Tag Archives: The Beatles

[68] The Beatles – Abbey Road

25 Jul

For all that I consider myself a Paul-before-John fan (and that I might even prefer George over John), my favorite Beatles song is the John penned jam, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

The last 6 weeks or so have been a reeducation.

I came in knowing every song, already had a history with each album, yet there remains something new to hear, there is still a relevence, a current-ness to everything from A Hard Day’s Night through Abbey Road.

There is a reason that the legacy of The Beatles endures, that each new generation continues to be drawn to their evolving catalog.

And that progression is as amazing to hear as individual pieces – each album, each melody, each note.

Abbey Road is another delicious and diverse collection of musical experiments, stiched together into a whole somehow greater than its already exceptional parts.

Maybe it is only 20/20 hindsight that listening to Abbey Road feels like saying goodbye, like the boys are doing one final encore together, knowing this is “The End”.  But perhaps it’s more than background knowledge – apparently the final overdub for “I Want You” was the last time all four Beatles worked in a studio together.

Hindsight or not, it is quite a swan song.

The album is filled with classic rockers like “Come Together” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, with beautiful ballads like “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, with quirky pop riffs like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Polythene Pam” and Ringo’s wonderfully sweet “Octopus’ Garden”.

Everything you would expect if you’ve been paying attention through the past 5 albums.

Then of course the fascinating patchwork of song snippets that wash over you as you listen to Side Two, hinting at the solo work that each would create into the 70s and (for some) beyond . . .

There are new sounds for me to hear before the familiar strains of Beethoven up ahead in the near distance, so I will say goodbye now to The Fab Four, at least for a while.

But first I cue up “I Want You” one last time and let the groove take me away.

Next Week:  The Beau Brummels – Triangle

Owned before blogging? Yes. (9 of 68 = 13%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (11 of 68 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (55 of 68 = 81%)

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Guest Blogger Johanna Pinzler: The Beatles – Abbey Road

21 Jul

Love of my life, mother of our daughter, writer of a guest blog post . . .

—–

My Mom used to tell me about her college roommate and best friend who was obsessed with George Harrison. She had a full length picture of his first wife, model Patti Boyd, and she amused herself by throwing darts at her crotch.

I’m not sure why I felt compelled to share that tidbit but I’ve always wanted to tell that story and this seemed like the appropriate moment.

My mother was a tremendously huge Beatles fan . . . or at least that’s how I perceived her as a kid. She certainly had all the band’s albums (or got them in the divorce) and although she didn’t play them much there they were, stashed under the record player along with some of my other favorites by Aretha Franklin and Carole King. Sometime in junior high or early high school I found them and played them and they were very much a part of my self-guided musical education.

With a few exceptions (Prince, Billy Joel, REM) I wasn’t all that interested in the top 40 by the time I hit high school. I was aware of it and even enjoyed a lot of it but I wasn’t obsessed. I was obsessed with musical theatre soundtracks, Motown and the Beatles (at some point The Doors slipped in there too). I always felt somehow out of sync musically with many of my peers but I liked what I liked and as an adult I can look back at my teenage musical tastes and think I was actually pretty cool in a “screw you I’m totally retro” kind of way.

Abbey Road has always been one of my favorite Beatles albums jockeying for position with Revolver and The White Album, but the way Abbey Road really stands out is that I never want to skip any of the tracks when I am listening to it.

With the advent of CD and now Mp3 I am a frequent abuser of my skip button. I do it all the time but never with Abbey Road. Every single song is a work of art and tells a complete (or somehow connected to another in the same album) story.

I had heard that the Beatles were never all in the same room when they recorded this album in the spring and summer of 1969.

It turns out that isn’t entirely true. According to Ian MacDonald in his book “Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties” they weren’t getting along all that well and there was a lot of tension but the 4 of them did get into the studio a few times, in fact some of the most complicated harmonies The Beatles ever sung were done all together on the tracks “Because” and “The Sun King.”

I find this to be a relief because the album is so genius that it makes me sad as both a musician and a fan that this kind of brilliance could be created in any way other than as an ensemble.

I mean the first four tracks alone are “Come Together”, “Something”, “Maxwell Silver’s Hammer” and “Oh! Darling.” Come on!

It would be hard to top that but then this album also contains, “Here Comes The Sun”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, “Octopus’ Garden”, and as part of the crazy medley on the B side, “She Came in Through The Bathroom Window.”

I teach communications and theatre students at two different colleges in the greater New York area and it gives me chest pains how many of my students only know about The Beatles as some great band from way back. They may know the occasional Beatles song because they still get played and covered by other bands but they don’t “get it.”

It should be part of any kid’s musical education that they have to listen to the Beatles canon.

They just don’t make music like this these days.

It makes me sound like an old fart (hell, it’s not even considered my generation’s music) but there is something so complete about the music The Beatles wrote and recorded especially the later albums. They are eminently singable, feature insanely remarkable musicianship, have meaning, and without them so much of what has followed in Rock and Roll, and really all music, simply would not exist in the same way.

So I say Abbey Road (and The White Album, Sergeant Pepper’s, Revolver and Rubber Soul) should be required listening for all the young whippersnappers out there.

And while I’m at it, get the hell off my lawn.

—–

Johanna Pinzler has an MFA, a husband (who you may be familiar with) and a daughter.

Most often she can be found on subways reading her Kindle while she commutes from Brooklyn to the Bronx and the Upper East Side where, depending on the day, she teaches Theatrical Directing, Public Speaking and Voice and Speech.

In her alternate reality she is a Professional Director . . . she recently returned from Sonoma County, CA miraculously having been paid to do what she loves.

In her past life she got paid to sing rock and roll and show tunes in piano bars.

Go to johannapinzler.com to see pictures of productions she has directed and hire her as an acting coach.

[67] The Beatles – The Beatles

18 Jul

For a long time Sgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band was my favorite Beatles album. Then I discovered The White Album.

The Beatles (aka The White Album)

The Beatles (aka The White Album)

The opening track, “Back In The USSR”, is a straightforward (if quite exceptional) rock ‘n’ roll number but there is very little straightforward about anything that follows.

It shouldn’t stand a chance of working – three hugely talented egos, burnt out on each other, on fame, on recording.  They don’t want to be in the same room together, let alone write and record the same kind of music.

It should be an incoherent mess.

Just look at the next few songs – a proto-goth, eastern-tinged lullabye; a bit of psychadelic soul; the catchiest bit of nonsense chorus wrapped around a touching street scene: 53 seconds of randomness (which is partial explained on the next disc); a meaningless story song; and an amazing example of a guitar god prowess.

And we’re still barely a quarter of the way into the album!

It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, like a patchwork quilt, each track is matched to the one on either side of it, and the picture that emerges is even more beautiful than the astounding individual parts.

Perhaps it was the spirit of competition and one upmanship. Perhaps it was the drugs, or the meditation, or the zeigeist. Who knows, maybe it was the mediocrity of Ringo that kept the others from imploding long enough to keep recording as long as they did.

Whatever the reason, The Beatles’ White Album remains a viable candidate to be my Desert Island Disc.

Track after track is original and organic, fascinating and fresh despite the passing of almost 50 years.

In the juxtaposition of olde-time English Music Hall schtick with hard rock and soft ballads I can see the blueprint followed a decade later by my favorite band of all, Queen.

I quote these songs almost regularly, in everyday life.  I sing these songs to my daughter.  I love it when I hear other artists cover them, love to hear alternate interpretations.

Is there a cleaner melody anywhere than that gracing “Blackbird”?

Is there another song in the history of Rock like “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”?

The series of transitions from the strangely articulate absurdity of “Rocky Raccoon”, through the ludicrous sting of “Don’t Pass Me By”, and the raw honestly simplicity of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”, to the sublime separate-but-equal sentiments of “I Will” and “Julia” elevates each song beyond mere Pop or Rock to the level of true art.

“Which disc is better?” people ask.

I don’t care.

Even moreso than Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles is the ultimate concept album – probing, reaching, exploring – and when I listen to it, I listen to the whole thing, from begining to end.

Do people still listen to a whole album from start to finish anymore?

After the quiet introspection of the end of Disc 1, the second disk kicks off even more frantically than the first with another high octane rocker in “Birthday” before going all the way back to their early roots, ripping through a then modern take on the blues-rock they were initially apeing when they first broke onto the scene.

There is simply no let up anywhere in the hour and a half of quality that crams both records to bursting.  I could listen on repeat for days on end – indeed I have done so as a teen, and again this week in my 40s as I try to capture with words the emotions, sense memories, physical effect that hearing each track evokes and inspires in me.

I’m be humming and whistling these tunes for weeks now, regardless of what other recordings I revisit or discover.   I feel a little sorry for The Beau Brummels, Sidney Bechet and Beck.

Although perhaps not so much for Beethoven – he knew a thing or two about a catchy melody – who can likely stand up for himself against such competition.

The tunes continue to swing back and forth between the velvet of “Mother Nature’s Son” and the steel of “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide”.  The Four really do rock out and let rip, almost as if leaving it all out on the vinyl, perhaps thinking that this was the end.

That’s certainly one way to interpret “Helter Skelter” . . .

Yet even a track as brutal as that is sandwiched between two soulful tunes, “Sexy Sadie” and the gentle “Long, Long, Long”.

The two versions of “Revolution” on The White Album are fascinating takes on a song I already knew well as a traditional rock number before I discovered this album.  Take 1 morphs it into a laid back grooving piece of almost beach rock, while take 9 is minimalist dream of tape loops and found sounds, a wonderfully experimental eleven o’ clock number.

Although it is the earlier version not featured on The White Album that I love best (call it take 5, between 1 and 9?), I still enjoy the variations at least as much as I did when Count Basie shared his alternate takes back to back.

In between “Revolutions” are more beautiful arrangements in a wide range of styles that ensure you can’t take your ears off of the musical flourishes and moments of wonder that come one after another.

Until all that is left is to say “Good Night”.

Next Week: The Beatles – Abbey Road

Owned before blogging? Yes. (8 of 67 = 12%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (10 of 67 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (54 of 67 = 81%)

[66] The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

11 Jul

I have nothing to add to the millions (billions?) of words that have been written about this album. If you’ve somehow never heard it before, go listen now.

If you have heard it before, go listen again.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I’d truly nothing to add, this would be the shortest post to date, so what I can share is a series of memories I associate with this towering recording.

For instance, this is the album I have purchased the most times in my life, for the simple reason that it is the one that has been most often lent and not returned, or simply stolen from me.

It is an album I once fell asleep listening to, back when I regularly used to fall asleep to music. 

The *click* of the tape ending rarely bothered me at all, but as a teenager recovering from a fever, I was completely under by the end of “A Day In The Life”.

If you know the song, you know what happened next.

After the tape wound on in silence for another 40 or so seconds, suddenly I was wide awake, heart pounding, unsure where or who I was, tangled in my sweat-soaked sheets as John’s urgent, random, terrifying vocal cut the night.

nevercouldbeanyotherwaynevercouldbeanyotherwaynevercouldbeanyother.

There were plenty of tapes I used to fall asleep to, before and after this particular night, but I never again fell asleep to Sgt. Pepper . . .

I remember sitting for days on end at the dinner table with a book of Lennon / McCartney lyrics – listening and learning, memorizing and marveling at the poetry created by such simple words.

I remember belting “Getting Better” at the top of my lungs while writing a History paper (and thinking that my History teachers were actually pretty cool.)

By the way, I can still sing and write at the same time, if the album is familiar enough . . .

Then there was the 8 hours or so I spent sitting on an airplane, flying from California back to England, leaving behind my first love and listening to a mixtape she had made for me.

I had finally stopped sobbing (after several miniatures of wine served by a sympathetic stewardess) at the moment that “When I’m Sixty-Four” came over the headphones of my Walkman.

Amongst a slew of music I that was mostly new to me I heard – perhaps for the first time – the meaning behind these ubiquitous lyrics, and I cried the rest of the way home (or at least until I drank enough wine to fall asleep).

On a happier note, I was once challenged to sing the same song backwards – and I did it!

Now from years many / Hair my losing / Older get I when.

High School music class again, and we’re dissecting “She’s Leaving Home”, once more discussing key changes, instrumentation, intervals.  As I recall, I didn’t do too well in that assignment, caught up as I was in the poignant lyrics.

And much more recently, my wife waking our daughter up by singing “Good Morning”, which is how her father used to wake her . . .

I’m sure everyone of my age – not to mention our parents’ generation – also has a hundred of these stories, memories of a soundtrack to a day in every life.

These are just a few of mine.

Next Week: The Beatles – The Beatles

Owned before blogging? Yes. (7 of 66 = 11%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (9 of 66 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (53 of 66 = 80%)

[65] The Beatles – Revolver

4 Jul

I remember hearing “Taxman” for the first time.

Revolver

Revolver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was sleeping over at my best friend’s house – we must have been ten or eleven.  I can clearly recall looking at the album cover as he placed Revolver on the turntable, the vinyl record no doubt borrowed from his parents’ collection.

Why did this song have such an effect on me?  I barely heard the rest of the tracks on that first listening.  The cynicism and bitterness etched into the brutal wordplay was something I had rarely encountered before – certainly not from The Beatles, whose pop hits of young love were a radio staple growing up.

“Taxman” was not in that same easy listening rotation . . .

Clearly, here is a moment that has stuck with me, which triggers powerful sense memories when I see the album cover or hear the spiky guitar attack and spikier vocal.  It stuck with me so long that I’m not sure when it was I finally recognized that the rest of the album is equally magnificent.

Starting with the very next track.

“Eleanor Rigby” is a perfect two minute (!) vignette, a sketch that any prose writer would be proud of, promising more room for discovery and interpretation than many books deliver in 400 pages.

It seems almost unfair that the music that goes along with the words is equally incredible.

Another pre-teen memory:  Our High School music teacher, Mr. Evans (yes, he was Welsh) guiding us through a study of “Eleanor Rigby”, picking out instruments, intervals, intent.   He treated this so-called Pop song in the same way we had previously studied Classical (“important”) music, with reverence and respect. 

He showed us that it could be listened to for more than just superficial enjoyment.

And the quality just continues.  The use of eastern instrumentation and scales in “Love You To” sounds somehow less experimental here than the tentative looks in that direction on Rubber Soul.  It is more integrated, more organic – there is no doubt that both this song and “Taxman” belong on the same album.

“Here There And Everywhere” is pure pop perfection – this might be what I wanted grown up Beach Boys music to sound like . . .

Both “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said She Said” have great guitar work flying all over the place, meshing fascinatingly with the subtle vocal harmonies.

In “Yellow Submarine” the Three finally figure out how to make use of Ringo (I can’t help but think of the Family Guy cutaway). The recipe turns out to be simple – a melody with a 5 note range within a song which is a silly bit of enjoyable nothing.

Here the trend is set  for similarly good use of Ringo on the albums to come.

And then there’s “Good Day Sunshine” – was there ever a time this song wasn’t lodged into our collective brains?  It seems that the universal sentiment it expresses must have been discovered rather than created by the Beatles.

But my other favorite, after “Taxman”, is the Motown-y goodness of “Got To Get You Into My Life”. It is such a gorgeous mix of counter-culture and mainstream pop goodness.  Here is another “everybody bop” summer groove of young love (even if it is apparently about smoking pot.)

I admit it – I just love it whenever Paul belts.

Next Week: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Owned before blogging? Yes. (6 of 65 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (8 of 65 = 12%)
Recommend? Yes. (52 of 65 = 80%)

Guest Blogger Rosanna Luke: The Beatles – Revolver

30 Jun

Our first return guest (but only because Pat Higgins blew a deadline . . .)

—–

From the unconventional opening count (a “one-two-three-four” quite unlike anything you’ve heard) and asthmatic cough of “Taxman”, right through to the closing churning tape loops and backwards drum track of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, on its 1966 release this album was The-Beatles-As-You’ve-Never-Seen-Them-Before, but yet it perfectly bridged the folky Dylan-influenced Rubber Soul of the previous year and the full-blown concept album of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

From the mash-up collage cover to the music, it was early British psychedelia at its gloriously swirling, unselfconscious best.

On first listening after a gap of ten or so years, the album seems almost derivative – a trait that it shares with the equally brilliant and weird The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society.  But on second and subsequent listenings, unoriginal it certainly isn’t; instead Revolver is surely the album that launched a thousand Britpoppers.  (Yes, Gallagher brothers, I’m looking at you – and some of the basslines sound awfully familiar to any fans of The Jam).

As I alluded to in a previous blogpost, I was raised on a diet of the best of 1960s and 1970s music:  The Beatles were my first great musical love, and so there is a special place in my heart for almost all of their creative output – but Revolver is by far and away my favourite Beatles album.

It is quite simply perfect.

There is enough out and out John Lennon weirdness (the LSD-fuelled and Peter Fonda inspired “She Said She Said” and trippy Tibetan philosophy of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, with its unsettling, hypnotic rhythm and tambour drone) to give hints of his future experimental musical direction.

A couple of candy-sweet classics (such as the feather light “Here, There and Everywhere” and the altogether darker boy-loses-girl tale “For No One”) that hark back to the Beatles-as-boy-band era.

The otherwise almost throwaway “And Your Bird Can Sing” stands out quite starkly as one of the only examples of a genuine 50/50, Lennon/McCartney co-writing partnership on the album.

The sheer exploding joy of brassy, Motown number “Got to Get You Into My Life”.  The unsurpassable genius and gentle strings of “Eleanor Rigby”, which crams more humanity into a three-minute pop song than can be found in many three-act plays.  George Harrison’s increasing maturity as a songwriter with “I Want to Tell You” and “Taxman” and his brilliant demonstration of influence from all points East in the form of the shimmering tabla on “Love You Too.”

Even Ringo even gets a look-in with kids’ favourite “Yellow Submarine”, which was surely written for him and him alone but it’s this latter song that forms the only weak point of the album:  for me, overfamiliarity has turned it into a cliché.

George Martin, too, deserves credit for making production appear effortless on what could have been a mismatched, mixed bag of songs from a band who by 1966 were busy heading off in three different songwriting directions.  Revolver clearly marked the change in the Beatles’ journey from three minute pop songs and live performances to a more mature and yet experimental approach that would be seen again with the musical collage approaches on subsequent albums The Beatles (aka The White Album) and Abbey Road.

—–

Rosanna Luke is a Brighton-based writer, project manager, student and quilter, not necessarily in that order.  Her short stories have been published in printed magazines such as Scribble (where her World War 2 story “Shooting Apples” won first prize in the Winter 2012 edition), Debut and also online at Alfie Dog e-publishers and The Cynic Online Magazine.

Her story “The Reunion” was shortlisted in the Curry Mallett Festival short story prize.

Rosanna is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and hopes one day to finish writing the novel she’s been drafting for three years.

Rosanna has an eclectic and unfashionable taste in music, her particular favourite bands are 80s post-punkers Carter USM and veteran alternative rock band New Model Army.

[64] The Beatles – Rubber Soul

27 Jun

After the obvious magnificence of A Hard Day’s Night, Rubber Soul comes across as the awkward, unfortunate, transitional teen.

Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many moments of sheer genius and some of the most perfectly crafted songs in the history of popular music, but unlike their previous effort The Beatles don’t hit on all cylinders here.

This time the lesser known tracks are lesser known for a reason.

Alongside the magnificent and melancholy weirdness of “Norwegian Wood” or “Nowhere Man” is Ringo, given a vocal lead on “What Goes On” – noone had yet figured out he should only sing with his tongue in his cheek.

For every piece of pop perfection (“Michelle”, “Girl”) there is an uncomfortable, experimental track where it seems that the Four are trying to sound like someone else.  They want to leave their roots behind, but are not yet confident enough in their ability to do so.

Perhaps this is why Rubber Soul is so important.  It is exploratory without overreaching – it didn’t scare off the fans.  This 1965 album is the stepping stone to the astonishing series of recordings that would follow.

And despite its flaws, it is still packed with more glimpses of wonder than most other bands could muster in an entire career. The hits remain instant favorites generations after their release – my 5-year-old daughter reacted immediately and positively the first time she heard “Drive My Car”, insisting I add it to her Spotify playlist the moment “Beep beep mmmm beep beep, yeah!” happened.

And any band would sell their soul to have written “In My Life”.

It is impossible not to recommend Rubber Soul, especially to anyone who has never heard it.  The rough edges and dull corners just make the bright spots shine all the more brilliantly.

Next week:  The Beatles – Revolver

Owned before blogging? Yes. (5 of 64 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (7 of 64 = 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (51 of 64 = 80%)

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