opening guitar chords to the silly 'beep beep mmm yeah' refrain. This shows that Paul, too, was getting ready to step off the formula train - even if he really only does it once on Rubber Soul. Which, I suppose, leaves us with Ringo. Well... the drumming is not the record's strongest point. But he does sing his way through 'What Goes On' (on which he even gets co-credited with John and Paul - on recent editions at least) with confidence - maybe because the humble 'n' friendly country-rock arrangement has mostly been carried over from 'Act Naturally'. For many people, Rubber Soul has sort of become the quintessential Beatles record because it's exactly midway through the "early" and the "late" phases of their career. I don't quite feel that way because, although I have no problems with the band combining styles and genres on their albums, I do have a problem with "lightweight" stuff sitting right next to the "heavyweight" stuff; in the Beatles case, I usually prefer them separately. (And by "lightweight" stuff I do mean 'Wait' and 'You Won't See Me', but not 'Yellow Submarine', so there). But nitpicking is one thing, and joining the "sheepherd" loudly baahing out that with Rubber Soul, the Beatles In Rock have arrived is another. So count me in, good shepherd.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
LSD, experimentation, sitar - and all this to a background of the best Beatles' charm...
Best song: TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS
Track listing: 1) Taxman; 2) Eleanor Rigby; 3) I'm Only Sleeping; 4) Love You To; 5) Here There And Everywhere; 6) Yellow Submarine; 7) She Said She Said; 8) Good Day Sunshine; 9) And Your Bird Can Sing; 10) For No One; 11) Doctor Robert; 12) I Want To Tell You; 13) Got To Get You Into My Life; 14) Tomorrow Never Knows.
And once again the guys come up with a shattering album, this time so shattering that it easily gets a 10. In fact, from now on all Beatle albums get a 10 (except for Yellow Submarine and Let It Be, who are deprived of a 10 for purely technical reasons). This is the first album in a string of probably the finest products rock has ever given out.
If Rubber Soul only treaded water in the matters of turning pop-rock into art-rock, then Revolver is the first major art-rock piece by the Fab Four - not conceptual yet, because it lacks an obvious linking theme (if you don't count the amount of acid-induced product, of course), but the first utterly 'serious' album in rock. John has begun his experiments with LSD, and they resulted in the first openly psychedelic songs. The groovy thanatological 'She Said She Said' has never fascinated me, to tell the truth, because I've always felt it was somewhat overproduced; yet it was a milestone in the history of rock lyrics, as the first masked description of an acid trip and its, er, 'side effects'. But the apocalyptic 'Tomorrow Never Knows' was an even bigger milestone - basically, it's a rather simple, drooling melody that one'd expect from bands like the Velvet Underground (for a really, I mean really boring version check out Anthology II), but it's stuffed up with quite a lot of funny little noises obviously reflecting the state of mind in a... oh. You know where. First of all, John lets his voice pass through some gadget so that it manages to sound otherworldly; next, they record a 'wall-of-sound' background track with probably all the instruments they managed to get in the studio, and finally they spice it all up with backwards tapes and such-like stuff to make the most terrific, most representative musical image of a journey through your subconscious ever created by mankind. No kidding. Hey! But... where have the ballads all gone? There is one on Side A - 'Here There And Everywhere', and it's beautiful, in the traditional McCartney style and sung in an unusually sweet and warm tone, and 'Good Day Sunshine' on Side B, with its peculiar marching rhythms and a great optimistic feel (put it on when you're planning to get out of your depression), but what else do we have? Dark depressing pessimism! Especially on two more McCartney tracks, the string-laden 'Eleanor Rigby' and the piano-driven 'For No One'. The former is Paul's first (and one of the most successful) attempts at a 'serious' song: sad lyrics about a lonely nun combined with a brilliant string quartet, it's my favourite ode to loneliness in the world. The latter is a lament about a broken love, but with serious lyrical undertones, as well: apparently, Paul wanted to have his own 'Girl' in the catalogue, and he almost succeeds. Perhaps one of the best discoveries of the album is the final unraveling of George's songwriting talent in all its glory. Having shunned generic love ballads from his repertoire (in fact, he was the first of the band to do so, and from then on love thematics would be extremely rare in his compositions, 'Something' excluded), George instead donates us some reflections on the economic situation: 'Taxman' is, in fact, the Beatles' first serious social statement, and isn't it funny that it was penned by George the Shy, and not by John the Bad Guy? However, this is just a passing moment: George's other two contributions (and this is the only record to feature three Harrison originals, not counting the double White Album) prefer to tell us more about his inner state ('I Want To Tell You') and the cosmic mind in general ('Love You To'). The former was my best-loved song from the album when I was ten, for reasons which my ten-year-old mind certainly couldn't explain, and now I've just forgotten. But I love it all the same, maybe because it presents us with such a vivid picture of a stuttering, confused mind, and the song's dreary, dreamy mood only accentuates this. As for 'Love You To', it introduces George's row of Indian-inspired songs: like 'Norwegian Wood', it also features a sitar, but here George already starts exploiting it in the proper Eastern fashion, nevertheless making the song rock out. Apart from that, what you get here is the most famous children song of all time in 'Yellow Submarine' (sung by Ringo, but don't worry: written by Lennon/McCartney, as usual). This song introduced me to the Beatles, in fact, at the age of four or five years when I was just starting to learn my English, and maybe (in an ideal vision of the past) it was one of the first literary pieces I ever translated? Who knows? It could have well been so! And what about the drowsiest tune on earth, 'I'm Only Sleeping'? This is MY song! I LOVE to sleep! In fact, I think the progressive part of humanity should consider forming a party of Sleep Lovers and make this their definite hymn. In other words, yeah, you know what I'm going to say: there's absolutely nothing here to remind us of the fact that this is the same band that did Please Please Me three years ago. Even their voices have changed and matured, for Chrissake! No, I'm not knocking down Please Please Me, but I'm just saying that this is the most unbelievable example of self-caused, more or less independent musical evolution the world had ever seen. I say 'more or less', because there certainly were some influences, most notably Dylan (for John), Brian Wilson (for Paul) and Ravi Shankar (for George); but you gotta understand this, no creative process ever goes uninfluenced, so one just has to take it as it is. On the other hand, no other group had beaten the Beatles in this - most, in fact, evolved directly in their footsteps (the Stones are the most obvious example, but there are numerous others, in fact). Even the album cover now is fully schizophrenic: four rough sketches of the Beatles' faces (almost unrecognizable, as a matter of fact) interspersed with lots of smaller photos of the Beatles and other persons; indeed, the cover to Revolver is the first step towards the cover to Sergeant Pepper. And, as usual, no filler. Why is it 'Revolver', I wonder? Did they mean it would produce the same effect? It did, anyway. BANG!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
SERGEANT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
Maybe the best rock album ever. Maybe not. But buy it anyway.
Best song: hell, they're all great!
Track listing: 1) Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; 2) With A Little Help From My Friends; 3) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; 4) Getting Better; 5) Fixing A Hole; 6) She's Leaving Home; 7) Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite; 8) Within You Without You; 9) When I'm Sixty-Four; 10) Lovely Rita; 11) Good Morning Good Morning; 12) Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise); 13) A Day In The Life.
Ah, the most famous rock album of all time. In fact, it's so famous I just can't listen to it any more, which only further proves its greatness. This is the peak of the Beatles' experimentation, the peak of their psychedelic period, and probably the peak of their songwriting skills. So who cares if it's not rock music really, it's a blend of all possible styles. It's not that there are no guitars: it's just that they are completely overshadowed by strings, symphonic orchestras, mellotrones and lotsa stuff that was so new and original then and is so common and boring now. Hey, don't get me wrong: it's not the music they did then that is common, it's the music that others do now that is so.
All right now, the plot. Once upon a time it occurred to Paul McCartney (and not John Lennon, as a lot of people think) that it would be nice to quit the Beatles and get himself a new whacky jazzy band named in the honour of a Sergeant Pepper who probably was Paul's long-lost great-grandfather. Unfortunately, he couldn't find anybody to join, so he just dubbed his colleague Beatles 'Peppermen', dressed them in uniforms and made play such groundbreaking and unimaginable music that the world didn't stop talking about it for months. This is deemed a 'conceptual' album, but John hated the term, and I really agree with him. There's even less concept here than on Pet Sounds: while all of the latter's songs dealt with Brian Wilson's spiritual search for universal love, the only organizing matter that is present on Sergeant is the title track and its reprise near the end of the album, which in a certain sense transform the album in a quasi-live performance played through by the band. But the songs themselves stray so far away from each other there's really no unity at all. Here they are, track by track. The introductory song leads us into the world of 'pepperism' with a cool guitar solo and the trombone-led 'band anthem', after which the actual 'program' starts. We have 'With A Little Help From My Friends' sung by Ringo (which everybody thought was about drugs, but probably wasn't), then the fabulous 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' sung by John (which everybody knew was about drugs, but certainly wasn't, it was just named after a drawing by his son Julian), 'Getting Better' is an optimistic and uptight Paul rocker, 'Fixing A Hole' is a great introspective song featuring my favourite melody on here, 'She's Leaving Home' is certainly Paul's most gorgeous ballad ever, and 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite' is just an advertising poster of a circus show translated by John into poetry. Oh, and by the way: this song, as far as I know, had their first experiment with backwards tapes as well as a silly but groovy experiment with cutting up tapes and stitching them again in random order. Courtesy of George Martin. Side B opens with George's Indian music-inspired 'Within You Without You' which many people seem to hate, but guess they're all dorks. It's absolutely fantastic: somehow he manages to fit into the Indian pattern and make a catchy melody at the same time. 'When I'm Sixty-Four' is a nice McCartney ditty (actually written about ten years before), 'Lovely Rita' is Paul singing about a policewoman and playing nice piano, 'Good Morning Good Morning' is the only real rock song here, with some cooking guitar solos and lots of wailing animals in the end, then we have the title track reprised, and then - 'A Day In The Life', which is certainly the only track here that is inevitably about drugs, with the famous line 'I'd like to turn you on' and the 'musical orgasm' of the whole orchestra building up a terrific crescendo. There's lots of new and original things about the album, too. It is the first album with lyrics printed on the back cover; the first (and the last?) album to feature an intentional crack at the end which kept the album from stopping and made it repeat the same silly backwards line again and again; the first album to feature lots of important people on the front cover; and there's a good deal of other innovations I can't remember at the present moment or even don't know about. So? What's my opinion about the whole deal? As I said, I've overlistened to this album. I don't need my CD player to listen to it any more - I can just use my head. But if you haven't already, be sure to do so. Even now, in the Nineties, it's still the album of all times. And that's not because it's experimental. There were lots of experimental albums who faded away completely. It's just because it has a bunch of the greatest melodies of all time written by the greatest composers of the 20th century. Period. In fact, that's what pisses away so many people after they've listened to the album. Thoughtless critics go and tell them that this is the most experimental, the most groundbreaking album ever produced by rock, after which inspired listeners go and put on Freak Out! or The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or, well, even The Velvet Underground & Nico and say: 'THAT was experimentation? C'mon, that was just a bunch of pretty pop songs! Now 'Interstellar Overdrive' (variant: 'The Return Of The Son Of The Monster Magnet', 'Heroin', etc.) - that is experimentation!' They're all right, of course. Sgt Pepper was certainly not the most experimental album of all time, if you put a sign of equality between the words 'experimentation' and 'noisemaking'. What is really so crucial about Sgt Pepper is that it was this album, and not any other, that led serious music lovers, many 'classical snobs' included, to finally recognize rock music as a serious, independent trend in modern art. While Frank Zappa was too 'crazy' to be considered 'worthy', the Beach Boys spoiled all the fun with their Hollywood arrangements, and Bob Dylan was still primarily a lyricist, the Beatles did it exactly the right way, and nobody can get away from the fact. Sgt Pepper lives on!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
Actually, not worse than the previous one. But not different - and that's why some get tired.
Best song: I AM THE WALRUS
Track listing: 1) Magical Mystery Tour; 2) The Fool On The Hill; 3) Flying; 4) Blue Jay Way; 5) Your Mother Should Know; 6) I Am The Walrus; 7) Hello Goodbye; 8) Strawberry Fields Forever; 9) Penny Lane; 10) Baby You're A Rich Man; 11) All You Need Is Love.
The LP Magical Mystery Tour is actually an afterthought, consisting of an older EP of the same name containing the soundtrack to the film plus (on Side B) some single A- and B-sides all dating to 1967. Still, none of the songs were previously released on a master disc, so, strictly speaking, this is no compilation.
It was still 1967, and they seemed to still be going psychedelic. People don't revere this album as much as Sergeant, for reasons unknown to me. Maybe they think that first is always best. But they're wrong - this album is just as strong as the previous one, and sometimes even stronger. Actually, one might argue that it's even more spaced out than its predecessor - after all, it was based on the film which was certainly the most hallucinogenous kind of product the Fab Four ever messed up with. Yet, on the other hand, this is where rational reasoning steps in and urges me to pronounce the judgement: the album is not 'psychedelic' at all as long as 'psychedelic' means 'trippy'. As most people know, at this point the artistic and technical control in the band was firmly in the grasp of Paul, and Paul was certainly the one Beatle for whom drugs were the least obvious source of inspiration (well, not counting Ringo, probably). So rather this album is just a pure fantasy product, with a couple of songs like 'Flying' and 'I Am The Walrus' thrown in to distract the hippie audience. And naturally the band never lets itself get carried away with their psycho fantasies, like, for instance, the Jefferson Airplane. At one time the album was a favourite of mine (and I still rate it exceptionally high), only because it contains the best Beatles song of all time: the Dylan-style (lyrics-wise) 'I Am The Walrus', in which John ferociously spits out lines like 'yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye' and 'elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna'. It is also very long, with a stunning coda which marks the beginning of Stunning Beatle Codas (followed by 'All You Need Is Love', 'Hey Jude', and 'I Want You'). Presumably, after the band's breakup John always hated that song as the culmination of all the 'nonsense stuff': this is fully understandable because it's hard to imagine two songs more different than the absolutely groundless, irrational, experimental 'I Am The Walrus' and, say, the sincere confession of 'Working Class Hero' on his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band. But isn't it great when an artist feels equally sure in both genres that sit so uncomfortably on two different ends of that long musical stick? 'I Am The Walrus' still remains unsurpassed as one of the most complex, diverse and completely unpredictable songs of all time; a typical example is the fact that the boys even tacked some excerpts from a radio broadcast of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' onto the end of the track (for years, virtually, I've been trying to figure out why some actor's voice clearly pronounces the phrase 'sit you down, father, rest you' at the last seconds). However, the other tracks do not fall short of the standard. The title track was made specially for the film, but it cooks, with its groovy anthemic refrains and the moody keyboard solo in the fade-out - just like the title track for Sgt Pepper was the perfect introduction for that one, 'Magical Mystery Tour' sets the ground for their next concept in an even more upbeat and slightly romantic way. Finally, when it fades out, it gives way to 'The Fool On The Hill' - one of the most gentle, touching, emotional and philosophical ballads at one time that Paul ever did. Catchy, too - unbelievably catchy, one of his most stellar moments in the band, probably. It is somewhat unclear whether the song is autobiographical, though: the movie clearly identifies Paul with his character who 'sees the sun going down/And the eyes in his head see the world spinning round', but that might be just an element of artistic kitsch. Meanwhile, 'Blue Jay Way' is yet another mind-bogging Indian raving by George which you'll either love or hate because it really depends on the state of your mind - it's moody, slow and lethargic, but with a very dangerous-sounding edge this time. Whatever be, it's hard to argue with the fact that the song's lyrics, all about some of George's friends being lost in a heavy 'fog upon L.A.', perfectly match this mood - close your eyes and you'll find yourself floating in the same fog as well (by the way, the movie utilises the same motives brilliantly, showing George sitting cross-legged 'playing' some keyboard instrument drawn on the floor with fog and mist all around him). And 'Your Mother Should Know' is another warm, lovely McCartney ballad performed in a retro Fifties style, while 'Flying' is a short but enjoyable acid-drenched instrumental. It works better in the film, though, what with that beautiful sequence with the clouds permanently changing colours and all that... The singles included on Side B are also notorious. At least three of them are among the greatest hits: 'Strawberry Fields Forever', the first straight psychedelic song they ever did, with lots of backwards tapes, fading out and fading in, changes in tempo, etc., and one of the first ever uses of the Mellotron on record. Not to mention the lyrics: John has finally matured to the point of equalling, if not surpassing Dylan's psycho imagery (funny, at a time when Dylan was rapidly leaving psycho imagery beyond), with famous lines like 'I think I know I mean a yes/But it's all wrong/That is I think I disagree', etc. 'Penny Lane' reflects the band's nostalgia for childhood (John spent most of his early days living on Penny Lane) sung by Paul and embellished with a piccolo trumpet; and 'All You Need Is Love' is the most fabulous hymn to love, recorded live for Eurovision and sung by a lot of people including even Mick Jagger. The punchline here is John dropping out of the general chanting 'love is all you need' at the end and going off into 'She Loves You'. Dig that joke, man! And the two lesser known songs are quite fine, too, especially 'Hello Goodbye' (B-side of 'I Am The Walrus' single; very dumb lyrics but they actually make you laugh), while 'Baby You're A Rich Man' is yet another mighty hippie anthem. I particularly love the ingenious alternation of John's falsetto vocals and gruff, sneering intonations here - as if he were modelling a dialogue between a freaked-out hippie and a sceptical 'outsider'. So please don't be lame enough to say 'who needs another Sergeant Pepper'? Everybody. If you have already eaten pizza, why reject a second one? And, like I said, the album is really somewhat different from Sergeant Pepper - basically, it's a bit more diverse and a little more experimental. Actually, there is currently a tendency among reviewers to stress the overall importance and high quality of MMT as opposed to the 'weakness' of Sergeant Pepper. Now this is carrying the anti-hype a bit too far: Pepper might not really be a stronger album, as there are practically no weak spots on both, but both albums are more or less in the same vein, and I have absolutely no problems in giving both a solid, shimmering ten.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
The Parody Album. Shows that nobody could beat the Fab Four at any genre.
Best song (how the heck can I define): oh, well, possibly WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS.
Track listing: 1) Back In The USSR; 2) Dear Prudence; 3) Glass Onion; 4) Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da; 5) Wild Honey Pie; 6) The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill; 7) While My Guitar Gently Weeps; 8) Happiness Is A Warm Gun; 9) Martha My Dear; 10) I'm So Tired; 11) Blackbird; 12); Piggies; 13) Rocky Raccoon; 14) Don't Pass Me By; 15) Why Don't We Do It In The Road; 16) I Will; 17) Julia; 18) Birthday; 19) Yer Blues; 20) Mother Nature's Son; 21) Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey; 22) Sexy Sadie; 23) Helter Skelter; 24) Long Long Long; 25) Revolution 1; 26) Honey Pie; 27) Savoy Truffle; 28) Cry Baby Cry; 29) Revolution 9; 30) Good Night.
The Beatles stepped into 1968 not just as the greatest rock band in the world, but rather like The High Kings And Patriarchs of all rock music and rock musicians. Their eteranl glory being firmly established, the guys took the time to relax - a trip to India, an independent record label (the first but, alas, the least successful precedent), and a double album with some of their most lightweight music since... well, probably since 1965. Still - lightweight does not mean insignificant.
This is often called 'the Parody Album' (as well as 'Double Album', since it's double, and 'White Album', since it's completely white). The Beatles finally forsake their psychodelic experience and record a great bunch of songs with such a great variety of styles that I even find it hard to believe, like most other people. Like on the two previous albums, Paul is the major star on here - he not only directs and controls the creative and productive process in general, but also contributes the majority and the maximum variety of the songs. Don't believe me? See for yourself! (a) There is the traditional rock'n'roll style, practically totally absent in 1967. Now it returns, to the glee and joy of more hard-rockin' Beatles fans, and returns immediately with the opening number - Paul's 'Back In The U.S.S.R', devoted to the beauties of Ukrainian and Moscow girls which Paul probably never saw until twenty years later. It is said to be a parody of contemporary Beach Boys, and maybe it is, but we Russians dig it for you-know-what reasons! Then there's 'Birthday', a hilarious anthem to anniversaries with extremely silly lyrics and a dang jolly parody on a drum solo, and 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' - a little piece of boogie with just two obscene lines repeated over and over, one of the most controversial songs in the McCartney catalogue. A good counterpoint to 'Revolution 9', though. (b) There's some country-western - c'mon, where would a good parody record be without some country-western? 'Rocky Raccoon', a song dedicated to Paul's ventures into the saloon and hoedown life, is probably the funniest and most enthralling singalong on the whole record and a living room favourite. And who else would come up with such hilarious lyrics as the ones about poor Rocky and his interactivity with Gideon's Bible? (c) Of course, no Beatles album can get away without piano pop - yes, this is the record that features the universally known 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' (some call it a parody on ska, but I don't know too much about ska to be presenting much evidence). Anybody else and the number would be a toss-off - but in the care of McCartney the song becomes so darn silly, so blatantly poppy and stupid that it breaks down the scale of cheesiness and streams even deeper - to a level where banality invokes genius. Another charming ditty is 'Martha My Dear' which you probably think of as a love song, and you're right: it's a love song addressed to Paul's dog. (Must be dead and gone now, poor thing). In my opinion, this song has the best McCartney vocal on the whole album, and if you wanna ape him, this should be your test element. (d) Piano pop is all right, but weren't the Beatles a superior guitar band, after all? In that case, you're welcome to 'Mother Nature's Son', a gentle, lazy folkie song where Paul does his best to recreate the atmosphere of 'sitting by a mountain stream/See her waters rise/Listen to the pretty sound of music/As she flies'. (e) Finally, just so as to demonstrate you that sissiness is not everything Paul has in store, he thumps up the heaviest number in the Beatles catalogue which I thought was inspired by Hendrix but, as Paul himself recollects, was his try at competing with the Who. 'Helter Skelter' rocks so hard that you can hear Ringo cry out in the end: 'I GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!' Believe it or not, the song really proves that the Beatles could blow all competition in that genre away if they really wanted to - the song's main crunchy riff, emphasized by deafening drumming, Paul's violent screaming and a thundering, snapping bassline, was heavier than anything else at the time, Jimi included. Come to think of it, the level of fury and heat generated by this song wasn't really surpassed until hair metal started to gain force (of course, hair metal lost in all the other components, such as originality, melody and inventiveness, but that's another story). All of these, as I was careful to mention, are Paul's creation, and it's no wonder: by 1968 Paul has clearly taken over the leadership of the group, doing most of the arrangement and production work. Still, John's contributions to the album are not less important, and, while they are fewer, they are among the most universally beloved songs off the album. Thus, the bitter 'Glass Onion' debunks the complete psychodelic thingamajig with the killing lines 'Well here's another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul' (and don't forget to add to this the cool 'boom-boom-boom' drum intro and the pseudo-psychedelic violin fiesta at the end). The magnificent guitar ballads 'Julia' (dedicated to John's mother) and 'Dear Prudence' (with a catchy riff ripped-off from Townshend's 'Our Love Was', but I don't really mind) are among the most gentle and romantic songs John has ever put out - in fact, 'Julia' can't keep the tears away from my eyes, and the way they build up the tension in 'Dear Prudence' is fascinating: first just the acoustic, then a quiet bass and drumline come in, then the harmonies, then a verse with some lead lines thrown in, and finally the song climaxes in a mighty crescendo with everyone playing at the top of their forces. The bitter, desperate 'Sexy Sadie' that presages some of John's later work accounts for his profound disappointment in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and there are some more Dylanish lyrics-exercises ('Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey' - also a quotation from Maharishi with the monkey thing added on later; 'Cry Baby Cry', with its dark, spoooooky atmosphere). And how can one forget 'Yer Blues', John's most angry, most pissed-off statement of his emotional conditions since 'Help'? 'Revolution 9', however, is the only flaw of the album: a lengthy eight-minute bore which is more Yoko Ono than John Lennon. Collages of sounds ranging from opera-singing to baby cries, machine guns, traffic noises and a lot of excited incomprehensible speech, this is more schizophrenia than psychodelia. I hate it, although there are people that actually love it. It don't hurt to try, though - maybe you'll love it, too? It might make an impression, that's for sure; but it's just so pointless and totally incompatible with the material in general that I can't help but call it the first crack that Yoko managed to splinter in between the Beatles. Another interesting thing is that George has four songs on the album (well, it's a double one, after all), three of them being absolute classics. The amusing 'Savoy Truffle' is lyrically just a stupid ode to various delicacies, but musically it's a fine rocker with a gruff, distorted guitar riff and as much arse-kicking as George could ever muster in one song. The satiric 'Piggies' is mostly interesting for its lyrics and the pig noises at the end, but 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' with a guest-star in Eric Clapton whose solo is very well constructed (most certainly not improvised) is the real highlight on the whole album. That solo is one of the most gorgeous things on Earth, by gum! Yup, only 'Long Long Long' doesn't really pass the test, but the problem is mainly that it's too damn quiet - I guess they wanted to make a good contrast after the roaring 'Helter Skelter', but if you're too lazy to readjust the volume control, you'll hardly hear anything at all. Even Ringo gets a chance to shine, with the silly but catchy countryish 'Don't Pass Me By'. This is a truly democratic album! Even though it is no longer groundbreaking and it really did not do much of an influence in 1968, it is nevertheless grand and completely Beatlish. Critics at the time complained about the album being too long, and there are still many who believe the album should have been reduced (even George Martin thought so at the time). But I fully support the other critical side - the one that says this album's greatness lies primarily in its being so voluminous. It's like an encyclopaedia of popular music seen through the prism of the world's greatest pop band ever. This album should be studied in musical colleges.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10
A soundtrack, but parts of it are great. Only parts, though.
Best song: HEY BULLDOG
Track listing: 1) Yellow Submarine; 2) Only A Northern Song; 3) All Together Now; 4) Hey Bulldog; 5) It's All Too Much; 6) All You Need Is Love; 7) Pepperland; 8) Sea Of Time; 9) Sea Of Monsters; 10) Sea Of Holes; 11) March Of The Meanies; 12) Pepperland Laid Waste; 13) Yellow Submarine In Pepperland.
This is actually a soundtrack - from the well-known cartoon (see the movie review below), and it suffers. It suffers because there are only four new songs here, moreover, at least half of them were outtakes from preceding works ('Only A Northern Song' is a Pepper outtake, and 'Hey Bulldog' was first recorded in the beginning of 1968 at the 'Lady Madonna' sessions). Furthermore, not all of the songs strike me as being masterpieces: George's 'Only A Northern Song' and 'It's All Too Much', for instance, share the flaw of being aimlessly overlong - their psychedelic atmosphere was slightly dated even for 1968, and there was absolutely no reasons to extend them to such long running times with 'groovy' jams at the end. That said, the melodies are very nice, especially the one in 'It's All Too Much' that's just as catchy as anything George ever wrote. But, in all honesty, the coda, with the band chanting 'too much, too much, too much' as if they were reprising that unhappy Elvis tune, is really, really overlong. It almost seems as if they were painfully trying to stretch and stretch and stretch the songs so as to fill up an entire side - a trick that the Beatles rarely allowed themselves. Meanwhile, Paul's 'All Together Now' is almost universally despised because of its utter childishness - and yes, it does resemble a nursery rhyme with its lyrics, but you can't deny the 'stupid' magic of the melody! Count it like another 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da': sancta simplicitas, if you know what I mean.
Still, the only real stand-out, and the true reason to own this record, is John's 'Hey Bulldog' - some more schizophrenic lyrics, but set to a terrific riff (the Beatles were not as notorious for riffing as The Stones and The Who, so every original and highly memorable Beatles riff, like the one on here or on 'Day Tripper', is a real event), and it has the guys barking at each other in the end! Very cool. 'What did you say?' 'I said woof'. 'D'ya know any more?' 'Whoa-wah AAAAHH!...' If ever somebody would have the idea of putting it as a B-side to 'I Am The Walrus', this would have made the greatest Psychedelic Single of the epoch. Unfortunately, in the movie it used to accompany a really stupid scene of the band being chased by blue meanie bulldogs or something and has even been subsequently cut out in the video version (I've only seen the entire sequence once, so I can't really remember why it struck me as being very stupid and not really fitting the movie's atmosphere, but I do remember that feeling). The rest, however, is not as interesting. Two tracks are reprised from earlier albums (the title track is, of course, from Revolver and 'All You Need Is Love' is, of course, from Magical Mystery Tour; this last selection, however, is justified by the fact that by 1969 the LP Magical Mystery Tour was yet non-existent, so this song was only available on single). They're both phenomenal songs, of course, but why have a second edition of 'em? As for Side B, it all consists of George Martin's instrumental orchestration and so has little to do with The Beatles; 'Yellow Submarine In Pepperland' that closes the album is a wonderful orchestrated version of the original that goes to show how deep the potential of such a seemingly feeble and childish tune is, but all the other compositions are not based on the Beatles' music at all. I must admit, though, that I actually enjoy these versions (especially the terrifying 'March Of The Meanies' and the depressing 'Pepperland Laid Waste'), but I also must admit this is no Beatles music. But don't be quick to dismiss it; after all, don't we usually consider George Martin as the 'fifth Beatle'? He might not be a genius of the same stature as Lennon or McCartney, or even Harrison, but he's a solid composer in his own rights, and don't you go telling me that the melodies of 'March Of The Meanies' or 'Pepperland' aren't just as catchy as anything Beatlish on this record. So if you're willing to endure the orchestration and the Martin compositions, get this album. It will still be worthwhile. And, of course, be sure not to miss the cartoon itself. One of the best, most exciting and hilarious pieces of animation in the whole wide world, no doubt about that. Oh, and one more thing: the long-time plans of a new overhyped re-release of this album that would eventually include some new previously-unheard-of Beatles song have finally come true, and I must warn you: if you really want this record, SEEK OUT THE ORIGINAL. The new rerelease is nothing but a straightforward collection of tunes from the cartoon, with nothing that can't be found on other records. No bonuses, nothing. Logical resolution: I'd rather have my Yellow Submarine with its George Martin instrumental side that never really spoils the general atmosphere, than have pointless reduplications of Beatles songs on other albums. After all, if I really want to have a trustworthy soundtrack, I can always make myself an audio tape and be happy with it (actually, I'd already done that in the past). This is just another in a series of shameless plans to rob Beatles fans of their money. Shame on you, Capitol Records!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
One of the most satisfying products ever, brimming with musical ideas and pure delight.
Best song: once again, I just don't know. A very even album.
Track listing: 1) Come Together; 2) Something; 3) Maxwell's Silver Hammer; 4) Oh Darling; 5) Octopus's Garden; 6) I Want You (She's So Heavy); 7) Here Comes The Sun; 8) Because; 9) You Never Give Me Your Money; 10) Sun King; 11) Mean Mr Mustard; 12) Polythene Pam; 13) She Came In Through The Bathroom Window; 14) Golden Slumbers; 15) Carry That Weight; 16) The End; 17) Her Majesty.
The group's swan song, and it's probably the most fantastic swan song ever recorded. It was indeed a miracle: for a few days (weeks), as if by special consideration, all the quarrels, hatred and bullshit were thrown out and all four did some tight and real co-operative work. Why? Because everybody knew this was the last time.
Despite this, nothing in the world could suffice to make Lennon and McCartney not only make a record together, but write songs together as well. So some of the tracks are definite Lennon, while some are definite McCartney. The record in general produces a very strange feeling - it sounds almost years more mature and aged than the previous album, and when I first heard it I couldn't help wondering: 'THIS is the Beatles?' In the end I only believed that this was the Beatles because no other band alive at the time, not even the Stones, would be able to come up with such an incredible album. Anyway, this is the last place where you're going to see John working as a Beatles unit - while McCartney carried his style onto his ensuing solo albums, John underwent a major songwriting revolution right after cutting the album. Thus, "Come Together" is probably his last great psychedelic anthem - yet in among the 'groovy' lyrics and the call to 'come together' the seeds of sarcasm and irony are sown - come on now, isn't the song actually a ridiculization of hippies in an almost Zappa-esque style? Not to mention the 'shoot' whisper that introduces each verse - an ominous choice, really. But nothing could be more bitter and angry than "I Want You" - the longest Beatles song ever recorded (this one, and not "Hey Jude"!, as many people believe), with a great vocals/guitar interplay (parodying Page/Plant?) and a fantastic dark riff emphasized by special synthesized effects (like the wind blowing) towards the end of the song that goes on and on forever until it unexpectedly cuts off as if there was just no more place on the vinyl. The typical McCartney numbers are no slouch either, particularly "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", a stupidly hilarious take on black humour with a melody as simple and as catchy as only Paul could have composed. But "Oh Darling" is hardly worse - rumour has it that John was pretty much pissed off at Paul for not letting him sing it. He might be right, too, because the emotionally hot, loaded atmosphere of the song really called for a Lennon treatment - but the ambitions were so high that Paul just couldn't allow himself the compromise and preferred to bark all the lyrics himself. Fortunately, it was not 1993 and his voice was in top form, so it works out just fine. Side B is pretty much completely occupied with the long suite of short, half-baked tunes, every single one of which is a small gem. Some of them are Lennon's, some Paul's, but Paul's was the general concept, and it works: the funny moments are wonderfully interwoven with the sentimental ones, the Mystery Tour-like nonsense ("She Came In...", "Sun King") is starring close to generic rock'n'roll stuff ("Polythene Pam", "The End"), and to crown it all, after a lengthy pause (during which the unexperienced LP listener was supposed to unsuspectingly switch off the turntable, especially since the track was not in the listing) we have a political statement (oh yeah?) in "Her Majesty". Oh, I almost forgot: this album is so much unique because it features Ringo's best moment ("Octopus's Garden" - a very naive childish tune but set to a great melody with wonderful guitars and amusing synthesizer effects), and George gave "Something" and "Here Comes The Sun" - beautiful ballads which are probably his best creations as well (nothing surprising about it, especially since he was already nearing his All Things Must Pass period). Overall, there is not even a single second on the album which I wouldn't like. Perfection from beginning to end. Then again - few would disagree with this anyway. And the funniest thing is that the Beatles were really always willing to progress - even on their collective deathbed. They could have settled on finishing and polishing the Let It Be album, for instance (see below); instead, they started from scrap and pushed rock music even further in one last, desperate move. Of course I don't mean the use of synthesizers (synthesizers were already used before them by the Byrds and even the Monkees - the only thing in which the latter managed to surpass their prototypes): what I really mean is that they managed to put together an emotional masterpiece. It is quite possible that out of all Beatles albums, this one's the one that really hits your senses as no other does - sadness, anger, joy, childish ridiculousness, melancholy, and awe are all mixed in this terrific package as never before. If The Beatles was their encyclopaedia of pop genres, then Abbey Road is their encyclopaedia of human feelings, which is of course a far more outstanding musical conquest. Buy this album today, and if you don't enjoy it, you're simply not human - there was definitely some bureaucratic error in your personal karma.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
LET IT BE
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14
Unfortunately, they lost interest in it halfway through. But that's the only flaw.
Best song: LET IT BE
Track listing: 1) Two Of Us; 2) Dig A Pony; 3) Across The Universe; 4) I Me Mine; 5) Dig It; 6) Let It Be; 7) Maggie Mae; 8) I've Got A Feeling; 9) One After 909; 10) The Long And Winding Road; 11) For You Blue; 12) Get Back.
The rating is a bit lower than for most of the previous 'mature-period' albums. But that's only because of the fact that this is a very raw album. The sessions actually took place in the beginning of 1969, before the Abbey Road sessions, and culminated in the famous concert on the roof; however, due to total dissension of the members lusting for each other's blood the results were shelved and resuscitated only a year later - by Phil 'wall-of-sound' Spector. Therefore, it is not really a Beatles product - it lacks the traditional McCartney/George Martin production and has a lot of 'alien' embellishments, like Phil's orchestration of 'The Long And Winding Road' that pissed off McCartney (I don't know what are their current relations with Phil) and still pisses off fans, although nowadays they can finally be relieved by picking up a copy of Anthology-III that restores the original version. Still, in all other senses it is the Beatles.
Some of the tracks are live, from the 'roof concert'. They do their last famous rocker, 'Get Back', and do it well, although the single version is far superior. Come to think of it, this version of 'Get Back' is probably a studio take, not a live one, since in the film, where they do two versions of the song on the roof, well, these versions do not seem to exactly match the one of the album. Only the famous Lennon remark that 'we've passed the audition' is taken from the 'roof'. The one tune that comes directly from the roof is 'One After 909' - a rocker from their earliest period, strange enough, revived for this album. While it's quite cool, I admit that the original, recently dug out and placed on Anthology I, is somewhat less generic and discovers the potential of this number in a far more obvious way. Another rough number is 'I've Got A Feeling' - a fantastic duet between Paul and John and a highlight of the record. Everybody who's heard it can easily understand that it's really two separate songs: John's funny 'everybody had a hard time...' never belonged here in the first place. What a brilliant decision it was to combine both songs, set the two vocal melodies to a single rhythm pattern, and let it all come to a giddy climax where Paul and John both sing their lines at the same time - as if you were playing two different tapes on the same tape recorder. And they did this live! Amazing guys! Finally, there's the live version of 'Dig A Pony', to my opinion, the most boring track on the album, because it's very slow and not very catchy - I frankly get a bit bored witnessing it crawl at this snail pace in its clumsiness; but it's decent still, and lyrically it's another hilarious word-game that completely fits in the Lennon tradition. The other tunes are all studio outtakes, some of which are first-rate. The title track is a timeless classic, of course, and one of Macca's 'golden dozen' tunes that no live show of his can get away without. My favourite part, though, is the brilliant Harrison solo - in my opinion, its soaring majesty fully compensates for George's passing on the reins to Clapton on 'While My Guitar': make sure that you're listening to the album version, though, not the single version on Past Masters or the version captured in the movie. But in any case, do not let the brilliance of 'Let It Be' overshadow the other stuff, like, for instance, 'Across The Universe' - John's last 'psychologic & introspective & psychedelic' anthem, which he himself for some reason disliked; or the above-mentioned beautiful ballad 'The Long And Winding Road' - possibly 'spoiled' by Phil's orchestration, but then again, probably not. A couple shorter tracks have been also included, just to reproduce the free-style jamming atmosphere: 'Dig It' - a brief extract from an overlong jam which you can see in the movie, and 'Maggie Mae' - an even briefer country-western tidbit with undecipherable lyrics. Oh, and the opening track ('Two Of Us') is also countryish, although the lyrics are far from country ('Two of us burning matches/Lifting latches/On our way home'). The most amusing story, though, is related to one of the two Harrison contributions, 'I Me Mine': while the song, with its pleading, high-energy gospelish atmosphere (very suitable for All Things Must Pass, in fact) was undeniably great, it was also much too short, so Phil without further thinking dubbed the only existent verse twice and put it on record that way. What a simple way to deal with such a complex problem, eh? And one should not overlook the second George contribution, 'For You Blue': it's a must for everybody who's ever asked himself the question if the Beatles could play generic blues. It's true that they almost never dabbled in the blues for blues' sake, but this is one of the few examples. Personally, I think that John's (yes, it is John) outstanding slide part proves that the guys could have blown any other bluesman in existence off the planet. Gee, the Beatles could have gone on to become an impressive blues band! What a bummer. The host here, once again, is Paul, with most of the really important songs belonging to him. However, he wouldn't remain in this position for much longer - for reasons you all know. And, in all, the album has a very interesting feel: never mind all the Spector embellishments, it still sounds as raw as a piece of freshly bought meat (pardon me for the bloody reference). All the fade-ins and fade-outs, bits of dialogue in the studio and on the roof, false starts ('Dig A Pony'), guitar tunings ('Get Back') - this was the closest to a 'Beatles-at-work' album before all these Anthologies started pouring out. For a person who's addicted to the well-polished sound of nearly all existent Beatles recordings, this can be a serious blow - but I assure you that it's very easy to get used to.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
PAST MASTERS (vol. 1)
Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14
Everything you're missing on LP's. A very wise album.
Best song: impossible to determine.
Track listing: 1) Love Me Do; 2) From Me To You; 3) Thank You Girl; 4) She Loves You; 5) I'll Get You; 6) I Want To Hold Your Hand; 7) This Boy; 8) Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand; 9) Sie Liebt Dich; 10) Long Tall Sally; 11) I Call Your Name; 12) Slow Down; 13) Matchbox; 14) I Feel Fine; 15) She's A Woman; 16) Bad Boy; 17) Yes It Is; 18) I'm Down.
The Past Masters albums are actually collections, and maybe it would be more just to put them in the collections section. However, these are not 'greatest hits' collections, but actually 'rarities' collections - songs from singles, EPs, alternate and rare versions, in other words, everything never included on original LPs. In this way, I deem it right to count them as original albums, especially since their obvious (and generous) purpose is to constitute a perfect CD-'coda' to the originals; and the songs included were not selected on a subjective basis, so I'm perfectly justified.
The first volume deals mostly with single material from 1962-1965, plus a 4-song EP Long Tall Sally consisting mostly of covers plus one good John original, 'I Call Your Name'. The singles are gorgeous - 'From Me To You', 'She Loves You', 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' are all shattering and groundbreaking; in fact, it is exactly these songs that constituted the Beatles' fame in the early Sixties rather than the brilliant, but still inferior LP material. I don't suppose it is especially necessary to introduce you to these songs - every teenager with a little bit of self-respect is supposed to know them by heart. I might point, though, that one mustn't dismiss their B-sides, ever: 'Thank You Girl', for instance, shocked me when I first heard it, with its thunderous beat and almost wild harmonica playing - it is certainly far less restricted and, in fact, far more experimental than its famous A-side 'From Me To You', though the melody is weaker. 'I'll Get You', in my opinion, defines the perfect unadulterated pop number: how can one forget these 'oh yeah oh yeah'? And finally, 'This Boy' is a true forgotten gem, a song unjustly overshadowed by the inferior 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. The latter is a classic, of course, and has something of a cult status in that it was the song that laid America to their feet; but am I really alone in saying that its melody is far more simplistic and even 'pedestrian' as compared to the wonderful doo-wop of 'This Boy', with John's energetic, shrill screaming in the bridge and these wonderful four notes after each chant of 'this boy' in the coda? A classic, indeed. Since this is a collection, you can witness the gradual progression and maturing of the band - through these earlier singles to the more intricate instrumentation and production on the Long Tall Sally songs, especially 'Slow Down' (somehow that repetitive piano riff sounds just marvelous to me). Of course, the title track of that EP is a McCartney fan favourite: God bless John for convincing Paul to let it rip on that track! Ever tried playing it back to back with the Little Richard original? See how much better it sounds? No, of course I don't mean Paul sings better than Little Richard (that would be heresy or simply slander), but these silly horns and uninteresting rhythm guitars can't be beat by the 1964-mark fury that the Beatles unleash on this record. And, of course, both Lennon's original 'I Call Your Name' and Ringo's trusty rendition of Carl Perkins' 'Matchbox' are highly recommendable as well. Then we have the famous 'I Feel Fine' single, with the first registered use of feedback and a dog barking in the background at the very end of the song - a thing unheard of in 1964! Curiously, though, there was a long period during which I hated the song - hated it with a completely unexplainable hatred. Hated it, I mean, until I suddenly stopped and asked myself what in the world could cause anybody to so seriously dislike a Beatles' song. I found no arguments, relistened to the song again and discovered I had absolutely nothing against it. Maybe my gripes were with the lyrics - you know, that 'baby says she's mine you know/she tells me all the time you know/she said so/I'm in love with her and I feel fine' does exceed the limits of stupidity, and that's at a time when John's next move would be to successfully ape Dylan on 'I'm A Loser'. The melody is great, though. And there's also the B-side to this stuff, Paul's 'She's A Woman', a song that predicts disco almost ten years before its time (yeah, I'm serious! Even if Jeff Beck did manage to turn it into reggae...) Finally, the first part of this collection ends with a favourite of mine - 'I'm Down', a generic McCartney rocker used to supplant his concert cover trademark - 'Long Tall Sally'. Among the more rare tracks are: 'Bad Boy', a John-sung rocking cover recorded specially for the American bastard release Beatles VI; and versions of 'She Loves You' and 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' recorded in German - the guys' Hamburg legacy, perhaps? Anyway, their pronunciation seems decent, so they must have passed quite a bit of time in Germany (which they had). Oh, that stupid practice of recording songs in different languages for the national markets... Indeed, I think that if you're not too sure of your attitude towards the early Beatles, this collection will do fine, and don't bother getting that 1962-66 album. This singles' collection is very representative of that epoch, and its advantage is that if you decide to get all the original LP's afterwards, you'll still need to keep it because it has no overlaps. A must, a must for everybody's collection.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
PAST MASTERS (vol. 2)
Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15
This is some mighty indispensable stuff, too. Buy it today, don't wait until tomorrow.
Best song: same as above.
Track listing: 1) Day Tripper; 2) We Can Work It Out; 3) Paperback Writer; 4) Rain; 5) Lady Madonna; 6) The Inner Light; 7) Hey Jude; 8) Revolution; 9) Get Back; 10) Don't Let Me Down; 11) The Ballad Of John And Yoko; 12) Old Brown Shoe; 13) Across The Universe; 14) Let It Be; 15) You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).
The second part of the singles' collection, and it's even more incredible - we step into their mature period. It opens with the singles from the 1965-66 period, all of which are just as good, if not better, than contemporary LP material. 'Day Tripper', for instance, has the best Beatles riff ever: it's no coincidence that out of all the Beatles songs, it was the only one played by Jimi Hendrix (you can hear a live version on BBC Sessions). My guess is that it was John's intentional attempt at going ahead and trying to create a 'rock anthem': after all, the band's strength never lied in their riffage. This is a powerful and convincing exception, and one of the cases where a Beatles B-side obviously overshadows its A-side. Not that 'We Can Work It Out' is bad, of course, with its wonderous shuffling, optimistic verses contrasted with John's pessimistic wailing in the stuttering, curiously decelerating bridge; it's simply incomparable to the power and excitement of 'Day Tripper'.
And how could one forget 'Paperback Writer', Paul's charming, ironic tribute to this class of people, with great lyrics and intricate backing vocals? Again, though, the single is maybe even more notorious for its B-side, 'Rain', which paves the ground to John's classic psychedelic tracks, with lazy, acid-drenched vocals, some of them recorded backwards, Eastern-sounding distorted guitars, and powerful drumming that bashes the very life out of you: and the refrain 'Rain, I don't mind' is the first mantra in the Beatles' history, right? I guess so. 'Rain', in fact, was that main herald of Revolver and the artsy-psychedelic revolution to come; the music community must have experienced a real kind of shudder from hearing it. However, it's still the 1968-1969 material (the 1967 singles are not included because they're on Magical Mystery Tour) that attracts most of the attention. Some of these songs, indeed, are the Fab Four's most notorious creations of the period, like Paul's famous piano rocker 'Lady Madonna' which marked the transition from the surrealism of 1967 to a 'returning-to-roots' in 1968, with its boggie-woogie piano chords and brass section. And, of course, there's (also Paul's) 'Hey Jude' with the most famous coda in the world (and by the way, it's not about Jews, it's about John's son Julian). Funny how I know some people who complain about the coda's monotonousness and lengthiness - if it's too lengthy for you, just turn it off. It's supposed to be some kind of a unifying, grandiose, sweeping anthem that crushes everything in its way, perhaps the ultimate statement of optimism and hope, and in a somewhat less defiant and universalist way than John's 'All You Need Is Love'. No wonder it was the Beatles' best-selling single of all times, if I'm not mistaken, of course: you can never tell with such things. And the flip side to the single contains the original version of 'Revolution' which may well be the hardest track they ever did (indeed, the main riff is closer to Cream, hell, closer to Mountain, than to the Beatles!), but it's also fiery, driving and intoxicating! Not to mention that it's also politically correct: John does not adlib the 'in' in 'you can count me out... in', a thing that he did in just a month or so on the version re-recorded for The Beatles. Out of 1969, the year of toil and tension, we have some more songs that are undeniable proof to the fact that the Beatles were always the Beatles - whether they were at their collective peak or on the verge of breaking. Thus, the tight, brilliantly produced single version of 'Get Back', with Billy Preston on piano, is far superior to the Let It Be version, and it features the silly coda that they decided not to put on the LP, the one about Loretta's mother waiting for her wearing her 'hi-heel shoes and her low-neck sweater'. And all the other 1969 songs make the game completely as well, at least for me. 'Don't Let Me Down', for instance, features a rip-roaring refrain interspersed with surprisingly gentle and heart-warming lyrics, 'Old Brown Shoe' is a forgotten, but genuine Harrison classic (dig in that magnificent rhythm!), and the lengthy, repetitive, Dylan-style 'The Ballad Of John And Yoko' is a bit overlong to my tastes but still quite hilarious. It's a travelogue telling about the famous couple's self-indulgent and nutty behaviour as idealistic, spaced-out hippies (remember all that crap, the bed-ins, Bagism, 'give peace a chance', eh?), but it sounds nothing like the avant-gardist garbage the two were flunking out as a 'duet' at the time - it's a song, and a solid one at that. The two letdowns are alternate versions of 'Let It Be' and 'Across The Universe', both of them inferior to the LP recordings, especially the former because the solo is much less emotional. But 'inferior' does not mean bad - why not have them on this superb collection too? Oh, make it three letdowns: we also have 'You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)', which is the last groove ever released by The Beatles, but the least convincing as well - in some parts it reminds me of 'Revolution 9', although in general it's just a parody on jazz-rock. A boring parody, though. For the record: Anthology-II features an extended version of this song, although that's hardly any consolation. On the other hand, this is a truly unique number in the Beatles' collection, and the one where they move closer in style to Frank Zappa than on any other record. I don't know whether that sounds like a good idea to you, but, seeing as I just dig ol' Frank 'ere, I kin jes' cope weth eet! Anyway, go and buy this album, don't let me just sit here and bug you. Let the Beatles do the job for me. There ain't a single weak track on here! And I do mean it - I even appreciate Harrison's 'Inner Light', yet another in his endless series of mystical Indian-influenced ravings. It has a solid Indian melody, and I likes an Indian melody when it's solid. In fact, I thoroughly welcome any type of Eastern music as long as it's not 'combed' for European ears; fortunately, George never does that.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
LIVE AT THE BBC
Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11
Sloppy, patchy, sometimes risible, but certainly a lot of fun.
Best song: well, I like TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS
Track listing: CD I: 1) Beatle Greetings; 2) From Us To You; 3) Riding On A Bus; 4) I Got A Woman; 5) Too Much Monkey Business; 6) Keep Your Hands Off My Baby; 7) I'll Be On My Way; 8) Young Blood; 9) A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues; 10) Sure To Fall (In Love With You); 11) Some Other Guy; 12) Thank You Girl; 13) Sha La La La La; 14) Baby It's You; 15) That's All Right (Mama); 16) Carol; 17) Soldier Of Love; 18) A Little Rhyme; 19) Clarabella; 20) I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry; 21) Crying Waiting Hoping; 22) Dear Wack; 23) You Really Got A Hold On Me; 24) To Know Her Is To Love Her; 25) A Taste Of Honey; 26) Long Tall Sally; 27) I Saw Her Standing There; 28) The Honeymoon Song; 29) Johnny B. Goode; 30) Memphis Tennessee; 31) Lucille; 32) Can't Buy Me Love; 33) From Fluff To You; 34) Till There Was You.
CD II: 1) Crinsk Dee Night; 2) A Hard Day's Night; 3) Have A Banana; 4) I Wanna Be Your Man; 5) Just A Rumour; 6) Roll Over Beethoven; 7) All My Loving; 8) Things We Said Today; 9) She's A Woman; 10) Sweet Little Sixteen; 11) 1822; 12) Lonesome Tears In My Eyes; 13) Nothin' Shakin'; 14) The Hippy Hippy Shake; 15) Glad All Over; 16) I Just Don't Understand; 17) Top So How Come (No One Loves Me); 18) I Feel Fine; 19) I'm A Loser; 20) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 21) Rock And Roll Music; 22) Ticket To Ride; 23) Dizzy Miss Lizzie; 24) Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey; 25) Set Fire To That Lot; 26) Matchbox; 27) I Forgot To Remember To Forget; 28) Love These Goon Shows; 29) I Got To Find My Baby; 30) Ooh! My Soul; 31) Ooh! My Arms; 32) Don't Ever Change; 33) Slow Down; 34) Honey Don't; 35) Love Me Do.
This was the first serious CD cash-in on the part of BBC, and, like most of the following (Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc.), it seems to work perfectly. This double CD package includes about fifty live recordings made by The Beatles in 1963-65, and, thank God, there are no alternate versions, like on the already mentioned Hendrix or Led Zeppelin releases - probably because The Beatles were much much more frequent guests on Radio One than their colleague musicians and simply got to play more material (not to mention that their songs were shorter). That said, the Beatles weren't a superior live band - there is no denying that, and in that respect, these BBC recordings can't help but pale in comparison to, say, the fantastic Led Zeppelin sessions. For one, most of the live cuts of songs from all of their albums up to Help! (and there's quite a bit of them) are not very interesting, and at times they become almost boring - especially on disc 2, where at some point they sing nothing but For Sale and Help! songs which are all at worst inferior and at best absolutely similar to the studio recordings. I admit that sometimes it might be interesting to witness the subtle changes - to see them extend the ending of 'She's A Woman' with some 'jamming', for instance, or to hear Ringo sing 'Matchbox' and 'I Wanna Be Your Man' live: fact is, he goes into such a humoristic rage while pounding on his kit and shouting out the lyrics at the same time, that he can't stay on key even for one line. Good old Ring! Have a banana! Catch!
No, but the real attraction of the album is that there's lots of songs that never made it to original albums - most of them covers, plus one original - 'I'll Be On My Way', a rather silly pop song wisely given away to some Mersey band, either Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas or Jerry and The Pacemakers, I really don't remember who. As for the covers, some of them are very entertaining. John does a good job in assimilating Chuck Berry's 'Too Much Monkey Business', for example, while George shows himself a great ape-man as he faithfully copies the classic introduction to 'Johnny B. Goode'. Paul, on the other hand, will display for you some more of that unrestricted rock'n'roll howler, as he bawls out the lyrics to 'Clarabella' and especially 'The Hippie Hippie Shake'. Lots of covers, surprisingly enough, are done by George, and they're good: 'Young Blood', for example, or 'Nothin' Shakin' and Carl Perkins' 'Glad All Over' on disc 2. Poor George was probably taking his revanche on not being allowed to sing much in the studio. Some of the covers, however, are total bullshit even by inferior standards: the sweety-sugary 'Honeymoon Song' belongs on a Frankie Avalon record, and the teeny-bopping 'Lonesome Tears In My Eyes' might have benefited from slick Beatles production, but live it just sucks. But, anyway - this is the Beatles! This is the Beatles! The Beatles can't sing crap! Or, well, maybe they can, but I'll still prefer any Beatles-sung crap to the best stuff by the Smashing Pumpkins. Yeah. But wait, there's so many of this stuff here, there's just plain no need to listen to the crap - ever heard the Beatles play 'Carol'? 'Lucille'? 'Memphis Tennessee'? 'Sweet Little Sixteen'? What about Paul's magnificent Elvis impersonation on 'That's All Right'? John's soulful rendition of that Motown piece o' shit (heh heh), 'Soldier Of Love'? 'I Got A Woman'? And that's not all! Yes, taken individually, all of these songs were done better either in the original versions ('Lucille', 'I Got A Woman') or played tighter by the Beatles' colleagues (the Stones' version of 'Carol', for instance, is so much tighter that... ah, forget it. Who are we comparing anyway). Maybe the greatest attraction on the album, though, is the dialogs between the boys and the Radio Man (actually, there might have been several Radio Men; I checked their names at some time, but I've forgotten, and, frankly speaking, I don't give a whack). It has John's great line: 'I play guitar, sometimes I play the fool', or John guessing that 'A Hard Day's Night' is 'Crinsk Dee Night' in Portuguese, or Paul telling about his musical tastes, etc. These things add a real domestic touch to the whole album. Still, regardless of all its virtues, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who isn't already fed up on the original LPs. I can't see why anybody should prefer these live versions to the originals, and as for the elsewhere unavailable covers - they're all harmless fun, of course, but they sure don't add nothing to The Beatles' fame. Wilson & Alroy recently supposed that these two discs could be a good alternative to pulling out your original LP's for the hundredth time, and I agree - I did find out, in fact, that during the past two years I've played this stuff more often than any other Beatles album, just because it was relatively new. The only major complaint about this stuff, and a thing that can seriously bug you if you're a rigid formalist, is that, for no reason, the songs are not arranged chronologically - while certain chunks of material do seem to be thrown together (perversely, these are the most annoying chunks, like three or four Beatles For Sale epoch originals), they're, in fact, all mighty inconsequential. 'Love Me Do' is the last track on the album, darn! No perspective! And you can't even program the thing unless you have a 2- or more-CD player, because you'd have to swap discs all of the time. No perfection in this world, right? Right.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11
A cash-in, interesting for hardcore fans and novelty collectors.
Best song: CRY FOR A SHADOW
Track listing: CD I: 1) Free As A Bird; 2) Speech by John Lennon; 3) That'll Be The Day; 4) In Spite Of All The Danger; 5) Speech by Paul McCartney; 6) Hallelujah I Love Her So; 7) You'll Be Mine; 8) Cayenne; 9) Speech by Paul McCartney; 10) My Bonnie; 11) Ain't She Sweet; 12) Cry For A Shadow; 13) Speech by John Lennon; 14) Speech by Brian Epstein; 15) Searchin'; 16) Three Cool Cats; 17) The Sheik Of Araby; 18) Like Dreamers Do; 19) Hello Little Girl; 20) Speech by Brian Epstein; 21) Besame Mucho; 22) Love Me Do; 23) How Do You Do It; 24) Please Please Me; 25) One After 909 (Sequence); 26) One After 909; 27) Lend Me Your Comb; 28) I'll Get You; 29) Speech by John Lennon; 30) I Saw Her Standing There; 31) From Me To You; 32) Money (That's What I Want); 33) You Really Got A Hold On Me; 34) Roll Over Beethoven.
CD II: 1) She Loves You; 2) Till There Was You; 3) Twist And Shout; 4) This Boy; 5) I Want To Hold Your Hand; 6) Speech by Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise; 7) Moonlight Bay; 8) Can't Buy Me Love; 9) All My Loving; 10) You Can't Do That; 11) And I Love Her; 12) A Hard Day's Night; 13) I Wanna Be Your Man; 14) Long Tall Sally; 15) Boys; 16) Shout; 17) I'll Be Back (Take 2); 18) I'll Be Back (Take 3); 19) You Know What To Do; 20) No Reply (Demo); 21) Mr Moonlight; 22) Leave My Kitten Alone; 23) No Reply; 24) Eight Days A Week (Sequence); 25) Eight Days A Week; 26) Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey.
First of all: let me tell you I'm not a terrible fan of the Anthologies. There's no doubt about the fact that the whole enterprise was intended to milk the numerous fans' pockets, and in that it succeeded admirably - it just couldn't fail. But I seriously doubt that even the most hardcore fan could prefer these tracks to the originals. Raw, without overdubs, with extremely simple guitar and keyboard lines, often stuttering and off-key vocals, sometimes with cracking noises, sometimes with painfully distorted sound, these primaeval versions of well-known classics are certainly interesting if taken as historical documents. But try to pass them for real music? Hah! Ridiculous.
Now then, the first one of these products is probably the most interesting in that it contains several early compositions and/or recordings made by the Fab Four when they weren't Fab yet (in fact, at some times they weren't even Four). Some people actually consider this a letdown, because all of these things are obviously inferior to the Beatles' classic material as we have grown to know it. However, it all depends on the attitude: if you're really planning to spend quite a bit of your time listening to this Anthologies stuff as real music, you'd better be off with the third volume. Me, I'm only willing to accept them as treasurable, but not particularly entertaining documents, and in this respect, the first volume is inarguably the most important. And so, what do we find? There's the first recording John, Paul and George ever did together, the unlucky single 'That'll Be The Day'/'In Spite Of All The Danger', with horrible cracking noises and extremely lousy singing. Even so, while the version of 'That'll Be The Day' doesn't really differ much from your average fourteen year old teen schoolgroup's sloppy take, Paul's original already shows the first blossoms of creative energy - my, don't you think that with a little elaboration and a bit of changed lyrics they could make it a hit? Next come some poor-audience-quality bootleg recordings dating from club gigs in the late fifties ("Hallelujah I Love Her So", "You'll Be Mine" with John (Paul?) making a parody on Elvis), which are, as Paul confesses it, simply recordings made on a tape-recorder placed before the singers to satisfy their own self-indulgent needs. They're unlistenable, for sure, but just imagine all the hoopla! Things start getting good with a couple o' numbers with Tony Sheridan, like the world-famous "My Bonnie", the band's first officially released recording ever. Even better, though, are the Lennon-sung "Ain't She Sweet" and the fabulous instrumental "Cry For A Shadow" which should be considered one of their best instrumental compositions (not that they did a lot of them, anyway) and, in fact, the first significant Beatles' composition of any artistic merit. That stinging guitar riff is really something, and it's a good thing the composition was not forgotten. Ripped off from the Shadows, I suppose (as the title suggests), but then again, the Shadows were a pretty interesting group themselves. Most interesting, though, this volume presents us with some of the so-called 'Decca tapes' which were presented by Brian Epstein to Decca, but rejected under the famous pretext that "guitar-based groups are going out of fashion". These include a great "Searchin'", two Harrison-sung oldies (my personal favourite is 'Three Cool Cats') and especially Paul's own 'Like Dreamers Do' which, I guess, could be easily included on Please Please Me but for some reason wasn't. The later stuff, however, is for the most part well-known. Live versions (some of them from the famous Royal Albert Hall gig), a lot of them: fun but certainly add nothing to the originals. And studio takes: some are exciting, I'll admit, especially the early version of 'One After 909', with some banter in the studio (I like the bit where Paul complains about his bassline, saying stuff like 'I can't play that, it's MURDER!', and the funny waltz tempo of 'I'll Be Back'. Heard that? John starts singing the song in that tempo, then growls that he can't do it, and they burst into a much faster take. (Of course, they were spliced only later, but still sounds fun). But most are just curios. Some are even unlistenable, like 'And I Love Her' which sounds as if the tape was chewn. Songs unavailable before include a great cover of 'Shout' with the band members taking turns to sing the repeating lines, a 'Leave My Kitten Alone' (great rocker with John at his best) and a 'Moonlight Bay' (imagine that!) preceded by a comedy bit which (the comedy bit, not the song) you can also see on video. Oh wait! I've almost forgotten the 'Free As A Bird' tune which is really an old John Lennon demo enriched in the studio by Paul, George, and Ringo. And Jeff Lynne (sigh). The song is fantastic, the production is much too bombastic. Then again, such a great monster as the Anthology should probably have a bombastic start. Who knows? But it's interesting how Paul intertwines his vocals with the deeply mixed Lennon voice. Reminds me of a "seance in the dark". I've even managed to get used to the bombastic arrangement, you know. By the way, if you want to hear a cool 'stripped' version of the tune, consult Adrian Belew's Belewprints album (which is pretty hard to find anyway) where he does a touching rendition of the song backed by just a piano. Just like the program specified.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 9
Another cash-in, hardly significant from the musical sense.
Best song: THAT MEANS A LOT
Track listing: CD I: 1) Real Love; 2) Yes It Is; 3) I'm Down; 4) You've Got To Hide Your Love Away; 5) If You've Got Trouble; 6) That Means A Lot; 7) Yesterday; 8) It's Only Love; 9) I Feel Fine; 10) Ticket To Ride; 11) Yesterday; 12) Help!; 13) Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby; 14) Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown); 15) I'm Looking Through You; 16) 12-Bar Original; 17) Tomorrow Never Knows; 18) Got To Get You Into My Life; 19) And Your Bird Can Sing; 20) Taxman; 21) Eleanor Rigby (strings only); 22) I'm Only Sleeping (Rehearsal); 23) I'm Only Sleeping (Take 1); 24) Rock And Roll Music; 25) She's A Woman.
CD II: 1) Strawberry Fields Forever (demo); 2) Strawberry Fields Forever (take 1); 3) Strawberry Fields Forever (take 7 and edit piece); 4) Penny Lane; 5) A Day In The Life; 6) Good Morning Good Morning; 7) Only A Northern Song; 8) Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite-1; 9) Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite-2; 10) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds; 11) Within You Without You (instrumental); 12) Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise); 13) You Know My Name (Look Up The Number); 14) I Am The Walrus; 15) The Fool On The Hill (demo); 16) Your Mother Should Know; 17) The Fool On The Hill (take 4); 18) Hello Goodbye; 19) Lady Madonna; 20) Across The Universe.
Same old line: live recordings and studio edits, from 1965-1966 (disc 1) and on to 1967 (disc 2). The main problem is that I consider this one much worse than the first volume, primarily because there are only two previously unavailable songs: "If You've Got Trouble" is a Ringo-sung childish pop rocker intended for Help! but replaced by "Act Naturally"... eventually, and "That Means A Lot" is a nice Macca ballad, shelved for unclear reasons. I like both of the songs, and I do think they hold up against the officially released contemporary material; however, two new songs for a 2-CD album? Gimme a break... Plus, we have "12-Bar Original" - a very strange instrumental jam that would not seem out of place on a Rolling Stones album. Apparently, the Fab Four did jam a lot in the studio, but, due to their lack of superior technical abilities, never included that stuff on their official albums (an impressingly clever tactics that quite a few not-so-modest bands should have followed). However, taken as an exception, it's quite intriguing to hear the Beatles engage in a musical genre they would never disclose during their career.
The rest, however, is only interesting historically. A lot of raw versions from Revolver and, strange enough, only two takes from Rubber Soul, both of them equally uninteresting. There's 'Norwegian Wood', spoiled by an overemphasized sitar arrangement (the standard version cleverly restricted the use of this instrument), and a pumped-up, more rockin' version of 'I'm Looking Through You', where the softer/harder sections just do not merge so seamlessly as, again, they do on the standard version. Revolver outtakes aren't that good, either: the demo version of 'Got To Get You Into My Life', with that noodling organ sound and without the horns, makes me cringe, and 'Tomorrow Never Knows' here sounds like one of those stupid acid jams by the Jefferson Airplane. However, I would recommend the version of 'Eleanor Rigby' which is actually nothing but strings: when you hear them solo, with no singing, you get a very strange feeling that keeps you on your toes. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. ............. And, for some reason, I quite enjoy listening to the cut of 'And Your Bird Can Sing' on here. Maybe it's because of the stupid giggling throughout - the band just sounds as if they were mocking themselves, and it's hilarious. Some face is left on the live recordings (some from the Hollywood Bowl, some from their final performance at Candlestick park, I think), although not much. The live version of 'Yesterday', for instance, is totally unnecessary (although it did look cool in the video), and sometimes they just keep fuckin' up, like on 'Help!' where John keeps forgetting the lyrics (as usual). Oh well, at least the sound quality is better than on the official Live At The Hollywood Bowl album. but it all comes to an end on disc 2, since the boys quit touring by then. It all consists of raw and unadorned Pepper-Mystery Tour takes, most of them unlistenable. Only a complete geek would like to listen to an instrumental version of "Within You Without You", or sit through three versions of "Strawberry Fields", or enjoy a "Hello Goodbye" with no overdubs. There are some interesting facts, though: like you know "Only A Northern Song" is really a 1967 outtake and not made specially for Submarine. And there's a full-length version of "You Know My Name" which, as you probably know, is the greatest Beatles song of all time. Enjoy! Frankly, I don't remember even a single track on that second disc that somehow managed to receive my attention. To make matters worse, some of the songs are Frankensteins, several takes seamed together, and some just follow the formula 'basic track with no overdubs of this and that', like on the stripped down 'I Am The Walrus' or 'Good Morning Good Morning'. I don't think even rock historians would be too interested in this stuff. The opening track, 'Real Love', is cool, though. Yet another collaboration of John Lennon's ghost with Paul, George, Ringo, and Jeff Lynne, it is very emotional and could have been a great hit were it released by a living John. As it is, it wasn't. The production almost ruins it, of course (Jeff Lynne is about as compatible with John Lennon as George Martin with the Sex Pistols), but if you see right through the booming drums, you'll witness the genius. For the record, the soundtrack to Lennon's video biography (Imagine: John Lennon) includes the original version of this song in its simple piano arrangement. Check this one out. Oh, and as far as I know, the song was not performed by Adrian Belew.
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Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10
Yet more cash-ins. Get it only when you learn all the rest by heart.
Best song: WHAT'S THE NEW MARY-JANE
Track listing: CD I: 1) A Beginning; 2) Happiness Is A Warm Gun; 3) Helter Skelter; 4) Mean Mr Mustard; 5) Polythene Pam; 6) Glass Onion-1; 7) Junk; 8) Piggies; 9) Honey Pie; 10) Don't Pass Me By; 11) Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da; 12) Good Night; 13) Cry Baby Cry; 14) Blackbird; 15) Sexy Sadie; 16) While My Guitar Gently Weeps; 17) Hey Jude; 18) Not Guilty; 19) Mother Nature's Son; 20) Glass Onion-2; 21) Rocky Raccoon; 22) What's The New Mary-Jane; 23) Step Inside Love/Los Paranoias; 24) I'm So Tired; 25) I Will; 26) Why Don't We Do It In The Road; 27) Julia.
CD II: 1) I've Got A Feeling; 2) She Came In Through The Bathroom Window; 3) Dig A Pony; 4) Two Of Us; 5) For You Blue; 6) Teddy Boy; 7) Rip It Up/Shake Rattle And Roll/Blue Suede Shoes; 8) The Long And Winding Road; 9) Oh Darling; 10) All Things Must Pass; 11) Mailman Bring Me No More Blues; 12) Get Back; 13) Old Brown Shoe; 14) Octopus's Garden; 15) Maxwell's Silver Hammer; 16) Something; 17) Come Together; 18) Come And Get It; 19) Ain't She Sweet (Rehearsal); 20) Because; 21) Let It Be; 22) I Me Mine; 23) The End.
And again we're exposed to a flood of 'musical skeletons'. Disc 1 is pretty much the White Album complete, with minor omissions due to disk space, and it's chock-full of uninteresting, dull, sloppy versions which would have been brilliant were they not completely obliterated by their elaborate peers on original releases. Who needs a quiet acoustic 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'? Interesting... but no keyboards? No Clapton solos? No George wailings in the background? Who needs it? Not me. I mean, it's a good start if you're planning to learn how to play this kind of thing, and it is moving in quite a different way, but the definitive version will always be the definitive version. What is the point to listen to half-finished, raw versions of 'Rocky Raccoon' or 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', or listen to an overlong version of 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?'
Nice to know 'Mean Mr Mustard' and 'Polythene Pam' began life as possible candidates for the White Album as well, though. Still, this is rather a good treat for historians than for music fans. Likewise, historians will be pleased at the hilarious "tame" demo version of 'Helter Skelter', with just a timid guitar rhythm track and cute little drum fills from Ringo, far from the 'I got blisters on my fingers!' hysterics. Or they'll be pleased at the gentle acoustic version of 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' featuring Paul having a lot of fun with his voice, modulating it in as many ways as possible. (All the greater is the fact that he settled down on just two or three different intonations in the final version, which saved it from looking way too self-indulgent.) And they'll be certainly pleased at the first disc ending off with John playing a near-acoustic version of 'Julia' and shouting 'Couldn't I go from there? 'Cause that was almost perfect!'. Still, there is some actively good news as well, in that overall there's a bit more previously unreleased material than on the second volume. George's sad, melancholic, confessional 'Not Guilty' is at the least entertaining; it's kinda clumsy and doesn't hold up well, but it has enough quality to have been later resuscitated for his 1978 album, although it did not do much there. John's 'What's The New Mary-Jane' is certainly fun and could have been a ten tons better contribution for the White Album than 'Revolution 9' ever was: a groovy psycho number that starts out as a nursery rhyme and goes on to become a scary, creepy sound collage. Finally, Paul's 'Step Inside Love' is a pretty ditty, chunking off in a mellow tempo before the band goes drooning in a psychedelic schizophrenia ('Los Paranoias'). But that's about it. Disc 2 gives us insight into the Let It Be and Abbey Road sessions, and believe me, you won't be tremendously excited about hearing it over and over, either. Sure, Phil Spector's 'wall-of-sound' production is missing, and a lot of people rave about 'The Long And Winding Road' sounding a lot greater without the orchestral background. Could be. Could be not. Me, I personally don't feel the need for another version, I quite enjoy the original. Here, the standouts are 'Come And Get It', an interesting McCartney product which was later relegated to Badfinger who performed it in the exact same way, and some rock'n'roll jams which you can also see live in the Let It Be movie. Again, I think it's much more interesting to see the movie where you can really see the boys take off their load and engage in some mindless fun, forgetting about their problems. Here, on the other side, the only thing you notice is the displeasant sloppiness of these numbers. Come on now, the boys were just banging on their pianos and wailing out the lyrics to 'Rip It Up' and 'Blue Suede Shoes' that they probably haven't played for six or seven years already. Why this stuff ought to have been extracted from bootlegs and offered to the general Beatles' lover is way beyond me. 'Nuff said. Other than that, there are also some interesting demo versions of songs which would later become solo Beatle songs: Paul's 'Junk' and 'Teddy Boy' were later included on McCartney, and George's 'All Things Must Pass', sure enough, on All Things Must Pass. If you like 'em, be sure to get these albums! They're as good as any Beatles disc... well, here I am - talking of solo Beatles instead of the Anthologies. Pure chance? Nah. I mean, if you're really objective and if you're Beatles-obsessed, you would do yourself a much better job to grab the best of the Beatles' solo albums before even thinking of getting the Anthologies. If you ask me, indeed, I'll say that all this crazy hype did nothing but ruin the Beatles' reputation. At least, these archives should not be marketed under slogans like 'the lost great Beatles' legacy' or something like that, but with a severe warning to fans that these records are documents, not new records. As it is, I suppose many an ignorant fan of 'Hey Jude' and 'Michelle' has shelled out his money for nothing. On the other hand, I think that, with a little (ok, with a huge) editing, you could tape off the best of the new material, outtakes and live performances to make a really good 90-minute tape or a superb 45-minute tape, which you'll be sure to enjoy just as fine as your average Beatles album. And don't forget to put 'Cry For A Shadow', 'That Means A Lot' and 'Come And Get It' on it!
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A HARD DAY'S NIGHT
Year Of Release: 1964
Possibly the best ever Beatle movie, this one is completely unpretentious, 'un-silly' and full of good-time generic British humour. It features the Beatles on a kind of 'average' day - a trip to some unknown British city to perform in a local theatre. Richard Lester tried, however, to make this 'average' day look as interesting as possible - and he succeeded, creating a real masterpiece that is often regarded as the prototypical rock movie. The hilarious scenes will certainly make you laugh till you're half dead, especially if you have a penchant for traditional British humour, and the lip-sync performances are great too. Also, each of the characters (except probably Paul) are very well shown with emphasis on their peculiar characteristics (see, for example, Harrison's 'clothes advertisement' scene, or Ringo's relations with 'Paul's grandfather', or John's constant hooliganry).
This film is Ringo's debut as a movie star - never surpassed at that, so Ringo fans are particularly welcome here; John displays strong acting abilities as well. On the other hand, both Paul and George obviously do not know how to act, and this is probably why Paul does not play any important part in the film (the same goes for Help!). Sorry, Paul! Unfortunately, he never ever really learned to act in his entire life - it was never part of his appeal. Oh, and of course, the film is in black and white. Disappointed? Hardly - most of the early Beatles' photos are in black and white, so no need to get used or adjusted if you hardly stand black and white (I mean, there are people who do). Also, I warn you that they do not sing all the time - after all, wouldn't that get boring? And, of course, there is no real live footage with live audio, but I guess that goes without saying. And do you think that scene in the plot where Ringo fakes his departure from the band presages the Beatles' own break-up? I mean, didn't they actually break up to get to some 'real life', just like he did in the movie...
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Year Of Release: 1965
So this time Dick Lester decided he'd try to go for a real plot in his next Beatles film. Therefore there's a whole lotta intended humour in this film, and it does seem funny - in the best traditions of British comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn't have anything to do with the Beatles. The plot - about Ringo accidentally acquiring a sacred Indian ring needed for a ritual human sacrifice and being therefore hunted by some dark Indian cult - is stupid to the extreme (where did he get the ring? how come he can't get it off in the beginning and it comes off all by itself in the end? questions like these arise every five seconds, I assure you), and, while Ringo, as usual, does a great acting job, the other three are totally blank. Paul is even duller than he was in Hard Day's Night, and both John and George don't get even a single chance to shine. The other actors do look funny, though. Also, the film is in colours, so this may serve as some sort of consolation. And you'll see how the boys have certainly changed and let loose their hair since the last year - in the case of Ringo, quite literally. Elsewhere, they dress in beach outfits for the Bahamas, winter coats for the Alps, and, in the case of Paul, newspapers for the urinal (I'm not jokin'!)
It's a good thing this was their second and last try at making a 'traditional' movie with a professional director. I actually enjoy it - sometimes; but I shudder at the thought what would their next move in this direction had been. This one is only saved by the fact that it's a British, not American, comedy. No offense, but check the differences between Elvis films and Beatles films and you'll see the crucial difference in quality.
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MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR
Year Of Release: 1967
Their first (and last) self-made film. Everybody hated it at the time it came out, and few enjoy it still, but I don't think it's actually as bad as it is depicted. The problem is, there's not much humour here, and when there is humour, it is always the psychodelic kind of humour. So people who expected another Help! were disappointed. But I'm asking everybody: what did you expect in 1967? A comedy? A serious film? A thriller? This is the Beatles enjoying themselves, experimenting, trying out the first ideas that came into their heads. It isn't supposed to showcase their talents; it isn't supposed to have any message. It's just fun.
Of course, it's got its own defects. The stupid striptease scene at the end is absolutely unnecessary, for one thing. Guess they wanted some hooliganry, but the fact is that this is no psychodelia, and it muddles the concept. A couple of scenes are rather nasty, like the one where John serves spadefuls of spaghetti to Aunt Jessica. But there's a lot of great sequences, most of which are tied to songs: the great 'I Am The Walrus' sequence, Paul impersonating the Fool on the Hill, changes of cloud-colour in 'Flying', the closing 'Your Mother Should Know' with the guys dressed in white wearing roses... all these things are very nice. No meaning. No message. But enjoyable. So really, I don't get what all the hatred is about. Guess it's accidental. Go correct this mistake - get a copy of the film and enjoy the guys at their psychodelic best. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about the plot. Well... there isn't any.
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Year Of Release: 1968
It's not even a movie, it's a cartoon. But it's great. The plot is childish and 'summer-of-love'-ish at the same time. A happy land called Pepperland is invaded by the Blue Meanies, and naturally there's no one but the Beatles to arrive on the scene in a Yellow Submarine and expel the nasty intruders with the power of music and love. The graphics are really inspired (indeed, as far as I know, this thing produced a revolution in cartoonery), the plot is a bit dumb but vompensated by lots of good humour, and the soundtrack consists entirely of Beatle originals plus some orchestration from George Martin (see the soundtrack album for details). Plus - the Beatles appear themselves at the very end to wish us all good luck and sing 'All Together Now'. Jolly.
I highly recommend this cartoon EVEN for adults. Every Beatles fan should own it, and it might seem groovy even to people who hate The Beatles more than paying taxes.
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LET IT BE
Year Of Release: 1970
A v-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-ry long documentary, released approximately at the same time with the corresponding LP. It was Paul's idea to get The Beatles all in a recording studio with cameras, lock them up and film all that would happen. Actually, all that happened was a lot of swearing and nervous breakdowns, and that's exacty what you get in the first part, culminating in the scene where George gets really pissed off at Paul and says something like 'OK, you can play what you want, and I'll play everything you tell me. I'll do everything you want'. Still, there is some interesting footage of the guys working on songs like 'Two Of Us', 'I've Got A Feeling', 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' and others. Yoko is present, too.
The second part of the film sees the guys return to Apple Studios, where things seem to cheer up a little, especially with the arrival of Billy Preston. We see some jams where the boys clearly enjoy themselves, a great footage of 'For You Blue' and lots of interesting things, including George and Ringo having fun with the keyboards while playing 'Octopus's Garden'. Finally, the movie's culmination is certainly the famous roof concert, filmed in its completeness (I guess). Everybody's happy - until the police arrives, that is, but even with that they manage to play a great handful of songs, some of them included on the LP. Really great! If you're really into Beatles, be sure to grab a copy of this: it'll give you real insight into the way The Beatles worked, even if the time already wasn't quite appropriate.
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THE BEATLES COMPLEAT
Year Of Release: 1982
The first historical documentary covering the complete (compleat?) history of The Beatles. This is the place to start if you're a novice: the text is very well narrated, there's a lot of photos and footage, excerpts from interviews and press-conferences, the soundtrack is very well selected, and there's even enough time for some live numbers in their entirety - 'Twist And Shout' from the Royal Albert Hall, two songs from their first gig in Washington ('I Want To Hold Your Hand', 'From Me To You') and three from Budokan, 1966 ('Yesterday', 'Nowhere Man', 'If I Needed Someone'). Unfortunately, real lovers of the Beatles live will get little from this film; at least, I suppose that just five live tracks is not enough for anybody. Still - as a historical documentary it is near-perfect.
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ON THE ROAD
Year Of Release: 1990
A short documentary with next to no music: this is The Beatles 'on the road', and that's what you get: excerpts from interviews, press-conferences, lots of footage you don't need because you can get it on Compleat, and some idiotic collations. The funniest thing for me is Paul playing the fool around the camera during a Japanese interview in 1966. Lousy. Avoid if you're not obsessed with the idea of getting every Beatles video there is.
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Year Of Release: 1996
Well, what can I say? This was intended to replace Compleat on a higher level: it has six parts instead of one, the story is narrated by The Beatles themselves, there's lots of live cuts, most of them previously unavailable, lots of videos and tons of interesting footage. Still, strange though it may seem, I would recommend you to get Compleat as well. The reason is: this monster of a movie boasts a horrible production. Nobody but God could understand the Beatles' story from this horrible mess of recollections. The usual pattern is: Neil Aspinall says there were 50,000 spectators at Shea Stadium, then in goes Paul and says there were 60,000, then we have George saying there were really 70,000. So the poor people who watch it are still left ignorant about the fact how many spectators there really were. Some important things are missed, e. g., the making of Yellow Submarine cartoon, etc. Sometimes the chronology is all mixed up. Sometimes you just can't get what in the hell they are talking about.
So my advice is - just skip the banter and watch the live performances. Thanks God, there's a lot of these. Highlights include: footage from the Ed Sullivan show, two numbers from the Royal Albert Hall (not 'Twist And Shout'), a great version of 'Hey Jude' from a TV show, studio footage from the making of the White Album, and lots and lots of others. For this, if for nothing else, the Anthology is certainly worth the money.
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