AT what age do you become a sentient, thinking individual? Probably from the time when, in retrospect, you can remember yourself in relation to events that happened to you. I can vaguely recall a first visit to the then Rhodesia in 1960, when I was four, and have far greater recollection of a second trip – this time by car as opposed to rail – to visit our relatives there in 1965.
But when it comes to music, it is the Beatles who made the first major impact on my young psyche. With two older brothers – a year-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years my senior – I was often hostage to what they did. And the eldest, Ian, was clearly a big music fan from well before his teens, because I think we started getting into the Beatles music almost from the moment it started happening. The vehicle for that was the radio, and later their 7-singles, which became a relatively cheap way of acquiring music in those days when tape decks and cassettes were not readily available. But it also was a question of pride. People wanted to own a bit of groups like the Beatles. They wanted to be part of what became known as Beatlemania, the wave of obsessed behaviour which beset fans around the globe wherever the Beatles performed. Of course they came nowhere near
Any young person living today should do themselves a favour and acquire the full set of Beatles albums, from the very first, Please Please Me, till the final two,
But they would not have happened at all, in the way they did, had the groundwork not been laid in the 1950s by the pioneers of rock and roll in the
Anyone listening to those albums for the first time will be astounded at how the band developed. It started as a simple rhythm-and-blues/rock and roll band – in Germany they were apparently called white negroes – but as the decade unfolded, the combined genius of four gifted, and very different, individuals produced a body of work which – and I’ll make this comparison again and again – has to be compared to the legacy of the world’s great visual artists, from the likes of Rembrandt through to Delecroix and Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. People will look back, as I am already doing now, long after all of us are dead, and marvel at how those four men, guided all the time by the “fifth Beatle”, their producer George Martin, conjured up so many brilliant songs, each executed with such precision and attention to detail.
And to think it may never have happened. Paul McCartney is reported to have said that if National Service in the
Martin was a producer who did “comedy records” and headed the Parlophone label at EMI. Martin wanted to hear the band and invited them to
And it is surely this, their collective sense of humour – a bit like an impromptu Monty Python sketch – which shines through even on their early albums when they are in effect often only doing covers of great ’50s rock and roll songs like Roll Over Beethoven (a Chuck Berry classic, though not a classical tune by any means) or Twist And Shout, a Lennon-McCartney song that is clearly a product of those early ’60s when in order to succeed in the genre the song had to have an obvious rock-and-roll or R&B feel to it – and be suitable for dancing. With Lennon and McCartney evidently having collaborated closely in composing virtually all their early hits, ably assisted by Martin, the Beatles in those early days seemed to roll along as a tightly knit unit. I know McCartney has gone on record as saying he would like to see all those tunes he mainly wrote with his name listed first on the credits – McCartney-Lennon – and I suppose he has a point. But, while McCartney was clearly the driving force behind much of the group’s success, I see the listing of Lennon first as a purely alphabetical arrangement which reads and sounds better than the other way round. Indeed, the bickering over who did what song is really irrelevant to the masses of Beatles fans, who, if they are anything like me, are more interested in the fact that four copiously gifted people were able to keep going at such a frenetic pace for 10 years during which they produced such a magnificent body of work. And, as the later albums started emerging, so too did the individual talents of the protagonists, with George Harrison, and to a far lesser extent Ringo Starr, also providing songs which will remain icons in the history of modern music.
Just how big were the Beatles? Wikipedia says they were the “best-selling popular musical act of the 20th century”. In the
And they provided a stepping stone for the other bands constituting the “British Invasion” of the
In one of the biggest gaffe’s in musical history, Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1962 approached a senior Decca Records A&R executive called Dick Rowe for a recording contract. He reportedly turned him down with the immortal words: “Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr Epstein.” Oops!
With Epstein employing amazing marketing strategies in the US, by the time I Want To Hold Your Hand was released in early January, 1964, Beatlemania in the States was rife. The record sold a million copies in 10 days. So when the Fab Four arrived at JFK on February 7, 1964, they were totally amazed at the hysterical reception they received from fans. A record-breaking 73 million viewers – about 40% of the
Another milestone event occurred on August 15, 1964, when the Beatles performed the first stadium concert in the history of rock. They played for a crowd of 55 600 at
They did their last concert for paying fans at
In yet another first, on June 25, 1967, the Beatles became the first band to be globally transmitted on television, with some 400 million people watching their segment of the first-ever worldwide TV satellite hook-up, a show called Our World. The Beatles were transmitted live from
While Lennon announced his departure to the rest of the group on September 20, 1969, he was persuaded not to say anything publicly. The final Beatles recording sessions were on January 3 and 4, 1970, and produced their last new song, I Me Mine, for the Let It Be album. Lennon wasn’t present. McCartney publicly announced the break-up of the band on April 10, 1970.
As a measure of just how popular the band still is, 450 000 copies of Anthology 1 were sold on its first day of release on November 21, 1995, the highest volume of single-day sales ever for an album.
Then in 2000, when the compilation album,1, comprising almost every number-one single they had from 1962 to 1970, was released, it sold 3,6 million copies in its first week and more than 12 million in three weeks worldwide. This made it the fastest-selling album of all time and the biggest-selling album of the year 2000. The album also reached number one in the
But how did it all begin? While the story of the Beatles’origins is part of rock legend by now, for those who, like me, kind of never really cared, it is perhaps worth a little diversion back in time, to 1957, a year after I was born, when Lennon formed a skiffle group called The Quarrymen while he was at the Quarry Bank Grammar School. Wikipedia says he and the band met a guitarist called Paul McCartney at a church fete in Woolton on July 6, 1957. At the time of writing, that’s just over 50 years ago! It was to be a meeting, as we have seen, which changed the shape of modern popular music forever. On February 6, 1958, another young guitarist, George Harrison, saw the group perform at another hall in
So how did they get their name? Wikipedia says the Quarrymen became Johnny and The Moondogs, Long John and the Beatles, The Silver Beetles, and finally, on August 17, 1960, they became simply The Beatles. Wikipeida says there are “many theories as to the origin of the name and its unusual spelling”. Lennon is “usually credited” with having come up with it as a combination of “beetles” – in recognition of Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets – and the obvious music-based word, “beat”. Lennon is also said to have later jokingly observed that it was a joke – Beat-less. Cynthia Lennon later said the name was arrived at during a drinking session, and if you turn the name around you get “les beat”, “which sounded French and cool”. Lennon, in typically zany style, also told Mersey Beat magazine back in 1961 that the name “came in a vision – a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an A’”.
Anyway, by early 1960, the band, sans Ringo, was a going concern. And that summer they were “hired to tour the north-east of
Drummers are often considered necessary incidentals in rock bands. Not necessarily musical, they have to have lots of energy and be able to keep a beat. Norman Chapman only lasted a few weeks before being called up for National Service. Fortunately, conscription was not extended, because, as stated earlier, McCartney believes if any one of the Beatles had been caught in its web the band would not have happened. Booked to play in clubs on the notorious Reeperbahn in
So there they were, in
Then it was time for another would-be Beatle to depart, on the brink of massive fame. Wikipedia says Sutcliffe decided to stay on in
At this point, clearly, The Beatles were still a struggling outfit playing long sessions at club gigs wherever they could find them. Then enter one Brian Epstein, manager of the record department at NEMS, his family’s furniture store. In 1962 he took over as The Beatles’ manager, and “led their quest for a recording contract”. It was during this quest that that senior Decca man turned Epstein down with that infamous “guitar groups are on the way out” error of judgment. But EMI, it seems, were almost equally out of touch. Wikipedia notes that three EMI record producers, contacted via marketing executive Ron White – Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley and Norman Newell – all “declined to record The Beatles”. EMI’s fourth staff producer could not be contacted because he was on holiday at the time. His name was George Martin.
Epstein was able to get Sid Coleman, who ran EMI’s publishing arm, to listen to the early Beatles demo tapes, and Coleman suggested he take the tapes to Martin, who, Coleman explained, “does comedy records”, and headed the Parlophone label at EMI. Martin had not been much impressed by the demo recordings, but nevertheless invited the band for an audition on June 6 of that year at
And the lads were not set for instant wealth, even if they became relatively popular. Wikipedia says their recording contract was fairly standard. They would be paid one penny – shared between the four of them – for every single sold, and half a penny for those sold abroad. In their publishing contract, each writer would get 50% of gross monies received. But first they had to record something worth selling. And things didn’t start auspiciously, with their first session on June 6 failing to provide a releasable recording. The next sessions, however, produced the group’s first minor
Their first televised performance was on People and Places, which was transmitted live from
Epstein obviously knew the US was the market to crack, and once he had persuaded a major label to release their albums, and Ed Sullivan to feature them on his show, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable would happen, and a new word would enter the English language: Beatlemania.
With I Want To Hold Your Hand released on Boxing Day, 1963, it was soon being played on several
No doubt due to apartheid, they gave
Also documented in Anthology was their narrow escape from the Marcos dictatorship in the Phillipines in July 1966, where they inadvertently offended first lady Imelda by turning down a breakfast invitation. They ended up fleeing to the
And the end to touring was to mark the beginning of their most productive years – in the recording studio.
August 29, 1966, marks the last time they performed live in concert before paying fans. The show, at
Coming out of the Colloseum cinema in
And so to their final album,
It took American producer Phil Spector to bring the whole thing to a messy end. In March, 1970, says Wikipeida, he was given the Get Back session tapes. McCartney was incensed when, instead of a “stripped down live studio performance”, he gave the songs his “wall of sound” treatment. McCartney was especially upset at how The Long And Winding Road turned out and tried to halt release of the song. Ever the self-publicist, however, he announced the break-up of the Beatles on April 10, 1970, just a week before releasing his first solo album, McCartney. He had even included pre-release copies of the album along with a self-written interview explaining the end of the Beatles when he made the announcement. Meanwhile, on May 8, 1970, the Spector-produced Let It Be was released, followed soon after by the film. The acrimony continued even as the Beatles folded, with McCartney filing a lawsuit on December 31, 1970, says Wikipedia.
It was then a case of seeing which of the four had the best backlog of songs to make his solo career a success. Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band came out in 1970 and McCartney’s Ram in 1971. But the stand-out album for me was Harrison’s
The collapse of the Beatles saw the release of a flurry of compilation albums, though only one, The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, their only live album, was sanctioned by the band members. It was produced by George Martin.
The acrimony continued even after Lennon’s 1980 death, with only Harrison and Starr (along with Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono) turning up for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. McCartney cited “unresolved difficulties” with Harrison, Starr and Lennon’s estate, says Wikipedia.
The Beatles Anthology series of television documentaries ensured that the legend lived on into the 1990s. Released in tandem with it were a couple of Lennon’s unfinished demos, with the remaining three – now seemingly reconciled – combining to produce a full Beatles sound. Free As A Bird (1995) and Real Love (1996) were included in the Anthology CDs. Having caught the documentary series on local TV – miraculously – I do feel the DVDs are a must for any self-respecting Bealtephile. And, according to Wikipedia, the Anthology collections of CDs from 1995 and ’96 each consist of “two CDs of never-before-released Beatles marerial”. And that man Klaus Voormann, who knew the lads in their
Obviously to have made the impact they did, the Beatles had to be pioneers.
While both Lennon and McCartney moved the group towards psychedelia in the mid to late 1960s, it was Lennon, notes Wikipedia, who in typical fashion rebuffed all attempts at pretentiousness, saying once that “Avant garde is French for bullshit”. Nonetheless, he and McCartney were known to experiment with all the latest electronic equipment. Interestingly, while I had long credited Martin with providing the orchestral scores for some of the group’s best songs, it seems Lennon and McCartney were themselves pioneers in this regard. Wikipedia says starting with the use of a string quartet on Yesterday (arranged by Martin) in 1965, the Beatles pioneered “a modern form of art song, exemplified by the double-quartet string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby (1966), Here, There And Everywhere (1966) and She’s Leaving Home (1967)”. And, who would have guessed, but Wikipedia says the pair’s interest in the music of Bach, of all people, led them to use a piccolo trumpet on
But, as with several other groups to be examined later, the group returned to their bluesy roots later in the decade on songs like Yer Blues and Birthday from 1968 and Don’t Let Me Down from 1969.
And they certainly did not let us down. It is a moot point as to whether they could have sustained the group any longer, given that each individual seemed to be desperate to go his own way and do his own thing. But few would deny that those glorious eight or nine years of recording produced arguably the most memorable, and influential, music of the 20th century. To have grown up at the time this was all happening was, I suppose, like being present when any epoch-making event occurs. Our lives were shaped and changed completely by the impact of the Beatles, and all the other wonderful talents which flowered in their wake.
But let’s take a trip down memory lane, as opposed to
Please Please Me
Produced on the Parlophone label and released in mono on March 22 and stereo on April 26, 1963, the first Beatles album was Please Please Me, which went straight to the top of the British charts. I doubt we ever owned this album, but we knew many of the songs from the singles played on the radio. We may have owned a few singles off it as well. Having just given the album a listen, I was surprised at how many songs were indeed very familiar to me – more than half. And what struck me most was that, way back then in 1963, you have a band that is instantly recognisable as the Beatles, complete with some chirpy comments by Ringo to George.
Listening to the album I discovered a variety of styles – from rhythm and blues to almost folk rock – but Wikipedia classifies the genre as rock and roll. The cover features a colour photograph, seen from below, of the four standing on a landing inside a high-rise building, with the words “The Beatles” written in yellow. It was, says Wikipedia, “rush-released on March 22, 1963, in the
Wikipedia, as is to be expected, is incredibly detailed in its information on this first album. It emerges that it took the band just 9 hours and 45 minutes to record the album in what was a “virtually live” series of studio sessions. The session cost Martin £400 of his £55 000 annual budget, including each Beatle’s £7.50 session fee for each three-hour session. Martin, says Wikipedia, wanted to call the album Off the Beatle Track, before opting for Please Please Me. Twist And Shout was recorded last, to preserve Lennon’s voice. He had a bad cold and it was feared the “throat-shredding” vocal would ruin his voice for the rest of the day. Only one song, Hold Me Tight, was not used, but recorded again for With the Beatles.
Interestingly, the 1987 CD releases of the first four Beatles albums are in mono only. The famous photograph for the cover was taken inside EMI’s
Let me just say, having for the first time ever really listened to this album right through, that there are only a handful of typically Beatles songs on it. Many I doubt I would identify as the Beatles if you played them to me blind. And the song which probably best fits the early Beatles mould is not even one of their eight own compositions. It is the final track, Twist And Shout, written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell.
But let’s start at the start. Certainly the opening track, I Saw Her Standing There, is a typically Beatles song, which I remember growing up with in the early to mid-sixties. It is a typical old-fashioned rock and roll song, with the “whooos” of Little Richard and the lead riffs of Chuck Berry. And of course there is already evidence of strong Beatles harmonies. But this was really an attempt to make a dance song with a catchy melody and lyrics. “Well she was just seventeen / You know what I mean / And the way she looked / Was way beyond compare / So how could I dance with another, / Oh, when I saw her standing there.” It is real teeny-bopper stuff, all about superficial romantic love. “Well she looked at me / and I, I could see / That before too long / I’d fall in love with her / She wouldn’t dance with another / Oh, when I saw her standing there.” The whole falling in love saga unfolds. “Well my heart went boom / When I crossed that room / And I held her hand in mine.” Then: “Oh we danced through the night / And we held each other tight / And before too long / I fell in love with her / Now I’ll never dance with another / Oh, when I saw her standing there.” With a bit of further repetition that’s about it. But it was enough to give the band a song that reached No 14 in the
The next song, Misery, is another Beatles original, but was totally unfamiliar to me, as was Anna (Go To Him), by Arthur Alexander. Again, it is a stilted, ballady kind of song which, despite a valliant vocal effort, lacks the Beatles spark. Also not familiar was Chains, written by Gerry Goffin and one Carole King. Here, for the first time, we hear Lennon’s harmonica but, while there is loads of potential, again the song lacks that real Beatles feel. Ringo Starr’s lead vocals on Boys, also not a Beatles song, are competent, but again the song lacks the Beatles imprint. The whoops and wows, along with the bop-shoo-wops, are throw-backs to the Fifties. I had hoped Ask Me Why, another Beatles composition, would provide that spark of originality, but it too lacks the fun with which one associates the Fab Four. It was totally unfamiliar to me, despite some fine vocals. Clearly it never made it off the album and onto the radio.
But what of the title track, Please Please Me, the final song on Side One? This, obviously, has the early Beatles imprint, with tight vocal harmonies and some excellent guitar work. But it is a tenuous identity. It is as if, had anything gone wrong, all the potential could have just simply been lost. The Lennon/McCartney magic had not fully gelled, but on this song it comes close to doing so. And of course those of us growing up at the time had this two minutes of Beatles magic going into our ears via the radio at regular intervals. “Last night I said these words to my girl / I know you never even try, girl / Come on, come on, come on, come on / Please, please me, wo yeah, like I please you.” The repeated “come on” phrase, sung alternately by, I assume John and Paul, was arguably the first truly Beatles piece of music. This was the sort of furrow the band would have to plough early on, relying on their superb harmonies to lift them out of what was truly something of a morass of mediocrity, some of which is reflected in the majority of songs on this album.
The opening track on Side Two, Love Me Do, is unarguably fully fledged Beatles – and it is Lennon’s opening harmonica solo which gives it its edge. A fast rock and roll track, here you get inside the early Beatles oeuvre at its best, with great vocal variations and changes of tempo. This is the sound of the early to mid sixties. It is also an object lesson in how simplicity was the key to good lyrics for this type of song. “Love, love me do. / You know I love you, / I’ll always be true, / So please, love me do. / Whoa, love me do.” This is repeated before there is a change of mood. “Someone to love, / Somebody new. / Someone to love, / Someone like you.” The opening mantra is then repeated a few times, with Lennon’s harmonica lifting the song into a league where a group called the Rolling Stones would set the pace. With Love Me Do reaching No 1 in the
I can’t say I recalled P. S. I Love You at all. Another Beatles original, this may have great harmonies, but again it seems to fall flat. “As I write this letter, send my love to you …” It just never registered at the time. The same applies to Baby It’s You, among the three writers of which was Burt Bacharach. Any song with “sha-la-la-la” in it is going to be somewhat hackneyed. This again has great vocals, but not much else. Incredibly, though, it reached No 10 in the
The real Beatles return on their own song, Do You Want To Know A Secret, but again it is this half-achieved identity that is emerging, rather than the real thing. It is a safe, shallow love song, with nice harmonies. But with George Harrison handling the lead vocals it is good to see he got a show in even on the debut album. And the song also reached No 14 on the
The band again marks time with A Taste Of Honey, another non-Beatles song, safe and ballady. It is simply just too sweet for words. And There’s
Then, the real redeemer, Twist And Shout ends the album, and cements Lennon’s role as the one man in the band who could break through the bubble-gum and give them some street cred. And here, finally, we witness the full vocal range of the lads, with Lennon’s deliberately harsh lead vocals setting the pace to this rough and ready rock and roll song, which reached No 2 in the important
The album topped the
With The Beatles
Recorded just four months after their debut album, With The Beatles was released on November 22, 1963. And finally we see the full Beatles sound emerge – at least on several songs. Again, the album features eight original compositions, including the first by George Harrison, and six covers – mostly, according to Wikipedia, Motown and R&B hits. In a curious arrangement, most of the songs were only released in the
But demand for the album in the UK was vast, with Wikipedia saying the LP had advance orders of half a million and sold another half million by September, 1965. This made it only the second album to sell a million copies in the
Sure everyone who grew up at the time knows the chorus to the opening track, It Won’t Be Long, but what are the opening lines? Lennon’s powerful vocals are accompanied by the usual superb harmonies from the other lads, but this is still essentially dance music. “Ev’ry night when ev’rybody has fun, / Here am I sitting all on my own, / It won’t be long yeah, yeah, / It won’t be long yeah, yeah, / It won’t be long yeah, yeah, / Till I belong to you. / Since you left me I’m so alone, / Now you’re coming, you’re coming home, / I’ll be good like I know I should, / You’re coming home, you’re coming home.” This is another of those songs about being young and in search of love. “Ev’ry night the tears come down from my eyes, / Ev’ry day I’ve done nothing but cry. / It won’t be long yeah, yeah. / Since you left me I’m so alone, / Now you’re coming, you’re coming home, / I’ll be good like I know I should, / You’re coming home, you’re coming home. / Ev’ry day we’ll be happy, I know, / Now I know that you won’t leave me no more. / It won’t be long yeah, yeah.” These lyrics are really only viable in the context of the song. And it’s one of the better, more solid early Beatles tracks. Others, like the next song, All I’ve Got To Do, are not familiar at all. With McCartney singing lead vocals, this again lacks that Beatles spark.
Yet from the obscurity of that song, we next find the incredible All My Loving, an early Beatles classic. Here, again, McCartney is on lead vocals, and he launches straight into the song. It is a quick-fire, very catchy number that even includes a solid lead guitar break, albeit in a stilted, old-style format. But here is one of those iconic early Beatles songs that became such an integral part of our lives. “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you, / remember I’ll always be true. / And then while I'm away, / I’ll write home ev’ry day, and I’ll send all my loving to you.” Obviously, the subject matter is again teenage romance, but the writing is skilful. “I’ll pretend that I’m kissing the lips I am missing, / and hope that my draems will come true. / And then while I’m away, / I’ll write home ev’ry day, and I’ll send all my loving to you.” The song stops momentarily ahead of that famous chorus line: “All my loving I will send to you. / All my loving, darling I’ll be true.” After a brief lead guitar interlude, the first verse and chorus are repeated.
And then suddenly there is Paul McCartney singing a gentle folk ballad totally out of character with the rest of the album. Till There Was You, a Meredith Wilson composition, starts with some lovely acoustic guitar, and includes jazzy acoustic guitar solos further on. McCartney is given full scope to explore his vocal range, but this is by no means a typical Beatles song. Far from it. “There were bells, on a hill, but I never heard them ringing … there was music and wonderful roses…”
And, while the next track, written by five people none of whom I’d heard of, was also not an original, it became an instantly recognisable Beatles track. The last song on Side I, Please Mr Postman, features Lennon’s voice which, at this stage, for me exemplified the Beatles sound rather more than did McCartney’s. “Wait, oh yes wait a minute mister postman / Wait, wait mister postman.” Then the first verse: “Mister postman look and see / You got a letter in your bag for me / I been waiting such a long time / Since I heard from that girl of mine.”
Side 2 started with another track that became an instantly recognisable Beatles hit. It is only in retrospect, having subsequently discovered the songs of Chuck Berry, that one realises what a sanitised, commercial imitation this is of one of the great early rock and roll songs, Roll Over Beethoven.
From that well-known Beatles cover, the record returns to, for me, more obscure fare. Hold Me Tight features some more great harmonies, but again fails to acquire the Beatles stamp. The same applies to the slow, bluesy Smokey Robinson song, You Really Got A Hold On Me, although it does feature some vintage Lennon/McCarney harmonies.
Then, suddenly, another true-blue Beatles song, instantly recognisable. I Wanna Be Your
The next track, another cover called Devil In Her Heart, features some good piano and guitar near the end, but remains an unfamiliar, very un-Beatles-like song which seems far too long-winded. And while Not A Second Time may be a Lennon/McCartney original, it too is formulaic and unmemorable. But, as with the first album, it was left till the last track, Money, written by Janie Bardford and Berry Gordy, for the album to acquire a bit of gravitas. Again, Lennon’s rasping vocals set the scene, establishing him as the personality in the band. And for once it’s a song not about boys and girls. It is packed with some long-overdue irony, and was sure to have influenced Lennon’s songwriting in the future. “The best things in life are free / But you can keep them for the birds and bees / Now give me money / That’s what I want / That’s what I want, yeah / That’s what I want.” What a contrast to all those soppy love songs they’d made thus far: “Your lovin’ gives me a thrill / But your lovin’ don’t pay my bills / Now give me money / That’s what I want / That’s what I want, yeah / That’s what I want.” Viva materialism, the song seems to say: “Money don’t get everything it’s true / What it don’t get, I can’t use / Now give me money …” Further on, the importance of money for economic freedom is stressed: “Well now give me money / A lot of money / Wow, yeah, I wanna be free / Oh I want money…” It is something, I am sure, that Paul McCartney knew all along, but the others took far longer to latch onto.
Wikipedia quotes Mark Lewishon on the credits for the album, noting that it was Lennon who played that enchanting nylon-string lead acoustic guitar on Till There Was You, as well as some rather weird
A Hard Day’s Night
I have not been able to get hold of a copy of the Beatles third album, A Hard Day’s Night, but I believe this signalled the real coming of age of the band. The title track alone encompasses the sort of word-play that would become a hallmark of the Beatles throughout the decade. The album cover comprises 20 monochrome photographs of the four – five across, four up – with black typography for The Beatles, while the album title is red on black.
Released in the
One of the great omissions in my life is that I haven’t seen the film. But evidently Side 1 comprises songs from the movie soundtrack, while Side 2 has two songs written for but not included in the film. It was, says Wikipedia, the first Beatles album recorded on four-track tape, allowing for good stereo mixes. In 2003, the album was ranked No 388 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was released, along with the other first three albums, on CD in mono in 1987.
As I could not get a copy of this album on CD, I at least had three tracks on the 1962-66 hits album, and this afforded me the chance to hear them in stereo. One senses a definite increase in confidence on this album. The lads are finally coming into their own. There is that distinctive, and aggressive, opening lead guitar chord as the opening and title track gets under way, with Lennon again taking up the lead vocals. However, it is good to hear McCartney take over on the choruses, setting up an interesting contrast in their singing styles. This is a classic Beatles song, with tight vocal harmonies and music, including what sounds like an organ break.
Wikipedia says Lennon did tend to dominate the album, writing the majority of the 13 tracks on his own. It is also one of only two UK Beatles releases where Ringo Starr does not sing lead vocals.
Sadly, I did not get a chance to listen afresh to I Should Have Known Better, but of course it was a staple of our generation, as much part of our Beatles-engendered psyches as any other of their hits. “I should have known better with a girl like you / That I would love everything that you do / And I do, hey, hey, hey, and I do.” This is clearly targeted at the teenage romantics. “Whoa, oh, I never realized what a kiss could be / This could only happen to me / Can’t you see, can’t you see.” Then that change of key: “That when I tell you that I love you, oh / You’re gonna say you love me too, oh / And when I ask you to be mine / You’re gonna say you love me too.” The only other verse is not as well remembered: “So I should have realized a lot of things before / If this is love you’ve got to give me more / Give me more, hey hey hey, give me more.”
But then we run into a few less known songs. If I Fell and I’m Happy Just To Dance With You don’t register immediately, even after reading the lyrics, but they are followed by one of the all-time early Beatles greats, with McCartney showcasing his incredible vocal talent on And I Love Her. How great, after those rather harsh electric-guitar-led songs, to kick off here with some nylon-string acoustic guitar, before McCartney launches into this beautiful ballad. “I give her all my love / That’s all I do / And if you saw my love / You’d love her too / I love her.” So simple, but set within that exquisite acoustic guitar sound, this is sublime. “She gives me ev’rything / And tenderly / The kiss my lover brings / She brings to me / And I love her.” This is surely a breakthrough track for the Beatles, revealing that it is possible to put gentle ballads on a rock album. “A love like ours / Could never die / As long as I / Have you near me.” There is a lovely acoustic lead break around here, before the final verse. “Bright are the stars that shine / Dark is the sky / I know this love of mine / Will never die / And I love her.”
The next track, Tell Me Why, is another that doesn’t really register with my memory banks, but the final number on Side 1 is one of the all-time Beatles classics, and seems to be a reply to Money from the previous album. It is hard to discern who sings lead vocals on Can’t Buy Me Love, but it sounds like a joint effort as they launch into this catchy chorus from the opening note. “Can’t buy me love, love / Can’t buy me love.” Then the poor man’s cop-out. “I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright / I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright / ’Cause I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” He’s still tentative. “I'll give you all I got to give if you say you love me too / I may not have a lot to give but what I got I’ll give to you / I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” The chorus changes somewhat: “Can’t buy me love, everybody tells me so / Can’t buy me love, no no no, no.” Then the final verse: “Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied / Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can’t buy / I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” So much better, the song seems to suggest, if men can just get what they need – “love” – without having to go through all the palaver of spending money on the woman. Of course, fairly soon the Beatles would be rolling in the stuff.
Side 2 starts with another hit, Any Time At All. On those albums it was often the practice to put a hit at the start of the second side, too, since it would be easy for a disc jockey to find. Again, this is a classic Beatles song, complete with catchy tune and simple, easyly remembered lyrics. “Any time at all, any time at all, / Any time at all, all you’ve gotta do is call and I’ll be there.” There is even some poetry here. “If you need somebody to love, / Just look into my eyes, / I’ll be there to make you feel right.” Then: “If you’re feeling sorry and sad, / I’d really sympathize. / Don’t you be sad, just call me tonight.” This heralds the chorus: “Any time at all, any time at all, / Any time at all, all you’ve gotta do is call and I’ll be there.” Then a longer verse: “If the sun has faded away, / I’ll try to make it shine, / There’s nothing I won’t do / When you need a shoulder to cry on / I hope it will be mine. / Call me tonight, and I'll come to you.”
The titles and lyrics of I’ll Cry Instead, Things We Said Today, When I Get Home, You Can’t Do That and I’ll Be Back all look somehow familiar, but I am unable to summon them to memory and in the absence of the album they’ll remain distant, possibly imagined, memories. But wait, having just looked at the lyrics of You Can’t Do That, I remembered immediately that this was another hit that we knew by heart – the chorus line at least. “I got something to say that might cause you pain, / If I catch you talking to that boy again, / I’m gonna let you down, / And leave you flat, / Because I told you before, oh, / You can’t do that.” Another lilting rock and roller, this was a great favourite in those simpler Beatles days. It’s interesting to see the spin that was put on the “sin” of a girl even talking to another guy. “Well, it’s the second time, I've caught you talking to him, / Do I have to tell you one more time, I think it’s a sin, / I think I’ll let you down. / Let you down and leave you flat, / Gonna let you down and leave you flat, / Because I’ve told you before, oh, / You can’t do that.” And it was also all about keeping face: “Ev’rybody’s green, / ’cause I’m the one, who won your love, / But if it’s seen, / You’re talking that way they’d laugh in my face. / So please listen to me, if you wanna stay mine, / I can’t help my feelings, I’ll go out of my mind. / I know I’ll let you down, / And leave you flat, / Gonna let you down and leave you flat, / Because I’ve told you before, oh, / You can’t do that.”
Wikipedia again quotes Mark Lewisohn regarding who played what on the album. Lennon tackled rhythm and acoustic guitars, some lead on You Can’t Do That, piano on Things We Said Today and harmonica. McCartney played bass guitar and piano and possibly acoustic guitar on I’ll Be Back.
Interestingly, the Beatles’ fourth album, Beatles For Sale, is described by Wikipedia not only as rock and roll, but also folk rock and country rock. Released in late 1964 and again produced by George Martin for Parlophone, the cover features a colour photograph of the four looking somewhat glum, with orange and green foreground shapes that are out of focus, but probably of flowers and foliage.
Wikipedia says the album is “a minor turning point in the evolution of Lennon and McCartney as lyricists, (with) Lennon particularly now showing interest in composing songs of a more autobiographical nature”. This, it says, is evident in I’m A Loser, with Lennon “for the first time seemingly coming under the influence of Bob Dylan, having met him for the first time in
My observation about the glum-looking guys on the cover is supported by Wikipedia’s overview of the album. It says it was considered by some to be their weakest due to the “war weariness” caused by the “constant slog of touring and recording”. While not quoting sources, it adds that the album, “with its ironic title and downbeat lyrics and cover photo, seems intended as a direct challenge to fans who wanted the Beatles to continue writing upbeat, happy songs”. Richie Unterberger of All Music Guide is quoted as saying the album “brought folk and rock closer together on tracks such as I’m A Loser and I’ll Follow The Sun”. The “war weariness” of the lads at the time is legend. In the two months between the last session for A Hard Day’s Night and this album, they did a tour of some seven countries, along with television and radio shows. Yet they were starting to pioneer new territory, with Gram Parsons noting that the strong country influence on songs like I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party pre-empted the advent of country rock as a popular genre in 1967. And, worn out or not, the album still topped the
Wikipedia observes that when Beatles For Sale was being recorded, Beatlemania had just passed its peak. After early 1964 television appearances in the
And Lennon and McCartney couldn’t keep up with the demand for new songs, which meant they again used six covers on the album. Three cover tunes were recorded in five takes in one session. And I’m afraid it shows.
At the time, Lennon and McCartney collaborated closely as songwriters. Wikipedia quotes McCartney as saying in 1994 how he would go to Lennon’s house and the two would sit down each afternoon and produce a song a day.
Having just given the album a fresh listen, I was immediately struck by the growing sophistication that is evident. Clearly, despite the fatigue, the guys were coming into their own, doing things more their way. Wikipedia says the opening three tracks “are sometimes referred to as the ‘Lennon Trilogy’, as Lennon was the chief writer of all three. Unusual for pop music at the time, each one has a sad or resentful emotion attached to it”. As noted before, the Dylan influence seemed to rub off on Lennon, with the sombre mood of No Reply, I’m A Loser and Baby’s In Black, also echoed in I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, where he arrives at a party to find his girlfriend isn’t there.
Yet I don’t think anyone need have worried about the subdued lyrics. As a kid growing up at the time, I can honestly say whatever the sentiments expressed, we were only really interested in the overall Beatles sound. We simply enjoyed songs like the opening track, No Reply, immensely, and a fresh listen reveals Lennon’s growing stature as a vocalist. It is also good to hear that acoustic guitar underpinning the song. It’s said there is no growth except in adversity, and that seems to be the case here. Suddenly, Lennon is looking at the world he’s singing about, and not just writing songs for the sake of it. “This happened once before, / when I came to your door, / no reply. / They said it wasn't you, / but I saw you peep through your window, / I saw the light, I saw the light, / I know that you saw me, / ’cos I looked up to your face. / I tried to telephone, / they said you were not home, / that’s a lie, / ’cos I know where you’ve been, / I saw you walk in your door, / I nearly died, I nearly died, / ’cos you walked hand in hand / with another man in my place. / If I were you’d realise that I / love you more than any other guy, / and I’ll forgive the lies that I / heard before when you gave me no reply.” It’s certainly not on a par with Dylan, but here finally we see some narrative. Wikipedia quotes Beatles music publisher Dick James as saying the song was “a complete story”.
Lennon’s fine voice gives I’m A Loser a wonderful quality, assisted as it us by the full force of the others as backing vocalists. Again, that acoustic guitar is more to the fore, while the electric guitar is less harsh, more subdued. Indeed, the song has a more “modern” feel – as opposed to earlier songs which harked back to the Fifties – and Lennon’s use of harmonica seems to reflect both the Dylan influence and also possibly that of the Rolling Stones. “I’m a loser / I’m a loser / And I’m not what I appear to be.” This song has a wonderful melody, with Lennon’s voice becoming really the definitive Beatles sound. “Of all the love I have won or have lost / there is one love I should never have crossed / She was a girl in a million, my friend / I should have known she would win in the end.” What a shame he should see a relationship with a girl as a win-lose tussle. In the chorus, he laments: “I’m a loser / And I lost someone who’s near to me / I’m a loser / And I’m not what I appear to be.” So all that bravado is just for show. Lennon, it seems, did hurt when the chips were down. “Although I laugh and I act like a clown / Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown / My tears are falling like rain from the sky / Is it for her or myself that I cry.” How insightful! And finally we see the use of a simile. After the chorus, the next verse shows the song taking on a folk-song-like narrative quality. “What have I done to deserve such a fate / I realise I have left it too late / And so it’s true, pride comes before a fall / I’m telling you so that you won’t lose all.” Then that chorus, where love is shown to hurt. “I’m a loser / And I lost someone who’s near to me / I’m a loser / And I’m not what I appear to be.” I wonder who the woman was, though. Wikipedia quotes AMG as saying this is “one of the very first Beatles compositions with lyrics addressing more serious points than young love”, while Beatles student David Rowley, it says, found it to be “an obvious copy of Dylan”. He cites the use of the word “friend” and compares this to Dylan’s use of the word on Blowin’ In The Wind. He adds that the aim was to “openly subvert the simple true love themes of their earlier work”. And none too soon, I might add.
The last in the “Lennon Trilogy” is Baby’s In Black, which seems to borrow from the nursery rhyme, “Oh dear, what can the matter be”. And why not? Dylan was showing that idiomatic English language was the perfect vehicle of expression, and he used it to the full. Lennon was catching on fast. Slower, with lead guitar and piano dominating at the start, Lennon’s vocals are again superb. And of course McCartney’s harmonising only adds to the effect, which has become increasingly sophisticated. Consider just how much richer the lyrics are: “Oh dear, what can I do? / Baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue, / Tell me, oh what can I do? / She thinks of him and so she dresses in black, / And though he’ll never come back, she’s dressed in black. / Oh dear, what can I do? / Baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue, / Tell me, oh what can I do? / I think of her, but she thinks only of him, / And though it’s only a whim, she thinks of him.” He’s clearly distraught at his girl even thinking about another guy, even as a whim. “Oh how long will it take, / Till she sees the mistake she has made? / Dear what can I do? / Baby’s in black and I’m feeling blue, / Tell me, oh what can I do?” The song is repeated, but here finally we see some substance, which probably reflects a growing experience of the vagaries of female affection. AMG, says Wikipedia, call this “a love lament for a grieving girl that was perhaps more morose than any previous Beatles song”. It also says Lennon’s sole penmanship is contested. Some have said McCartney contributed a harmony to the main tune, while others say they were equally responsible, which is evidently why they “share lead vocal duties”. Wikipedia quotes McCartney as saying they were reaching a more mature phase, with this song reflecting their enjoyment of waltz-time … “and I think also John and I wanted to do something bluesy, a bit darker, more grown-up, rather than just straight pop”.
Next up was the first cover, Chuck Berry’s Rock And Roll Music which, at the time, we thought superb, but which I later discovered paled in comparison to the
Then, just to remind fans that the Beatles were not stuck in their Merseybeat phase and were becoming a growing force of originality, they follow this cover with the sublime I’ll Follow The Sun. If anyone doubted McCartney’s role as a foil to Lennon’s cynicism, that doubt is silenced by songs like this. Short and, not sweet, but beautiful, the acoustic guitar gives it an added intimacy. Extremely catchy, with some sublime harmonies, this was a very modern song, devoid of all the clichéd devices which still attached themselves to their more traditional rock and roll songs. “One day you’ll look to see I’ve gone / For tomorrow may rain, / so I'll follow the sun.” This seems to have the McCartney stamp, the melody more important really than the meaning of the lyrics. But that doesn’t detract from the use of a lovely English expression. “Some day you’ll know I was the one / But tomorrow may rain, / so I’ll follow the sun.” Then a nice change of key: “And now the time has come / and, my love, I must go / And though I lose a friend / In the end you will know, oh.” This leads back into that haunting chorus, before being repeated. Wikipedia says the song was a reworking of a song McCartney had written as a youth. He was quoted, in 1988, as saying that initially, because of their “hard R&B image”, lighter ballads like this were “pushed back to later”.
Next up is another cover, Mr Moonlight by Roy Lee Johnson, which starts with a really loud scream. Wikipedia quotes AMG as calling the song “arguably the worst thing the group ever recorded”. Yet Lennon’s vocals are strong, and there is a rather strange, muted, organ solo which sounds like a church organ.
Side 1 ends with another cover, the medley Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey. This is McCartney now having fun with an old rock and roll song written by three men including Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard. McCartney, quoted by Wikpedia, in 1984 recalled how it required “a great deal of nerve” to “scream like an idiot” on this song, egged on by Lennon.
Side 2, naturally, kicks off with another true-blue Beatles mega-hit, Eight Days A Week. A strummed guitar is introduced almost casually, before the assault is launched, with Lennon again on lead vocals. There are even some slightly jazzy guitar chords. This was one of those songs we grew up with; that we ate and breathed. “Ooh I need your love babe, / Guess you know it’s true. / Hope you need my love babe, / Just like I need you. / Hold me, love me, hold me, love me. / Ain’t got nothin’ but love babe, / Eight days a week.” It’s an unashamed pop song. “Love you ev’ry day girl, / Always on my mind. / One thing I can say girl, / Love you all the time. / Hold me, love me, hold me, love me. / Ain’t got nothin’ but love babe, / Eight days a week.” Then, that change of key, with the harmonies sublime: “Eight days a week / I love you. / Eight days a week / Is not enough to show I care.” Wikipedia says this song was “one of the first examples of the in-studio experimentation that the band would use extensively in the future; in the two recording sessions totalling nearly seven hours on October 6 devoted exclusively to this song, Lennon and McCartney tried one technique after another before settling on the eventual arrangement”. It notes that the song “begins with a fade in as a counterpoint to pop songs which end in a fade out”.
Then it’s back to the covers, with Buddy Holly’s Words Of Love followed by Honey Don’t, by Carl Perkins, with Starr, who did the vocals, calling it his “little featured spot” on the album.
Every Little Thing was a McCartney attempt at their “next single”, while also balancing the dark theme on the album. While it features some nice acoustic guitar, it lacks substance and was, McCartney later conceded, destined to become “an album filler … It didn’t have quite what was required”.
Lennon’s dark theme continued on I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party, but it too was something of an album filler. So too, sadly, is McCartney’s What Your’e Doing, while the band returns to the safe rock and roll bedrock with Carl Perkins’s Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby for the final track.
But what of that downbeat cover photograph? Wikipedia says the picture of the “unsmiling, weary-looking Beatles in an autumn scene” was photographed in
The fifth Beatles album was a turning point for me, because it is the first LP I ever owned. I’ve no idea what became of my copy of Help!, which again reached No 1 in the
This time Wikipedia classifies the genre as pop rock and rock and roll – which clearly does not cover Yesterday. And of course it was another soundtrack album for an eponymous film, which I also failed to see. Again, half the songs (all seven on Side 1) appeared in the movie and seven did not, among them the McCartney ballad Yesterday, which Wikipedia says is “the most covered song in history”.
But the album also included two transatlantic No 1 singles in Ticket To Ride and Help! Wikipedia adds that Lennon’s You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away indicates “the influence of Bob Dylan and folk music”. It also quotes Lennon as having said years later that the title was indeed “a sincere cry for help, as the pressures of the Beatles’ fame and his own unhappiness … began to build, and that he regretted turning it from a downbeat song in the style of Roy Orbison’s Only The Lonely to an upbeat pop song as a result of commercial pressures”.
Indicative of McCartney’s growing stature as a songwriter, Wikipedia says he wrote Yesterday, Another Girl, The Night Before and I’ve Just Seen A Face, which Arlo Guthrie would cover so superbly several years later. And
Again, the album saw critical acclaim, with Rolling Stone magazine listing it at No 332 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
One of the most talked-about aspects of the album was its cover, with the blue-clad lads on a white cover, with the word help!, in lower case, red-outlined white letters, and “the beatles” black on white. Wikipedia explains that their arms are “positioned to spell out a word in flag semaphore”. It quotes photographer Robert Freeman as saying he had the idea of “semaphore spelling out the letters HELP. But when we came to do the shot, the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn’t look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms”. So what on earth do those arms spell? Wikipedia says on the
The sheer quality of the album can be gauged from the fact that, for the first time, virtually every song was a success. There may be one or two “fillers”, but unlike the previous four albums, almost every track is a superb example of the Beatles at the height of their powers, albeit that they are still strongly commercial and by and large seem to target the teenage market.
I don’t have the Help! CD, but did track down five of the songs on compilation albums. And I have to agree with Lennon’s view regarding the title track. Of course at the time we thought nothing of the actual meaning of the lyrics. This was just another piece of Beatles magic, and of course it remains one of their most popular songs. But one has to take Lennon’s point that there is something of a contradiction between the upbeat, pop nature of the song, and the rather desperate cry for help in the lyrics. It reminds me of some of the inept newsreaders on SABC television who retain the same artificial smile and “happy” intonation even when they’re reading tragic news, like the death of dozens of people in a suicide bomb blast in
McCartney’s penchant for writing catchy tunes is much to the fore on the next track, The Night Before, with its jaunty, upbeat quality. Lennon’s harmonies are almost deadpan, as if trying to mitigate McCartney’s optimism. “We said our goodbyes, ah, the night before. / Love was in your eyes, ah, the night before. / Now today I find you have changed your mind. / Treat me like you did the night before.” Well the song may be about concern for a broken relationship, but McCartney never ever sounds too concerned. “Were you telling lies, ah, the night before? / Was I so unwise, ah, the night before? / When I held you near you were so sincere. / Treat me like you did the night before.” Then, with a change of key, he thinks back to his good times of the previous night. “Last night is a night I will remember you by. / When I think of things we did it makes me wanna cry.” As with most of the top hits, the song repeats choruses and verses, and even includes a short lead guitar solo by
Then, arguably the best Beatles song so far – and it is essentially a Lennon solo. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is more folk music than anything else. It starts with some great acoustic guitar and bass guitar played almost like a lead instrument. There is an interesting innovation, for the early Beatles, of wind instruments near the end. Wikipedia tells us this sound is made by John Scott’s flutes. But what a crackerjack vocal performance by Lennon. And, unlike with Help!, he was clearly allowed to play the song as he wrote it, without turning it into a pop tune. “Here I stand head in hand, / turn my face to the wall. / If she’s gone I can’t go on, / feelin’ two-foot small.” The tension builds: “Everywhere people stare, / each and every day. / I can see them laugh at me, / and I hear them say:” Then those immortal chorus lines, started with the word, Hey, which has to be a first in popular music. “Hey you’ve got to hide your love away. / Hey you’ve got to hide your love away.” But why should he hide his love away? Is he unworthy of this girl? “How could I even try, / I can never win. / Hearing them, seeing them, / in the state I’m in.” He seems to wallow in his misery: “How could she say to me, / love will find a way. / Gather round all you clowns, / let me hear you say…” Then those two chorus lines again. Here, finally, we see Lennon really starting to use language effectively. The song is a masterpiece of economy, and as catchy as hell.
I was unable to track down
I’m sure I’d recall Another Girl if I head it again, but the following track was another Beatles hit that was part of our growing up. You’re Going to Lose That Girl is as familiar to me as the most famous Beatles songs. “If you don’t take her out tonight / She’s going to change her mind / She’s going to change her mind / And I will take her out tonight / And I will treat her kind / I’m going to treat her kind.” Then the warning: “You’re going to lose that girl / Yes, yes, you’re going to lose that girl / You’re going to lose that girl / Yes, yes, you’re going to lose that girl.” It’s actually quite a nasty song about what we used to call chiselling – taking someone else’s girl from them. “If you don’t treat her right, my friend / You’re going to find her gone / You’re going to find her gone / ’Cause I will treat her right, and then / You’ll be the lonely one / You’re not the only one.” The next short verse is particularly cutting: “I’ll make a point / Of taking her away from you, yeah / Watch what you do / The way you treat her what else can I do.” I suppose it is a friendly warning, but a threat as well: “If you don’t take her out tonight / She’s going to change her mind / She’s going to change her mind / And I will take her out tonight / And I will treat her kind / I’m going to treat her kind.” And then that nasty chorus: “You’re going to lose that girl, yes, yes... / You’re going to lose that girl, yes, yes... / You’re going to lose that girl.”
The last track on the side, all of which are from the movie Help!, is the chart-topping Ticket To Ride, which is in the mould of most of the early Beatles hits. It starts with jangling lead guitar and then Lennon on some typically well-sung lyrics. And of course it is also a sad song about love lost. “I think I’m gonna be sad, / I think it’s today, yeah. / The girl that’s driving me mad / Is going away.” Then that famous, oh so simple, chorus: “She’s got a ticket to ride, / She’s got a ticket to ride, / She’s got a ticket to ride, / But she don’t care.” I think at the time, the teenage fans of the Beatles were right up for songs about the vagaries of romance. In fact, that was probably part of the thrill – with the depths of depression on losing a girl the corollary of the highs of being “in love”. “She said that living with me / Was bringing her down yeah. / She would never be free / When I was around.” And so she’s off, with her ticket to ride. And the worst is, she doesn’t care. The next verse, in a different key, questions why. “I don’t know why she’s ridin’ so high, / She ought to think twice, / She ought to do right by me. / Before she gets to saying goodbye, / She ought to think twice, / She ought to do right by me.” It was a time of massive egos, especially male egos. Do right be me, babe. That’s what matters.
While I haven’t heard the first track on Side 2, Act Naturally, in many decades, I always remember it as Ringo Starr’s star turn. Even then, I think he had a reputation as something of an actor, and this song, by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, endorsed the view for me that all he had to do to act was act himself. His reputation as the Beatles’ court jester added to that image. “They’re gonna put me in the movie, / They’re gonna make a big star out of me. / We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely, / And all I gotta do is act naturally.” The story continues: “Well, I’ll bet you I’m gonna be a big star, / Might win an Oscar you can never tell. / The movies gonna make me a big star, / ’Cause I can play the part so well.” Seen in the light of the fact that the Beatles were already megastars, this all seems a little odd. “Well I hope you’ll come and see me in the movies, / Then I know that you will plainly see. / The biggest fool that ever hit the big time, / And all I gotta do is act naturally.” Finally: “We'll make the scene about a man that’s sad and lonely, / And begging down upon his bended knee. / I’ll play the part and I won’t need rehearsing, / All I gotta do is act naturally.”
The next song, It’s Only Love, was another delight, and is one I’ve not heard for years. The chorus alone is familiar. “I get high when I see you go by / My oh my. / When you sigh, my, my inside just flies, / butterflies / Why am I so shy when I’m beside you?” Then the famous chorus: “It’s only love and that is all, / Why should I feel the way I do? / It’s only love, and that is all, / but it’s so hard loving you.”
Tell Me What You See is unfamiliar, but not so that wonderful McCartney song, I’ve Just Seen A Face, which I’ll cover in full in a section on Arlo Guthrie, since that is the last and possible the best version of it I’ve heard.
Then to an all-time McCartney classic. Yesterday is just one of the great inspirations of our generation. With a bass-heavy acoustic guitar as backing, his voice is at its crystal-clear best on this song. “Yesterday, / All my troubles seemed so far away, / Now it looks as though they’re here to stay, / Oh, I believe in yesterday.” Incidentally, the theme of love lost is not dissimilar to that of several tracks mentioned earlier. “Suddenly, / I’m not half the man I used to be, / There’s a shadow hanging over me, / Oh, yesterday came suddenly.” It is after the word, Suddenly, that a string quartet is introduced, probably also a first in modern pop music. It shadows McCartney through the rest of the song. “Why she / Had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say. / I said, / Something wrong, now I long for yesterday.” The verses are economy itself, but incredibly effective. “Yesterday, / Love was such an easy game to play, / Now I need a place to hide away, / Oh, I believe in yesterday.” A couple of verses are repeated before the song ends with a mournful, “Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm-mm.”
Finally, to bring the listener down to earth, the album ends with Larry Williams’s Dizzy Miss Lizzy, another of those loud, fast rockers that are used at the end of so many of the early Beatles albums.
One interesting aspect about the
By now the Beatles were really up and running. And they were about to embark on some of their greatest studio work over the next few years.
Their sixth album, Rubber Soul, predictably, went to No 1 on the
And finally the Beatles have “graduated” from rock and roll, or rhythm and blues, and, according to Wikipedia, are performing a genre simply called “rock”.
After two movie-soundtrack albums, I’m sure the band was happy to be back working simply on an album. And, under George Martin’s direction, they knocked it together in just over four weeks, according to Wikipedia. And, it seems, not taking too long over it was a good idea, because the online encyclopedia goes on to say it was “a major artistic achievement for the band” which attained “widespread critical and commercial success”. Not surprisingly, in 2003 Rubber Soul was ranked No 5 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums.
Wikipedia says the band “broadened their sound, most notably with influences from the contemporary folk-rock of the Byrds and Bob Dylan”. The album was also notable for
It also emerges that George Martin recorded a piano piece of In My Life at half-speed, then speeded it up, giving it a harpsichord quality. There was also “electronic sound processing” of some instruments, such as the “heavily compressed and equalized piano sound on Lennon’s The Word; this distinctive effect soon became extremely popular in the genre of psychedelic music”, says Wikipedia.
It adds that lyrically, the album “represented a pronounced development in sophistication, thoughtfulness, and ambiguity”. Earlier boy-girl love songs had become “more nuanced, even negative portrayals”, with Norwegian Wood “one of the most famous examples and often cited as the Beatles’ first conscious assimilation of the lyrical innovations of Bob Dylan”. But more about the songs later.
Wikipedia says after completing the album and accompanying single, We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper, the lads were “exhausted from years of virtually non-stop recording, touring, and film work”. The took three months’ break in the first part of 1966, “and used this free time exploring new directions that would colour their subsequent work”. This, says Wikipedia, became apparent on their next album, Revolver.
Very interestingly, Wikipedia tells us that “until very late in their career, the ‘primary’ version of the Beatles’ albums was always the monophonic mix”. It quotes Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn as saying the group, Martin and the
So to the question everyone asks – whence the title? This wasn’t soul music, and albums aren’t made of rubber. But the soles of shoes are. So was it just a clever play on words? Wikipedia says McCartney “claims to have conceived the album’s title after overhearing a black musician’s description of Mick Jagger’s singing style as ‘plastic soul’.” It quotes Lennon as confirming this in 1970, telling Rolling Stone: “That was Paul’s title … meaning English soul. Just a pun.” Another reference is made, says Wikipedia, on Anthology 2 when McCartney says “Plastic soul, man. Plastic soul…” at the end of I’m Down.
George Martin’s involvement with the Beatles continued right into the 2000s. So when the CD version was released in 1987, Wikipedia says he prepared the stereo digital remix. At the time, the original
And what of that strange photograph on the cover? Wikipedia quotes McCartney as saying on Volume 5 of the documentary film, Anthology, that photographer Bob Freeman took some pictures at Lennon’s house and showed them to the band by projecting them onto an album-sized piece of cardboard. One slide card fell slightly backwards, elongating the projected image. The lads, typically excited by this happy accident, clamoured for the cover to look like that. And the poor old
But it wasn’t the authentic
So just how good was the album? Having given it a fresh listen – I picked up an old vinyl copy at a second-hand shop – I have to say Phew! Finally, the lads have got it all together and produced an album without a blemish. This is surely the first mature Beatles album, where every track counts and will go down in history as the work of true masters.
And what a pleasure to listen to it on the original vinyl. Even though there are surface noises, these are a minor hassle. Considering the album was released on December 3, 1965, this album would have been bought only a few months later. How do I know? It has a piece of paper pasted on the back, with the following written on it: “3 April 1966. Wishing Laura a happy birthday. Love, (signature)”. I did check out the cover in a mirror and found that, indeed, if held upside down, the word SOUL could be seen as reading ROAD, while RUBBER does read ABBEY, except there is an obvious upside-down R at the start of it. A feature of the cover is the notes accompanying each song, which include some useful information.
On the opening track, Drive My Car, for instance, we are told that the vocals are by “Paul and John (with George)” and that Paul plays piano. This is a cracking good start to the album, with
Then to the first of what I’d call the Beatles masterpieces, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). Lennon leads the vocals, backed by McCartney. The transition between folk and rock reaches a
The thing about this album is that each song is entirely memorable – even if you can’t immediately recall it just from the title. The chorus to You Won’t See Me is based precisely on those words, but how did it start? It is a straight rock song with good vocals, piano, bass, harmonies – indeed, the entire Beatles package, with McCartney this time on lead vocals. And the lyrics just flow the moment the song begins. “When I call you up / Your line’s engaged / I have had enough / So act your age / We have lost the time / That was so hard to find / And I will lose my mind / If you won’t see me (You won’t see me) / You won’t see me (You won’t see me).” We’re back to the boy-girl thing. “I don’t know why you / Should want to hide / But I can’t get through / My hands are tied / I won’t want to stay / I don’t have much to say / But I can’t turn away / And you won’t see me …” A change of key: “Time after time / You refuse to even listen / I wouldn’t mind / If I knew what I was missing.” The remorse of love lost. “Though the days are few / They’re filled with tears / And since I lost you / It feels like years / Yes, it seems so long / Girl, since you’ve been gone / And I just can’t go on / If you won't see me …” Wikipedia lumps this with I’m Looking Through You and Girl (both on Side 2), as examples of songs that “express more emotionally complex, even bitter and downbeat portrayals of romance”.
The thing about this album is that each song is entirely memorable – even if you can’t immediately recall it just from the title. The chorus to You Won’t See Me is based precisely on those words, but how did it start? It is a straight rock song with good vocals, piano, bass, harmonies – indeed, the entire Beatles package, with McCartney this time on lead vocals. And the lyrics just flow the moment the song begins. “When I call you up / Your line’s engaged / I have had enough / So act your age / We have lost the time / That was so hard to find / And I will lose my mind / If you won’t see me (You won’t see me) / You won’t see me (You won’t see me).” We’re back to the boy-girl thing. “I don’t know why you / Should want to hide / But I can’t get through / My hands are tied / I won’t want to stay / I don’t have much to say / But I can’t turn away / And you won’t see me …” A change of key: “Time after time / You refuse to even listen / I wouldn’t mind / If I knew what I was missing.” The remorse of love lost. “Though the days are few / They’re filled with tears / And since I lost you / It feels like years / Yes, it seems so long / Girl, since you’ve been gone / And I just can’t go on / If you won't see me …” Wikipedia lumps this with I’m Looking Through You and Girl (both on Side 2), as examples of songs that “express more emotionally complex, even bitter and downbeat portrayals of romance”.
And it says the next track, Nowhere Man, is “arguably the first Beatles song to move beyond a romantic subject”. Arguable, it adds, because the song Help! need not necessarily be interpreted as being about a boy-girl relationship. It is “a general cry for ‘help’ from the singer to another person, whose relationship to the singer remains unspecified”. Nowhere Man is a classic example of the three main vocalists – Lennon, McCartney and Harrison – using those powerful voices to superb effect, with the opening lines being sung acapella (sp?). Then understated bass and distinctive lead guitar riffs are introduced. This is the “modern” Beatles sound, full-bodied, inventive, infused with ironic humour. And Lennon’s lead vocals reinforce the belief that it was his voice which was the most distinctive and defining of the Beatles sound. This song would, of course, be a feature of the animated movie, Yellow Submarine, a few years later: “He’s a real nowhere Man, / Sitting in his Nowhere Land, / Making all his nowhere plans / for nobody.” Consider the genius of those lines. Suddenly, like Dylan, they’ve made the English language their oyster. Anything goes, provided it is done intelligently. Let’s see where they take it. “Doesn’t have a point of view, / Knows not where he’s going to, / Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” Then that wonderful chorus, the sort of sound that went on to describe the Beatles down the next few decades: “Nowhere Man, please listen, / You don’t know what you’re missin', / Nowhere Man, the world is at your command.”
for nobody. / Making all his nowhere plans / for nobody. / Making all his nowhere plans / for nobody.” Suddenly, I suspect, Dylan was sitting up and taking notice.
I wonder if fuzz bass had been used much before this album, because McCartney certainly makes a huge impact with this instrument on the
Although the album sleeve cites all three as vocalists on The Word, it puts Lennon first and he clearly sings the solo parts on a song which is arguably his first real venture into the peace campaign which would dominate his life later on. The word, of course, is Love. Indeed, this song again emphasises the importance to the Beatles sound of Lennon’s voice. Whereas McCartney’s was often beautiful, rounded and pure, it lacked the character of Lennon’s. Also notable on this track is a harmonium solo by the “fifth Beatle”, George Martin. “Say the word and you’ll be free / Say the word and be like me / Say the word I’m thinking of / Have you heard the word is love? / It’s so fine, It’s sunshine / It’s the word, love.” After this upbeat introduction sung jointly by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, Lennon takes over: “In the beginning I misunderstood / But now I’ve got it, the word is good.” Then back to the three in harmony: “Spread the word and you’ll be free / Spread the word and be like me / Spread the word I’m thinking of / Have you heard the word is love? / It’s so fine, It’s sunshine / It’s the word, love.” Then Lennon alone again: “Every where I go I hear it said / In the good and bad books that I have read.” It was probably through songs like this that Lennon started assuming Dylan-like importance among the disillusioned youth angry at a world plagued by wars. The messianic message – short but given with great authority – on songs like this, were latched onto by the peaceniks of the era. “Give the word a chance to say / That the word is just the way / It’s the word I’m thinking of / And the only word is love.” Then that change of pace again: “It’s so fine, It’s sunshine / It’s the word, love.” And a clear, confident insight: “ Now that I know what I feel must be right / I’m here to show everybody the light.” The song ends with that opening chorus, a mantra of truth; a policy statement for a generation.
From the universal proselytizing of The Word, the album switches, on the last track on Side 1, to the intimate musings of McCartney on another of his bewitching ballads, Michelle. Slow acoustic guitar and bass, along with harmonies from the other two, provide the support for McCartney on a song which was this album’s answer to Yesterday. The use of French in one of the verses only adds to the song’s appeal. “Michelle, ma belle / These are words that go together well / My Michelle.” Then: “Michelle, ma belle / Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble / tres bien ensemble.” This apparently simply means, “These are words that go together well.” Imagine a world full of Beatles fans singing along to this and not knowing what in the “world they were actually singing. The song changes key and picks up pace for the next lines: “I love you, I love you, I love you / that’s all I want to say / Until I find a way / I will say the only words I know you’ll understand / Michelle, ma belle / Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble / tres bien ensemble.” How much is lost in translation? “I need to, I need to, I need to / I need to make you see / Oh, what you mean to me / Until I do I’m hoping you will know what I mean / I love you.” I wonder if this was based on problems McCartney, a notorious flirter in his younger days, had with the many beautiful girls who flocked to be with him in
Already, this album has delivered seven tracks of remarkable diversity, each unique and part of the catalogue of Beatles classics. And unlike with virtually all the previous albums, there is no let-up on Side 2. Even old Ringo gets in on the act with alactrity on the opening track, What Goes On, which he co-wrote with Lennon and McCartney. There are some songs for which his voice is ideal and this is one of them. I enjoyed the bluesy electric guitar here too. “What goes on in your heart? / What goes on in your mind? / You are tearing me apart / When you treat me so unkind / What goes on in your mind.” Then Ringo – who one really can’t call by his surname – in his best Thomas The Tank Engine voice, lays down the verse. “The other day I saw you / As I walked along the road / But when I saw him with you / I could feel my future fold / It’s so easy for a girl / like you to lie / Tell me why.” It is another song of love lost, the genesis of most of the blues music. After the chorus, he continues. “I met you in the morning / waiting for the tides of time / But now the tide is turning / I can see that I was blind / It’s so easy for a girl / like you to lie / Tell me why / What goes on in your heart?” Vulnerable young men are often more at the mercy of beautiful young women’s wily ways than the other way round. “I used to think of no one else / But you were just the same / You didn’t even think of me / As someone with a name / Did you mean to break my / heart and watch me die / Tell me why.” The song ends with that plaintive cry for clarity in the chorus.
Lennon continues this theme of analyzing relationships with females in Girl, which is slow, quiet, almost mournful – but again contains classic Lennon vocals, with superb harmonies during the choruses. If ever a song was evocative of the Beatles sound, for me it is this one. Anyone who heard this in the Sixties will have instantly recall of the melody as they read these lines: “Is there anybody gone to listen to my story / All about the girl who came to stay? / She’s the kind of girl you want so much / It makes you sorry; / Still, you don’t regret a single day. / Ah girl! Girl!” There is an interesting, almost resigned, inhalation of air ahead of each “Ah girl!”. He’s just being philosophical about the effects this woman has on him – a sort of beautiful, wonderful torture. He expounds on this further as the pace picks up for the chorus: “She’s the kind of girl who puts you down / When friends are there, you feel a fool. / Di-di-di-di. / When you say she’s looking good / She acts as if it’s understood. / She’s cool, cool, cool, cool, / Girl! Girl! (Was she)” It’s that “Di-di-di-di” sung by the others which just lifts the song, emphasising again the importance of vocal harmonies in the Beatles sound. Then it’s back to the accusatory tone, superb in Lennon’s voice: “When I think of all the times I’ve tried to leave her / She will turn to me and start to cry; / And she promises the earth to me / And I believe her. / After all this time I don’t know why. / Ah, girl! Girl!” After the chorus is repeated, he indulges in further analysis. “Was she told when she was young the pain / Would lead to pleasure? / Did she understand it when they said / That a man must break his back to earn / His day of leisure? / Will she still believe it when he’s dead? / Ah girl! Girl! Girl!” He seems to be almost in tears at the end of that exhortation. Significantly, towards the end there is some wonderful acoustic lead guitar, with the lads discovering yet again how effective this instrument is as a foil to its electronic counterparts.
Is the next track still instantly recognisable, or have we finally reached the low point of the album? Well, for many McCartney’s rather harsh vocals on I’m Looking Through You are a trifle off-putting, but the band was trying to put some heavier tracks together, and this became one of them. But McCartney loved a tune, and this one is again rich in melody, while it also features a rather brash, in your face, lead guitar break. The theme is again familiar. “I’m looking through you, where did you go / I thought I knew you, what did I know / You don’t look different, but you have changed / I’m looking through you, you’re not the same.” The anger wells up at this point, then subsides for a further glance: “Your lips are moving, I cannot hear / Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear / You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game. / I’m looking through you, you’re not the same.” Then that typical Beatles change of key: “Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right? / Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” Those few bars of music are as instantly discernable as any in the Beatles catalogue. Yet this is the third song on Side 2! “You’re thinking of me, the same old way / You were above me, but not today / The only difference is you’re down there / I’m looking through you, and you’re nowhere.” Dylan, in his angry mode, would have been proud of this song. “Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right? / Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight.” The first verse is repeated, before the song descends, as it were, into a rather brash bit of McCartney vocals and lead guitar: “Yeah! Oh baby you changed! / Aah! I'm looking through you! / Yeah! I'm looking through you! / You changed, you changed, you changed!”
Again, on In My Life, Lennon and McCartney are listed as the vocalists on the album cover, but it is Lennon who leads the way. And is this some obscure Beatles song, like those many fairly obscure tracks on the early albums? Hardly. Indeed, it is again one of their most famously familiar songs, with the Lennon factor again key. The melody is superb, and it is here that one hears Martin’s slowed down and speeded up piano, while Ringo is listed on the cover as playing
Okay, so there has to be a weak link on this album. Could it be Wait? Not when Lennon and McCartney launch into an a cappella opening few lines before a fairly heavy rock song evolves, with McCartney this time leading the vocals. Indeed, his more obvious Liverpudlian accent is often conspicuous, with “trust in me” sounding like “troost in me”. But it is again a strong, instantly recognisable Beatles song. “It’s been a long time, / now I’m / coming back home. / I’ve been away now, / Oh how / I’ve been alone.” Then the song starts to pick up pace: “Wait / until I come back to your side, / we’ll forget the tears we cried. / But if your heart breaks, / don’t wait, / turn me away. / And if your heart’s strong, / hold on, / I won’t delay.” The McCartney vocals are as good as it gets on this song: “Wait / until I come back to your side, / we’ll forget the tears we cried. / I feel as though, / you ought to know / that I’ve been good, / as good as I can be. / And If you do, / I’ll trust in you, / and know that you will wait for me.” This is repeated as the song concludes.
And so finally, Rubber Soul comes to an end with Run For Your Life. And Lennon’s voice is left to round things off. Fast-paced acoustic guitar and an electric lead guitar break take us into the instantly recognisable melody: “Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl / Than to be with another man / You better keep your head, little girl / Or I won’t know where I am.” Then, aware that you have here some seriously chauvinistic, almost misogynistic, sentiments, the chorus: “You better run for your life if you can, little girl / Hide your head in the sand little girl / Catch you with another man / That’s the end’a little girl.” This reminds me of a current political row in
To my mind, Rubber Soul really established the Beatles as the premier band in the world at this time. Of course there would be others, like the Stones and the Who, who’d seek to topple them from their perch. But for now, and over the next few years, they would cement their position as they reached the peak of their creative powers.
Wikipedia adds some useful insights about the instruments each of the lads played, based on research by Mark Lewishon and Allan W Pollack. It emerges that Lennon plays that beautiful 12-string acoustic guitar on Norwegian Wood, as well as electric piano on Think For Yourself and harmonium on If I Needed Someone. He also plays slide guitar on Run For Your Life and cowbell on Drive My Car. McCartney is listed as playing lead guitar on Drive My Car and acoustic guitar on I’m Looking Through you. Apart from his well-known accomplishments of lead and acoustic guitars and sitar on Norwegian Wood,
As regards the global reception the album received, Wikipedia says it was “a major artistic leap for the group, and is often cited by critics, as well as members of the band, as the point at which the Beatles’ earlier Merseybeat sound began to be transformed into the eclectic, sophisticated pop/rock of their later career. John Lennon later said this was the first album on which the Beatles were in complete creative control during recording, with enough studio time to develop and refine new sound ideas.” Well, they certainly were “sound ideas”, because Wikipedia says Rubber Soul “is often cited as one of the greatest albums in pop music history”. As noted earlier, in 2003 Rolling Stone ranked it No 5 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Their next album, Revolver, released in the
The lads’ seventh album, Wikipedia says Revolver “showcased a number of new stylistic developments which would become more pronounced on later albums”. It says the album moved from a folk-rock inspired Rubber Soul to “an electric guitar-rock sound”. It spent seven weeks at No 1 on the
Wikipedia, at the time I downloaded this information, says sources for the material on the album’s songs are needed. The comments, nevertheless, seem more than useful.
Revolver, incredibly (because Lennon and McCartney had dominated matters thus far), starts with a
After that fine opening track, a piece of sheer brilliance. Few songs are as original as Eleanor Rigby, which really showed that the Beatles were capable of doing virtually anything at this time. I may be wrong, but having just again listened to this song, it seems it consists entirely of an elaborate string arrangement and McCartney’s vocals, although backing vocals are discernable on the choruses. I must confess I never did hear that first word as an exclamation. I was hearing “I”, not … “Aah, look at all the lonely people / Aah, look at all the lonely people.” I know much has been written about the meaning of this song, but let’s first see what precisely McCartney was singing. “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been / Lives in a dream / Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door / Who is it for?” The surrealist image of her wearing a face she keeps in a jar recalls, for me, the paintings of Salvador Dali. I picture a face that is like his soft watches, which can be pulled over her actual features, giving her a different guise. The song continues with the chorus: “All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?” Then the focus moves to what I gather is a small-village clergyman: “Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear / No one comes near. / Look at him working. Darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there / What does he care?” After the chorus, the two protagonists are “united”. “Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name / Nobody came / Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave / No one was saved.” The song concludes with those haunting lines: “All the lonely people / Where do they all come from? / All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?” This song, says Wikipedia, was also released concurrently with the album as a single, with Yellow Submarine on the double A-side release. It says the song “contains McCartney’s lyrical imagery and a string arrangement (score by George Martin under McCartney’s direction) which was inspired by the Bernard Herrmann score for Francios Truffaut’s film, Fehrenheit 451”. It says the strings “were recorded rather dry and compressed, giving a stark, urgent sound”. And while McCartney was the driving force, Wikipedia adds Eleanor Rigby is unique among Beatles songs “for having a lyric idea contributed by each Beatle”. It says Ringo Starr provided the line about Father McKenzie writing his sermon, although originally he referred to Father McCartney. He also contributed the line about Father McKenzie darning his socks. Clearly the song’s origins are controversial, with Wikipedia saying Lennon claimed “40 percent” of the lyric, including that famous line about the face in a jar by the door”. And
There is an interesting strummed steel-string acoustic guitar chord which opens I’m Only Sleeping and occurs regularly during the song, which is further characterized by some innovative bass that seems to undulate like lead vocalist Lennon’s voice. This song seems to be getting closer to the surreal sound Lennon would begin to embrace increasingly as the decade wore on. “When I wake up early in the morning, / Lift my head, I’m still yawning / When I’m in the middle of a dream / Stay in bed, float up stream.” Compare those lines with his later solo song, Oh Yoko, where he sings “In the middle of a dream I call your name”. Here the song tempo switches for the chorus: “Please don’t wake me, no
Don’t shake me / Leave me where I am / I’m only sleeping.” This is Lennon in bed-peace mood, and its only 1966! “Everybody seems to think I’m lazy / I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy / Running everywhere at such a speed / Till they find, there’s no need.” There is some interesting progressive-sounding lead guitar on this song too. But Lennon is still in his reverie: “Please don’t spoil my day / I’m miles away / And after all / I’m only sleeping.” The sentence construction lends itself to the sort of lyrical, melodic sound that has the iconic Beatles stamp. “Keeping an eye on the world going by my window / Taking my time / Lying there and staring at the ceiling / Waiting for a sleepy feeling.” This is one guy who just doesn’t want his sweet dreams intruded upon. “Please don’t spoil my day / I’m miles away / And after all / I’m only sleeping.” After earlier lines are repeated, he ends with: “Please don’t wake me, no / don’t shake me / Leave me where I am / I’m only sleeping.” Wikipedia confirms Lennon was the “main writer” of I’m Only Sleeping. And the weird-sounding guitar is the product of experimentation in the studio. Wikipedia says Harrison and Lennon “played the notes for the lead guitar (and for the second guitar in the solo) in reverse order, then reversed the tape and mixed it in. The backwards guitar sound builds the sleepy, ominous, and weeping tone of the song” This, along with a concurrent recording of Rain (B-side to the Paperback Writer single), was “the first recorded instance of backmasking in popular music, which Lennon stated he discovered after mistakenly loading a reel-to-reel tape backwards under the influence of marijuana”, says Wikipedia.
While on the subject of technological innovation, Wikipedia says automatic double tracking (ADT) was invented by EMI engineer Ken Townsend on April 6, 1966, and used extensively on Revolver. “This technique used two linked tape recorders to create automatically a doubled vocal track. The standard method was to double the vocal by singing the same piece twice onto a multitrack tape, a task Lennon particularly disliked.” Wikipedia says ADT “quickly became a standard pop production technique, and led to related developments”.
Next up on Revolver, it is
The songs are becoming increasingly ethereal, and the next one, Here, There and Everywhere sees McCartney in almost lullaby-singing mood. Slowly strummed electric guitar gets the song under way. “To lead a better life I need my love to be here... / Here, making each day of the year / Changing my life with a wave of her hand / Nobody can deny that there’s something there.” It’s a soothing ballad, with the vituperative attacks on women of Rubber Soul supplanted by an almost euphoric state of inloveness. “There, running my hands through her hair / Both of us thinking how good it can be / Someone is speaking but she doesn’t know he’s there.” I enjoy his use of where and there, since it is our location in life, where we spend our time and with whom, that determines how we indeed live our lives. “I want her everywhere and if she’s beside me / I know I need never care / But to love her is to need her everywhere / Knowing that love is to share.” The verses and choruses flow into one another like a peaceful river. “Each one believing that love never dies / Watching her eyes and hoping I’m always there.” And so the song meanders to a satisfying conclusion, leaving one in a soothed, almost post-coital state of satiation and satisfaction. Wikipedia says the song was written “in the style of the Beach Boys”, and was covered by, among others, Emmylou Harris, who had a hit with it in 1976.
After that pacific interlude, Yellow Submarine virtually bursts out of the speakers. Sharply strummed acoustic guitar and bass herald those opening lines: “In the town where I was born, / Lived a man who sailed to sea, / And he told us of his life, / In the land of submarines,” It’s a beautifully bizarre tale, which was immortalized in that animated film, where the surrealistic imagery is given substance. Ringo’s vocals add to the sense of a fun-filled journey, while background chatter, trumpets and the muffled voices of the officers saying things like, “full speed ahead”, add to the fun. “So we sailed on to the sun, / Till we found the sea of green, / And we lived beneath the waves, / In our yellow submarine.” Then the famous sing-alone type chorus: “We all live in a yellow submarine, / yellow submarine, yellow submarine, / We all live in a yellow submarine, / yellow submarine, yellow submarine.” I don’t like the two “alls” in the next line, but so what? “All our friends are all aboard, / Many more of them live next door, / And the band begins to play.” At which point those trumpets herald a repeat of the chorus. Then, against a background of much static, we here the muffled orders being barked: “(Full speed ahead, Mr Parker, full speed ahead! / Full speed over here, sir! / Action station! / Action station! / Aye, aye, sir, fire! / Captin! Captin!)” As we emerge from this drama, we find the doughty travellers still in one piece. “As we live a life of ease / Every one of us is all we need, / Sky of blue, and sea of green, / in our yellow submarine.” Laughter then leads into the chorus, which is sung twice before fading. Wikipedia says the song’s inspiration “can be traced back to one of Lennon’s school drawing books from the early 1950s”, though it adds that citation is needed for this. It also quotes McCartney as saying he wrote Yellow Submarine “as a children’s song for Starr to sing”. It adds that Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan, while not credited on the album, was a close friend of the Beatles and “assisted with vocals and with the writing of the song itself”. It says Donovan “came up with the line ‘Sky of blue, sea of green, in our yellow submarine’,” but again offers no citation for this. And what of all those sound effects? It says Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones “can be heard clinking glasses in the background”, while Beatles road manager Mal Evans also sang on the track. “With the help of their EMI production team, the Beatles overdubbed stock sound effects they found in the
Instead of letting the lads get ahead of themselves, Lennon brings us back to earth with She Said She Said, which Wikipedia describes as having a “swirling melody”. Here steady lead guitar opens the track, with heavy bass and drums setting up a cracking rock song. But like several great Beatles song, I never really “got” the lyrics, so let’s see what Lennon was on about. “She said ‘I know what it’s like to be dead. / I know what it is to be sad’ / And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born.” It seems Lennon is back on a bad trip, woman-wise. “I said ‘Who put all those things in your head? / Things that make me feel that I’m mad / And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born’” This last, mournful line, is accompanied by some great lead guitarwork, before the discourse continues. “She said ‘you don’t understand what I said’ / I said ‘No, no, no, you’re wrong’ / When I was a boy everything was right / Everything was right.” He adds: “I said ‘Even though you know what you know / I know that I’m ready to leave / ’Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born’.” The duologue continues, going round in circles, with previous comments repeated.
McCartney’s need for a “good tune”, or their “next hit single” is never far away, and Good Day Sunshine, the opening track on Side 2, has all the ingredients of a typical Beatles hit. It starts with some slow bass, but quickens as the drums step in and the chorus chant begins: “Good day sunshine / Good day sunshine / Good day sunshine.” Then, his bass humming alongside it, McCartney’s voice gives the song its best shot. “I need to laugh, and when the sun is out / I’ve got something I can laugh about / I feel good, in a special way / I’m in love and it's a sunny day.” With
Next was one of the finest tracks on the album, And Your Bird Can Sing, where Lennon’s inimitable vocals are again a hallmark, alongside thumping bass and some fine lead guitarwork. “You tell me that you’ve got everything you want / And your bird can sing / But you don’t get me, you don’t get me.” I hadn’t realised it before, but this seems to be another of those somewhat spiteful love spats. It remains, though, one of the most conspicuously Beatles melodies ever. “You say you’ve seen seven wonders and your bird is green / But you can’t see me, you can’t see me.” He then seems to offer the hand of friendship. “When your prized possessions start to weigh you down / Look in my direction, I’ll be round, I’ll be round.” This use of a bird metaphor is interesting, because birds are both fragile and incredibly strong and resourceful. “When your bird is broken will it bring you down / You may be awoken, I’ll be round, I’ll be round.” I wonder how accurate these lyrics are. In the next verse, does he say her bird can “swing” or “sing”? “You tell me that you’ve heard every sound there is / And your bird can swing / But you can’t hear me, you can’t hear me.”
McCartney couldn’t help it, he simply had to write melodic ballads, and For No One is just that. This time round it is piano and some fiendishly good bass which provide the backing for his Beatle-ful voice. There is also some interesting trumpet on the song. Again, I always thought the song started, “The day breaks …”, but I see it goes like this: “Your day breaks, your mind aches / You find that all her words of kindness linger on / When she no longer needs you.” It is a typical intimate scene. “She wakes up, she makes up / She takes her time and doesn’t / feel she has to hurry / She no longer needs you.” Then that famous chorus: “And in her eyes you see nothing / No sign of love behind the tears / Cried for no one / A love that should have lasted years!” It’s another relationship on the rocks. “You want her, you need her / And yet you don’t believe her when / she says her love is dead / You think she needs you.” After the chorus, the final verse: “You stay home, she goes out / She says that long ago she knew / someone but now he’s gone / She doesn’t need him.” The song returns to the opening verse, but it’s changed somewhat. “Your day breaks, your mind aches / There will be times when all / the things she says will fill / your head / You won’t forget her.” And just to repeat that iconic chorus. “And in her eyes you see nothing / No sign of love behind the tears / Cried for no one /A love that should have lasted years!” Wikipedia casts some light on this track, saying it is “a melancholy song featuring him (McCartney) playing clavichord and a horn solo played by Alan Civil. So much for my piano and trumpet!
If that was melancholy, the next track, Dr Robert, is quick-fire rock, with Lennon leading the vocals and McCartney providing superb support in the chorus. And, unusually, at one point an organ is prominent, along with a more mature lead guitar. Again, down the years I’ve heard the opening line as “Me my friend …”. It is in fact: “Ring, my friend I said you’d call / Doctor Robert / Day or night he’ll be there any time at all / Doctor Robert.” It is indeed a strange subject for a song. “Doctor Robert / You’re a new and better man / He helps you to understand / He does everything he can / Doctor Robert.” This doesn’t sound like your typical GP, however. “If you’re down he’ll pick you up / Doctor Robert / Take a drink from his special cup / Doctor Robert.” A drug pusher, perhaps? “Doctor Robert / He’s a man you must believe / Helping anyone in need / No one can succeed like / Doctor Robert.” The inevitable key change comes: “Well, well, well, you’re feeling fine / Well, well, well, he’ll make you / Doctor Robert.” The last verse places this firmly in the
It’s time for another McCartney ballad, and Got To Get You Into My Life has all the bells and whistles he could have wished for. This song, which starts with a solid brass assault, is as catchily commercial as you could hope for, and even features a bit of bluesy saxophone. “I was alone, I took a ride, / I didn’t know what I would find there / Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there.” It’s the sort of song that seems to have always been there. It’s part of our make-up, those of us who grew up on these sounds. “Ooh, then I suddenly see you, / Ooh, did I tell you I need you / Every single day of my life.” McCartney’s voice is velvet smooth. “You didn’t run, you didn’t lie / You knew I wanted just to hold you / And had you gone you knew in time we’d meet again / For I had told you.” The chorus is changed: “Ooh, you were meant to be near me / Ooh, and I want you hear me / Say we’ll be together every day.” Then that titular line: “Got to get you into my life.” The words just flow: “What can I do, what can I be, / When I’m with you I want to stay there / If I’m true I’ll never leave / And if I do I know the way there.” Verses and chorus are repeated, as the song unfolds. It is simple, but so effective. Wikipedia says the song was “influenced by the Motown Sound and uses brass instrumentation extensively”. While ostensibly a love song, it says McCartney “has since revealed that the song was actually an ode to marijuana”. Lennon, however, is quoted in the Beatles Anthology as claiming it is about LSD. It was released as a single in 1976.
The final track, Tomorrow Never Knows, is something altogether and completely different. Surely the first truly psychedelic song, it includes all manner of weird sounds, as well as a device to make Lennon’s voice muted, or distant, at certain points. There are the sound of ducks squawking, and other weird and wonderful effects. Indeed, I was reminded of the first Pink Floyd album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which was released a year later, in 1967. But let’s check out those lyrics: “Turn off your mind, relax / and float down stream / It is not dying / It is not dying.” What a statement to make. “Lay down all thought / Surrender to the void / It is shining / It is shining.” So were the lads getting heavily into the hard stuff at this point? It would seem so. “That you may see / The meaning of within / It is being / It is being.” Yet, while this may seem like a stream of consciousness thing, there is an obvious structure to these verses. “That love is all / And love is everyone / It is knowing / It is knowing.” And he even gets a bit political. “That ignorance and hate / May mourn the dead / It is believing / It is believing.” I can only imagine the average dope-head at the time must have relished verses like the next one. “But listen to the / color of your dreams / It is not living / It is not living.” If they were having an existential crisis before, this would have compounded matters. “Or play the game / existence to the end / Of the beginning / Of the beginning / Of the beginning / Of the beginning / Of the beginning / Of the beginning.” Okay, so we’re in the dark about all this. What does Wikipedia have to say? A lot, actually. It says the lads’ “unfolding innovation in the recording studio reaches its apex” with Lennon’s Tomorrow Never Knows, which was “one of the first songs in the emerging genre of psychedelic music, and included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals and looped tape effects”. Musically, says Wikipedia, the song is “drone-like, with a strongly syncopated, repetitive drum-beat, and it is considered to be among the earliest precursors of electronica”. While the lyrics were “inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead”, the title says Wikipeida, “came from one of Starr’s inadvertently amusing turns of phrase, playfully called Ringoisms (another being A Hard Day’s Night)”. It says “much of the backing track consists of a series of prepared tape loops, stemming from Lennon and McCartney’s interest in and experiment with magnetic tape and musique concrete techniques at that time”. Mark Lewisohn is quoted as saying the two prepared a series of loops at home, “and these were then added to the pre-recorded backing track. This was reportedly done live in a single take, with multiple tape recorders running simultaneously, some of the longer loops extending out of the control room and down the corridor”. That “distant” lead vocal I spoke of was, says Wikipedia, “another innovation”. It says Lennon told EMI engineer Geoff Emerick he “wanted to sound like he was singing from the top of a high mountain”. “Emerick solved the problem by splicing a line from the recording console into the studio’s Leslie speaker, giving Lennon’s vocal its ethereal, filtered quality (he was later reprimanded by the studio’s management for doing this).”
Wikipedia even notes that there were noticeable differences between the stereo and mono mixes of the song. “The opening drone fades in more gradually in the stereo version than in the mono mix. The tape loops fade in and out at different times, and the protracted one that serves as the song’s instrumental break is heavily treated with ADT in the mono mix, lending it further distortion and intensity.”
So much for the songs on this epochal album. What of the cover, and the title. Wikipedia says German-born bassist and artist Klaus Voormann, a friend from their
Wikipedia’s list of personnel on the album reveals how the band had diversified, with several new instruments and, of course, tape loops and special sound effects, being listed. Also listed are session musicians who played four violins, two violas and two cellos on Eleanor Rigby. Among those listed as having provided backing vocals on Yellow Submarine are Donovan, Brian Jones and Marianne Faithfull, though none are credited on the album.
Was it really such a great album? Wikipedia says Revolver is “often cited as one of the greatest albums in rock music history”. While numerous publications have heaped praise on it, I’ll stick with the 2003 Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, where it was ranked No 3. No 1 is the next Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s, while second, which I find hard to credit, is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Their genius seemed to know no bounds. But in terms of imagination and creativity, few albums can top their next release, which was again a
Probably one of the first “concept albums” – it later formed the basis for the great Yellow Submarine animated movie – the album became famous even before anyone heard it, thanks to its incredible Pop Art cover. Among the many celebrities featured are two versions of the Beatles themselves. The old Beatles of the straight rock and roll era, and the new Beatles who would increasingly branch out and explore the furthest reaches of the psyche as they travelled across the musical universe.
I always view the album as being circus-like (did it influence the Monty Python team, I wonder?). There are certainly circus allusions in Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, while the first song, the title track, sets the scene as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band invites you to “enjoy the show”. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s see what Wikipdia has to say about the album.
As is to be expected, Wikipedia has reams of information on this album, which was recorded between December 6, 1966, and April 21, 1967, at Abbey Road Studios in London, runs to just 39:42 minutes and was released on the Parlophone label. George Martin, naturally, was the producer. The group’s eighth studio album, it took 129 days to record and was released on June 1, 1967 in the
How did this bizarre, yet so typically Beatles, concept arise? Wikipedia says when it was being recorded, Beatlemania was waning, with the band having stopped touring in August, 1966. They would remain a studio-based band for the rest of the Beatles’ life, apart from that famous rooftop performance during the Get Back session in 1969. Finally, notes Wikipedia, they had “ample time to prepare their next record”. “As EMI’s premier act and
They were already at home using “new modular effects units” such as the wah-way pedal and fuzzbox, as well as “their own experimental ideas, such as running voices and instruments through a Leslie speaker”. This is all quite technical stuff, but when one comes to listen to this album, you realise that it is almost like an alien being that suddenly arrived on Earth, such is the innovative quality and texture of the sounds achieved. So it is important to know that, according to Wikipedia, “another important sonic innovation” was McCartney’s discovery of “the direct input (DI) technique, in which he could record his bass by plugging it directly into an amplifying circuit in the recording console”. Another important element which shaped Sgt Peppers was the sort of musical environment which had evolved, almost overnight. Wikipedia notes that the album “coincided with the introduction of some important musical innovations, both from within the band and the rest of the musical industry. The work of Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson was radically redefining what was possible for pop musicians in terms of both songwriting and recording”. Longer songs with “complex lyrical themes” were becoming the order of the day.
But Wikipedia won’t let us technophobes off that lightly. It even explores the history of “technical innovation” leading up to Sgt Peppers, noting that “since the introduction of magnetic recording tape in 1949, multi-track recording had been developed”. In 1967, Sgt Peppers would be recorded using mono, stereo and 4-track recorders. While 8-track recorders were available already in the
So how did they arrive at that amazingly rich sound? It seems the Abbey Road engineers had followed on earlier work with the Beatles by making “extensive use of the technique known as bounding down (also called multing), in which a number of tracks were recorded across the four tracks of one recorder, which were then mixed and dubbed down onto one track of the master 4-track machine.” This gave the Beatles “a virtual multi-track studio”.
This really is the realm of the engineers, but in order to appreciate the art of Sgt Peppers one has to endure the technology that made it possible. Because this was clearly a time of great inventiveness, not only among the musicians, but also among all those technically savvy people working behind the scenes. Wikipedia says the use of magnetic tape led to the “innovative use of instruments and production effects, notably the tape-based keyboard sampler, the Mellotron, effects like flanging (used as early as 1959 on Toni Fisher’s The Big Hurt) and phasing, as well as a greatly improved system for creating echo and reverberation”. New production effects included automatic double tracking (ADT), “a system that used tape recorders to create an instant and simultaneous doubling of a sound”. This method, which “doubled” lead vocals, obviated the need to record such vocal tracks twice. Wikipedia says ADT was invented “specially for the Beatles by EMI engineer Ken Townsend in 1966, mainly at the behest of Lennon, who hated tracking sessions and regularly expressed a desire for a technical solution to the problem”. It soon became a “near-universal recording practice in popular music”.
There seemed to be no bounds to the tricks the men in white overalls could come up with. Another cited by Wikipedia is “varispeeding, the technique of recording various tracks on a multi-track tape at slightly different tape speeds. The Beatles use this effect extensively on their vocals in this period. The speeding up of vocals (also known as ‘tweaking’) also became a widespread technique in pop production. The Beatles also used the effect on portions of their backing tracks (as on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) to give them a ‘thicker’ and more diffuse sound”.
Wikipedia also refers to the bit of “laughter and gibberish” at the end of the final track, Day In The Life, which I heard for the first time when I listened to the CD version. While Wikipedia says this sound was on an endless loop made by “the runout groove looping back into itself” on “non-US pressings” of the album, it does not occur on an original SA pressing which I picked up recently at a second-hand shop. The CD version lasts for about 20 seconds, but we’ll get to that later. On second thoughts, Wikipedia dwells on this issue, so best continue. It says the loop “is also the subject of much controversy, being widely interpreted as some kind of secret message”. I have to confess I don’t recall this “controversy” reaching SA. Wikepedia quotes biographer Barry Miles as saying some fans complained to McCartney that the section, when played backwards, sounds like “Well fuck you like superman”, and McCartney had responded, “Oh God!”, after listening to it. But Wikipedia says it was “nothing more than a few random samples and tape edits played backwards”. It does note that a sped-up voice, possibly McCartney’s, recites the phrase “never could be any other way”. After recovering from the shock of suddenly hearing this stuff, I thought I heard “never push it any other way now”.
Before getting to the actual songs, let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about the album concept. It says that with this album, the Beatles “wanted to create a record that could, in effect, tour for them – an idea they had already explored with the promotional film-clips made over the previous years, intended to promote them in the
As I suspected, and as we’ll see as we go though each song, there was again a McCartney-Lennon split on what they were aiming to achieve. Wikipedia notes that the opening track “introduces Sgt Peppers’s band”, before it “seques seamlessy” into “a sung introduction for bandleader Billy Shears (Starr), who performs With A Little Help From My Friends”. It adds that a repressive version of the title track, the penultimate song before A Day In The Life, has a “bookending effect”. But, it says, “Lennon was unequivocal in stating that the songs he wrote for the album had nothing to do with the Sgt Pepper concept”. Wikipedia says that as the other songs are “actually unrelated, one might be tempted to conclude that the album does not express an overarching theme”. But it says, “the cohesive structure and careful sequencing of and transitioning between songs on the album, as well as the use of the Sgt Pepper framing device, have led the album to be widely acknowledged as an early and ground-breaking example of the concept album”. And, Wikipedia says, some would argue that Sgt Pepper’s is not even the overriding theme on the album. It says before work started on Sgt Pepper, the Beatles “had begun to work on a series of songs that were to form an album thematically linked to childhood and everyday life”. This led to
It is the same sense of expectation one had, as a child, when visiting the circus, that one experiences as this album gets under way – in the form of the title track. An excited crowd cheers before the bass, drums and lead guitar launch those immortal opening lines. “It was twenty years ago today / Sgt Pepper taught the band to play / They’ve been going in and out of style / But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile / So may I introduce to you / The act you’ve known for all these years / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This was showman McCartney doing what he did best: marketing. Few would argue that McCartney was the commercial driving force behind the group, and here we have the whole process put on record. And it’s a real romp: “We’re Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / We hope you will enjoy the show / We’re Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / Sit back and let the evening go.” Lennon also gets in on the vocals act after the lines, “Sgt Pepper’s lonely, Sgt Pepper’s lonely / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” as he sings: “It’s wonderful to be here / It’s certainly a thrill / You’re such a lovely audience / We’d like to take you home with us / We’d love to take you home…” Then McCartney, or is it Ringo, seems to intrude: “I don’t really want to stop the show / But I thought you might like to know / That the singer’s going to sing a song / And he wants you all to sing along / So let me introduce to you / The one and only Billy Shears / And Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This, of course, is the introduction to the wonderful With A Little Help From My Friends, sung by Ringo Starr.
The Joe Cocker version of this song at
Then it was Lennon’s turn to lay down one of the world’s most famous songs. Some interesting reverberating lead guitar opens Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, before the uncannily powerful bass provides support for the opening lyrics, backed by great drumming. “Picture yourself in a boat on a river, / With tangerine trees and marmalade skies / Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, / A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” Then Lennon’s voice assumes a distant quality: “Cellophane flowers of yellow and green, / Towering over your head. / Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes, / And she’s gone.” Then the chorus, or refrain, kicks in: “Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Lucy in the sky with diamonds / Ah... Ah...” The hippie era had arrived. For us. This song was about being hip. It was about bright colours and patterns, long hair and a laid-back life where you didn’t have to work and everything you wanted grew on trees. “Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain / Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies, / Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers, / That grow so incredibly high.” Finally, someone had arrived to compete with Dylan as a songwriter. And it’s strange how imagery stays with you. In the next verse the reference to newspaper taxis came home to me when, in 1990, I arrived in
Getting Better starts with sharply chopped lead guitar chords, before a chorus sings: “Its getting better all the time.” Then McCartney’s booming bass kicks in, backed by more great Beatles hamonising. “I used to get mad at my school / Now I can’t complain / The teachers who taught me weren’t cool / Now I can’t complain / You’re holding me down, ah, turning me round, ah / Filling me up with your rules, ooh ooh.” Then the chorus: “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, better / A little better all the time, it can’t get no worse / I have to admit it’s getting better, better / It’s getting better since you’ve been mine.” Then some interesting, deliberate, poor English. “Me used to be angry young man / Me hiding me head in the sand / You gave me the word, I finally heard / I’m doing the best that I can.” After things get better all the time, another verse: “I used to be cruel to my woman / I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved / Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene / And I’m doing the best that I can.” Ah, so even a Beatle can mend his misogynistic ways…
Our virtually flat roof, at
The evocative strains of a harp launch She’s Leaving Home, another song with top-notch harmonising. There is a bit of Eleanor Rigby to this too, with an elaborate strings arrangement and not a rock instrument to be heard. “Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins / Silently closing her bedroom door / Leaving the note that she hoped would say more / She goes downstairs to the kitchen clutching her handkerchief / Quietly turning the backdoor key / Stepping outside she is free…” Then the incredibly beautiful chorus section: “She (We gave her most of our lives) / Is leaving (Sacrificed most of our lives) / Home (We gave her everything money could buy) / She’s leaving home after living alone / For so many years / Bye bye.” It’s part of the cycle of life. “Father snores as his wife gets into her dressing gown / Picks up the letter that’s lying there / Standing alone at the top of the stairs / She breaks down and cries to her husband / Daddy our baby’s gone / Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly? / How could she do this to me?” Then more self-pitying remorse: “She (We never though of ourselves) / Is leaving (Never a thought for ourselves) / Home (We struggled hard all our lives to get by) / She’s leaving home after living alone / For so many years / Bye bye.” And she’s found a man, be gods! “Friday morning at nine o’clock she is far away / Waiting to keep the appointment she made / Meeting a man from the motor trade.” Again, onto the pity pot. “She (What did we do that was wrong) / Is having (We didn’t know it was wrong) / Fun (Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy) / Something inside that was always denied / For so many years / Bye bye.” Then, as the orchestral piece wraps up: “She’s leaving home / Bye bye.”
And you can’t here those words without anticipating the next song, which flows from it. Solid rock music launches Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. This has all the hallmarks of a circus act, with prominent use of cymbals and drum rolls. “For the benefit of Mr Kite / There will be a show tonight on trampoline / The Hendersons will all be there / Late of Pablo-Fanques Fair, what a scene / Over men and horses hoops and garters / Lastly through a hogshead of real fire! / In this way Mr K will challenge the world! / The celebrated Mr K / Performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate / The Hendersons will dance and sing / As Mr Kite flies through the ring don’t be late / Messrs K and H assure the public / Their production will be second to none / And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz!” At this point, naturally, the song transforms into a whirl of waltzing, jigging and trapeze-like sounds flying through the air. Then it returns to hard rock: “The band begins at ten to six / When Mr K performs his tricks without a sound / And Mr H will demonstrate / Ten somersettes he’ll undertake on solid ground / ’ving been some days in preparation / A splendid time is guaranteed for all / And tonight Mr Kite is topping the bill.” Again, more swirling orchestral sounds take the song to its conclusion. Wikipedia says the lyrics were “adapted almost word for word from an old circus poster which Lennon had bought at an antique shop in
The second side starts with
Some might argue from the sublime to ridiculous, but few would dismiss McCartney’s immortal song about aging, When I’m Sixty-Four, which proved such a huge hit, and even went on to be used as the theme tune for Capital 604, which ruled the airlines from the Wild Coast of apartheid SA in the late 1970s. This is a far cry, however, from the angry “my generation” lyrics of both The Who and The Rolling Stones at the time. Instead of anger, it starts with laughter, before heavenly bass and clarinet launch the McCartney vocals: “When I get older losing my hair, / Many years from now, / Will you still be sending me a valentine / Birthday greetings bottle of wine?” Again, with strong piano work, bells and vocal harmonies, this is a gem. “If I’d been out till quarter to three / Would you lock the door, / Will you still need me, will you still feed me, / When I’m sixty-four?” Then the change of key: “oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo / You’ll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah) / And if you say the word, / I could stay with you.” It’s a scene of domestic bliss that, after the death of Linda Eastman, one senses McCartney did not really experience. “I could be handy mending a fuse / When your lights have gone. / You can knit a sweater by the fireside / Sunday mornings go for a ride.” How it must have riled the angry young men of pop waiting to launch the likes of punk and underground music. “Doing the garden, digging the weeds, / Who could ask for more? / Will you still need me, will you still feed me, / When I'm sixty-four?” If it weren’t for the fact that the song is so beautifully executed, many would surely baulk at these excesses of good behaviour. “Every summer we can rent a cottage / In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear / We shall scrimp and save / Grandchildren on your knee / Vera, Chuck, and Dave.” I’d always wondered where the Wasting Away thing came in. Now I see the person signs himself thus. “Send me a postcard, drop me a line, / Stating point of view. / Indicate precisely what you mean to say / Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.” I thought he sang, “you’re sincerely wasting away”. The song concludes with: “Give me your answer, fill in a form / Mine for evermore / Will you still need me, will you still feed me, / When I’m sixty-four? / Whoo!”
Some seriously harsh guitar, bass and drums set Lovely Rita in motion, before the opening chorus: “Lovely Rita meter maid. / Lovely Rita meter maid.” Then Lennon (I’m fairly sure it is he) lays it on us: “Lovely Rita meter maid. / Nothing can come between us, / When it gets dark I tow your heart away. / Standing by a parking meter, / When I caught a glimpse of Rita, / Filling in a ticket in her little white book. / In a cap she looked much older, / And the bag across her shoulder / Made her look a little like a military man.” There are some sharp brass bursts at this point, all of which add to the texture of the song. “Lovely Rita meter maid, / May I inquire discreetly, / When are you free, / To take some tea with me. / Took her out and tried to win her, / Had a laugh and over dinner, / Told her I would really like to see her again, / Got the bill and Rita paid it, / Took her home I nearly made it, / Sitting on the sofa with a sister or two.” Nothing like a quickie with a bit of rough, eh? “Oh, lovely Rita meter maid, / Where would I be without you, / Give us a wink and make me think of you.” The song concludes with some strange sounds and a bit of laughter, before a rooster crows, heralding, well Good Morning, Good Morning.
An interesting brass arrangement sets the scene for those opening lines. “Good morning good morning / good morning good morning / good morning, a…” Then Lennon’s on another classic, while Ringo’s drums add impetus: “Nothing to do to save his life / call his wife in / Nothing to say but what a day / how’s your boy been / Nothing to do, it’s up to you / I’ve got noting to say but it’s OK / Good morning good morning / good morning a.” It’s another day in the life song. “Going to work don’t want to go / feeling low down / Heading for home you start to roam / then you’re in town.” The song picks up tempo: “Everybody knows there’s nothing doing / Everything is closed, it’s like a ruin / Everyone you see is half asleep / And you’re on your own, you’re in the street.” He settles. “After a while you start to smile / now you feel cool / Then you decide to take a walk by the old school / Nothing has changed it’s still the same / I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK / Good morning good morning / good morning a.” A fresh bit of urgency: “People running round it’s five o’clock / Everywhere in town it’s getting dark / Everyone you see is full of life / It’s time for tea and meet the wife.” Then back to the contemplative mood. “Somebody needs to know the time / glad that I’m here / Watching the skirts you start to flirt / now you’re in gear / Go to a show you hope she goes / I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK / Good morning good morning / good morning good morning.” Then that famous ending, which starts with the rooster and takes in the sounds of birds, a cat, a horse, sheep, a horse, a lion and many more.
And of course that provides the perfect conduit back into the Sgt Pepper theme, as the title track is reprised. It starts with counting, 1, 2, 3, 4 Bye!, before the chorus is sung a few times. “We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / We hope you have enjoyed the show / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / We’re sorry but it’s time to go / Sgt Pepper’s lonely, Sgt Pepper’s lonely / Sgt Pepper’s lonely, Sgt Pepper’s lonely / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / We’d like to thank you once again / Sgt Pepper’s one and only Lonely Hearts Club Band / It’s getting very near the end / Sgt Pepper’s lonely, Sgt Pepper’s lonely / Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This is a great, hard rock version, featuring some particularly good lead guitar and it ends, fittingly, with loud applause.
But then everything quietens, like the lull before the storm, as the Lennon masterpiece, A Day In The Life, is unleashed. It starts quietly with strummed acoustic guitar and piano. “I read the news today oh, boy / About a lucky man who made the grade / And though the news was rather sad / Well, I just had to laugh / I saw the photograph / He blew his mind out in a car / He didn’t notice that the lights had changed / A crowd of people stood and stared / They’d seen his face before / Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.” Few pop musicians would have dared write such fare, apart perhaps for Dylan. “I saw a film today oh, boy / The English army had just won the war / A crowd of people turned away / But I just had to look / Having read the book.” There’s a wonderfully ethereal quality to all this, like it happened in a dream. Indeed, at this point the song starts to mutate, after the words: “I love to turn you on.” As an orchestra takes us up through the scales, you arrive on a plateau to find McCartney at the helm: “Woke up, got out of bed / Dragged a comb across my head / Found my way downstairs and drank a cup / And looking up, I noticed I was late / Found my coat and grabbed my hat / Made the bus in seconds flat / Found my way upstairs and had a smoke / Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.” And here, again, with the word, “Ah”, we ascend another musical highway – and pop out in Lennon’s mind again. “I read the news today oh, boy / Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire / And though the holes were rather small / They had to count them all / Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” And he, like
This album has long been associated with drugs. It features, says Wikipedia, “many effects and themes that appear to be psychedelic”. And there seem to be “many explicit references to drugs”. A Day In The Life, it says was “one of the last major Lennon-McCartney collaborations”, and includes the phrase, “I’d love to turn you on”. While Wikipedia says this was a common term at the time for taking LSD – based on Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in & drop out” mantra – we, I fear, saw it more for its sexual connotations. Turning on a woman was where we were at. Evidently Lennon and McCartney denied the drugs allusion, and said they meant they “love to turn you on to the truth”. The drugs myths abounded. “Found my way upstairs and had a smoke / Somebody spoke and I went into a dream” clearly, say biographers, referred to smoking marijuana. But, and here’s a new one to me, the “four thousand holes in Blackburn,
Wikipedia says all the Beatles were present during the mixing of the album in mono, but not for the stereo version. And there are several major differences between the two, with the stereo version only available on CD and the mono vinyl version out of print. Examples include She’s Leaving Home being slower and at a lower pitch on the stereo version. Lucy In The Sky is also “considerably slower” on the stereo version.
We were obviously bowled over by this album down in sunny apartheid SA, but what about the rest of the world? Wikipedia says it received immediate popular and critical acclaim. Kenneth Tynan, a prominent critic in The Times of London, called it “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization”. But Richard Goldstein of The New York Times, says Wikipedia, said the album was spoilt “like an over-attended child”. This was a reference to all the sound effects on the album. However, he did concede A Day In The Life was “a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric”, adding that it “stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event”.
We were obviously bowled over by this album down in sunny apartheid SA, but what about the rest of the world? Wikipedia says it received immediate popular and critical acclaim. Kenneth Tynan, a prominent critic in The Times of London, called it “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization”. But Richard Goldstein of The New York Times, says Wikipedia, said the album was spoilt “like an over-attended child”. This was a reference to all the sound effects on the album. However, he did concede A Day In The Life was “a deadly earnest excursion in emotive music with a chilling lyric”, adding that it “stands as one of the most important Lennon-McCartney compositions, and it is a historic Pop event”.
I had forgotten that underground music guru Frank Zappa had an early disregard for the Beatles, and Wikipedia says he accused the Beatles, in an article in Rolling Stone, of co-opting the flower power aesthetic for monetary gain with this album. Indeed, the criticism was encompassed in the title of the Mothers of Invention’s next album, We’re Only in It for the Money which, says Wikipedia, “mocked Sgt Pepper with a similar album cover”. This showed him and his bandmates in drag, a spoof of the inside cover, after MGM Records withdrew the original cover featuring the Mothers against a similar collage, with a flowerbed with the letters, MOTHERS, in the foreground. Ironically, says Wikipedia, when recording of Sgt Pepper was complete, McCartney said it was “going to be our Freak Out!”, referring to Zappa’s 1966 debut album, “which is considered by many as the first rock concept album”. Zappa’s famous cynicism aside, clearly any new Beatles album was going to make global waves. Wikipedia says Jimi Hendrix “was performing the title track in concert” within days of its release, while Australian band the Twilights, who obtained an advance copy, performed it note-perfect at live concerts before it was even released down under.
And of course it was a massive commercial hit. It debuted in the
One regret that George Martin has, says Wikipedia, is the omission of Strawberry Fields Forever and
Wikipedia says Sgt Pepper was arguably the last Beatles album where the band were “consistently working together as a group rather than as separate members, and without any fear of conflict or ego domination”. It says this was largely due to manager Brian Epstein “and his ability to resolve any petty differences between them”. He died a couple of months after the album was released, whereafter “the band began the slow path towards breaking up”. Wikipedia says it is notable that this was the last time the band were “unified in their look, all having long hair, moustaches and day-glo suits. After this, their individual appearances varied widely”. And, they add, McCartney “appeared to take up the leadership role, something which the other Beatles saw as controlling”. As an aside it is observed that they soon returned to “more conventional musical expression”, with the release in February 1968 of the Fats Domino-influenced, piano-based single, Lady Madonna.
But what of that famous cover? Wikipedia says the packaging was created by art director Robert Fraser, “mostly in collaboration with McCartney”. It was designed by Peter Blake, his wife Jann Haworth, and photographed by Michael Cooper. Not always obvious, looking at the cover, Wikipedia says the album featured “life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on an English pop LP”. The Beatles are dressed as the Sgt Pepper band, their custom-bade military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours and designed by Manuel Cuevas. Among the insignia on their uniforms are MBE medals on McCartney and Harrison’s jackets, given to them by the Queen, the Royal Coat of Arms of the
But just who were all those people featured on the front? Well the “old Beatles” are wax-work figures as they appeared in the early 1960s, borrowed from Madama Tussauds, says Wikipedia. And they seem to look down on the flowers spelling the word “Beatles”, as if it were a grave. I remember at the time this was seen as symbolising the end of the era of the “innocent mop-tops”. Items from the Beatles’ homes are shown, including small statues, a portable TV set and a trophy. A young flower delivery boy was allowed to contribute a guitar made of yellow hyacinths, but Wikipedia rebuffs rumous that some of the plants in the arrangement were cannabis. A Shirley Temple doll wearing a sweater with the words, Rolling Stones, was recognised by that band when they included the Beatles in the cover of Their Satanic Majesties Request album later that year.
Ever controversial, Wikipedia says Lennon requested that Adolf Hitler be included. And, while a cutout of him was made it was left out, though it is visible in several photographs taken on the set. The collage itself comprised more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars and Indian gurus – a
Unfortunately, the album I’ve picked up is not the original gatefold one that opened out to feature a large picture of the Fab Four in costume against a yellow background. Sadly, the Beatles had meant this to be a double album, but did not have enough material. I don’t think we got the full “lucky packet” treatment at the time either. Wikipedia says the original LP came with a cut-out page including a moustache, picture card of Sgt Pepper, stripes, badges and a stand-up of the band. There was also, in the early pressings, a “multi-coloured psychedelic pattern designed by The Fool”. This, I assume, refers to McCartney, and was originally intended for the front cover, but wisely rejected.
Having all those famous people on a record cover created legal worries for EMI, which had to get permission from those still living. Wikipedia says Mae West initially refused, asking “what would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?”. She relented at the lads’ personal request. Actor Leo Gorcey requested payment, and his image was removed. Mohandas Gahdhi’s image was removed by EMI for fear of it causing offence in
One typically Beatles quirk is Billy Shears, a character created by Ringo Starr and introduced on the title track, ahead of Starr’s singing of With A Little Help From My Friends. He crops up again in Starr’s 1973 hit, I’m The Greatest, written by Lennon, which I don’t recall at all. “Yes, my name is Billy Shears / You know it has been for so many years.” He also crops up in the animated film, Yellow Submarine. Wikipedia says the Lennon character asks Jeremy, “who in the Billy Shears are you”.
Like with Rubber Soul, no singles were released from the album, although in 1978 Capitol issued the title track and With A Little Help From My Friends on the A side and A Day In The Life on the other of a single that peaked at No 71 in the US.
With plans at the time to make the first full-length video of the album canned, it comes as no surprise to learn that the LP was adapted as a stage musical in the mid-1970s. A 1978 Robert Sigwood film version was “widely panned”, says Wikipedia, which is replete with anniversary, fund-raising and classical versions of the album done down the years.
Finally, Wikipedia quotes Mark Lewisohn and Allan W Pollack regarding the instruments played on the album. These have largely been covered, but some interesting additions are the use of kazoos by all four of the lads, who also all contribute handclaps. Ringo, for instance, also plays the final piano E chord, maracas, congas, tubular bells and harmonica. Lennon also gives us maracas, tape loops, harmonica, sound effects and
More interesting is the use of session musicians, with four French horns on the title track arranged by Martin and McCartney. The string section and harp on She’s Leaving Home is arranged by Mike Leander and conducted by Martin. Ah yes, and Wikipedia says the harmonium, tabla, sitar, dilruba, eight violins and four cellos on Within You, Without You were arranged and conducted by Harrison and Martin. The clarinet trio on When I’m Sixty Four were arranged and conducted by Martin and McCartney. A saxophone sextet on Good Morning, Good Morning was arranged and conducted by Martin and Lennon. And then the big one. The 40-piece orchestral piece (strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion) on A Day In The Life, was arranged by Martin, Lennon and McCartney and conducted by Martin and McCartney.
Small wonder, with all the creativity that went into it, that this album has become arguably the most instantly recognisable Beatles album of all time.
Magical Mystery Tour
To my mind one of the finest Beatles albums was the soundtrack from the film, Magical Mystery Tour. However, I see from Wikipedia that at the end of 1967 it led to major criticism. I was aware of a certain concern about the disconnectedness of the film which, I see, was actually a TV film. The major problem in the
The new concept of letting albums do the touring for the Beatles seems to have been part of the motivation for this project, which in a sense continues the Sgt Pepper’s idea of presenting the Beatles as a group performing as another group. The cover, for instance, features the four dressed in animal suits – and a later Lennon song would tell us that the Walrus was Paul. The words Magical Mystery Tour are written above rainbow-coloured lines, while Beatles is written in yellow stars.
Magical Mystery Tour was released on November 27, 1967, in the
Judging by the release data, it seems this was an ill-conceived project. The soundtrack to a one-hour television film, originally aired in black and white in the
So how did such a great idea go wrong? It was, after all, a Beatles/Martin original, so had to have plenty of merit. Wikipedia says after Sgt Pepper’s, McCartney wanted to make a film based on the Beatles and their music. Unscripted, it would include various “ordinary” people (including Lennon’s uncle Charlie) travelling on a charabanc bus, where they would have unspecified “magical” adventures “in the manner of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.
While the movie was made, says Wikipedia, “the hoped-for ‘magical’ adventures never happened”. It seems so many cars followed the hand-lettered bus it led to a “running traffic jam”, until Lennon angrily tore the lettering off the bus. It was their first film project since manager Brian Epstein’s death in August 1967. Wikipedia says his absence was seen by some as the reason for its “undisciplined production” and the absence of a screenplay and professional direction”. Screened twice on BBC-TV, primarily in black and white over the 1967 Christmas holidays, it was, says Wikipedia, “savaged by critics”. However, McCartney is quoted in Anthology as saying that he’d read that Steven Spielberg at film school had said the film was one of those they really took notice of – as an art film as opposed to a “proper film”. I’ve only seen snippets of the film, mainly those excerpts of songs shown on Anthology, but it is surely worth a mint purely for that footage of the Beatles performing.
Wikipedia says the soundtrack was “far more favourably received”. It was nominated for a Grammy for best album in 1968, and reached No 1 in the
I could probably best describe it as understated elegance. Having just given Magical Mystery Tour a fresh listen, I was struck by the extent to which this group had evolved. From the raw rhythm and blues of a few years earlier, they had matured as a rock band not averse to incorporating all manner of sounds and instruments, including what would have generally been considered the preserve of the squares: strings, brass, horns.
Fortunately, Wikipedia gives a fairly complex breakdown of the instruments used on the soundtrack tracks, and on the title track one is struck by the fact that the four are accompanied by Mal Evans and Neil Aspinall on percussion, and David Mason, Elgar Howarth, Roy Copstake and John Wilbraham on trumpets. One senses McCartney behind this song, which has echoes of the opening track of Sgt Peppers, as one is invited to “roll up” not for the circus-like events of Sgt Peppers, but for a mystery tour. However, it is Lennon’s voice that is most discernable as the song gets off too a right rollicking start: “Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up AND THAT'S AN INVITATION, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up TO MAKE A RESERVATION, roll up for the mystery tour.” Then Lennon reinforces that invitation: “The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away, / Waiting to take you away.” There is a strong sense that you are being invited on a mind journey, not a real one, and that probably some sort of halucinogenic drugs may be involved. “Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up WE'VE GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED, roll up for the mystery tour. / Roll up SATISFACTION GUARANTEED, roll up for the mystery tour.” Next the tour is “hoping to take you away”, before it is “coming to take you away” and finally “dying to take you away, take you away”. With a pleasant piano jangling along, the song fades, but you are set on a new journey with the Beatles.
It is all about the songs’ texture. McCartney’s Fool On The Hill has all the hallmarks of the mature phase of the Beatles, with lovely instrumentation – is that a bass harmonica, recorders? – alongside the piano, acoustic guitar and his sublime vocals. “Day after day / alone on the hill / The man with the foolish grin / is keeping perfectly still / But nobody wants to know him / They can see that he’s just a fool / And he never gives an answer …” This leads to the chorus: “But the fool on the hill / sees the sun going down / And the eyes in his head / See the world spinning round.” And of course the music does just that: sets your head a-spinning. Wikipedia tells us that the song features three flautists – not recorders, I note – in Christopher Taylor, Richard Taylor and Jack Ellory, while Lennon and Harrison play harmonicas. “Well on the way, his head in a cloud / The man of a thousand voices / is talking perfectly loud / But nobody ever hears him / Or the sound he appears to make / And he never seems to notice … / But the fool on the hill / sees the sun going down / And the eyes in his head / See the world spinning round.” It is a beautifully crafted song, with that sense of dislocation and directionless reinforced musically: “Oh, round, round, round, round, round / And nobody seems to like him / they can tell what he wants to do / And he never shows his feelings … / But the fool on the hill / sees the sun going down / And the eyes in his head / See the world spinning round … / Oh, round, round, round, round, round / And he never listens to them / He knows that they’re the fools / But they don’t like him … / The fool on the hill / sees the sun going down / And the eyes in his head / See the world spinning round … / Oh, round, round, round, round, round / oh.”
The next track, Flying, to my mind is one of the first truly psychedelic songs in the history of rock. An instrumental credited to all four Beatles, it is like a slow blues, but with such a wonderful overlay of textures – both instrumental and choir-like laa-la-laa-la la-la-laas – that you are sucked into it inexorably.
In similar vein is
After that almost soporific sound, it takes McCartney to inject a bit of ooph with Your Mother Should Know. Wikipedia calls it “nostalgic”, and it does seem to fit the McCartney template for a catchy tune. “Let’s all get up and dance to a song / That was a hit before your mother was born. / Though she was born a long, long time ago / Your mother should know (Your mother should...) / Your mother should know (...know.) / Sing it again. / Let’s all get up and dance to a song / That was a hit before your mother was born. / Though she was born a long, long time ago / Your mother should know (Your mother should...) / Your mother should know (...know.) / Lift up your hearts and sing me a song / That was a hit before your mother was born. / Though she was born a long, long time ago / Your mother should know (Your mother should...) / Your mother should know (Aaaah.) / Your mother should know (Your mother should...)” Again the song ends with much repetition of these lines. Clearly there was not much lyrical substance to this, but it still has all the hallmarks of the mature Beatles, with wonderfully understated harmonies and a gentle, relaxed mood, as if they had nothing more to prove, and by understating what they did say, making the final statement that much more powerful.
And of course they needed a light foil before the little masterpiece that is I Am The Walrus. Wikipedia says the song, “full of crashing orchestrations and dubbed vocals, is one of the Beatles’ more startling, avant-garde creations. The lyrics, filled with maddening juxtapositions of words and phrases, were Lennon’s sardonic response to learning that an English master at his alma mater,
Side 2, as noted earlier, comprises five songs from singles released in 1967, and Wikipedia says these show the band “at its creative peak”. They are certainly among the most memorable Beatles songs ever produced, starting with McCartney’s Hello Goodbye, which Wikipedia sees as his “relentlessly upbeat … counter to I Am The Walrus”. This fairly straight-forward rock song is launched into with urgency, McCartney given free rein to put together a song he must have known had all the makings of a hit. It features, says Wikipedia, two violas, though I detected all manner of other instruments. “You say yes, I say no. / You say stop and I say go go go, oh no. / You say goodbye and I say hello / Hello hello / I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello / Hello hello / I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.” It really was a just a clever play with opposites and contradictions, but ever so catchy. “I say high, you say low. / You say why and I say I don’t know, oh no. / You say goodbye and I say hello / (Hello Goodbye Hello Goodbye) hello hello / (Hello Goodbye) I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello / (Hello Goodbye Hello Goodbye) hello hello / (Hello Goodbye) I don’t know why you say goodbye / (Hello Goodbye) I say hello. / Why why why why why why do you say goodbye goodbye, oh no?” It all gets a little wordy as the backing vocals chip in: “You say yes (I say ‘yes’) I say no (but I may mean no.) / You say stop (I can stay) and I say go go go (till it’s time to go ), oh no. / You say goodbye and I say hello / Hello hello / I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello / Hello hello / I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello / Hello hello / I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello hello.” It then fades with the chanting of “Hela heba helloa CHA CHA, hela...”
Then arguably one of the finest Beatles songs ever, Strawberry Fields Forever, a semi-autobiographical Lennon masterpiece, which is followed by McCartney’s
McCartney’s gift for painting surreal word pictures is exemplified in his semi-autobiographical
Is Baby You’re A Rich Man another of those early songs about transvestitism? Its title certainly suggests as much. What I do know, from a fresh listen, is that it again boasts a rich array of musical textures which are probably unique. I had for some reason thought of this as a McCartney song, but the bulk of the vocals seem to be by Lennon. What is interesting is the muffled, muted nature of the music, including the lead guitar. Wikipedia says the song features Eddie Kramer on vibraphone, but there is again an array of sounds it is often hard to pinpoint. “How does it feel to be / One of the beautiful people? / Now that you know who you are / What do you want to be? / And have you travelled very far? / Far as the eye can see. / How does it feel to be / One of the beautiful people? / How often have you been there? / Often enough to know. / What did you see, when you were there? / Nothing that doesn’t show.” It is unclear to whom this is addressed, but we are clearly in the era of the superstars, the beautiful people. Then the chorus: “Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man too.” Money, of course, is the measure of beauty. “You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo. / What a thing to do. / Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man too.” The existentialist questions continue. “How does it feel to be / One of the beautiful people? / Tuned to A natural E / Happy to be that way. / Now that you’ve found another key / What are you going to play? / Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man, / Baby you’re a rich man too. / You keep all your money in a big brown bag inside a zoo. / What a thing to do. / Baby you're a rich man...” Yet again, a Beatles song that asks more questions than it answers, like a modern novel that leaves you with unresolved plot lines.
Finally, the album ends with what Wikipedia calls “Lennon’s jaunty anthem, All You Need Is Love – the centerpiece of the historic Our World satellite broadcast – which coincided with 1967’s Summer of Love and encapsulated the sentiments of the flower power movement”. So this really was the big one, the song that catapulted the hippie era of flowers in your hair, peace signs, bell-bottoms, paisley shirts, dope-smoking, free love, make love not war, and so on, onto the global stage. And it is anthem-like, starting with the strains of some or other national anthem, accompanied by a chorus singing the following: “Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.” What more impressive statement could one hope to make? Lennon then launches into that immortal opening line. “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. / Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung. / Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game / It’s easy.” He’s on a roll: “There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made. / No one you can save that can’t be saved. / Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be in time / It’s easy.” Then comes the rider. “All you need is love, all you need is love, / All you need is love, love, love is all you need. / Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. / All you need is love, all you need is love, / All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” Then the final verse: “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known. / Nothing you can see that isn’t shown. / Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be. / It’s easy.” Then, as the party hots up, the final joyful chorus: “All you need is love, all you need is love, / All you need is love, love, love is all you need. / All you need is love (all together now) / All you need is love (everybody) / All you need is love, love, love is all you need.” At one point, McCartney can be heard singing “she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah”, which harks back to the early days of the Beatles. Wikipedia says the song features George Martin on piano, with a wide array of backing vocalists including Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Mooon of The Who, Eric Clapton of Cream, Graham Nash and several others. Four musicians play violins, while the rich wind/brass section comprises two people on sax, two on trumpets and two on horns. There is someone on accordion and another on cello. The song becomes a frenetic, yet still understated, celebration of love as a global force in opposition to the hatred which was perceived as being caused by the “older generation”. The youth, led by Lennon, were saying they’d had enough. A peaceful revolution was being born.
The White Album
The Beatles had reached the mature phase of their career. They were ready to bang out a few more brilliant albums before the decade ended. We always knew their next album, titled simply The Beatles, as The White Album. It was released on November 22, 1968, and again topped the
Fittingly, Wikipedia has the digital equivalent of reams of information about this double album, which was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and Trident Studios from May 30 till October 14, 1968. This time it is classified as rock, and it ran to 93:35 minutes, which is a substantial offering. Naturally, George Martin was the producer of their ninth official album. And I see the sleeve was designed by pop artist Richard Hamilton, which would make it a work of art in the mass-produced, commercial sense which Pop Art, a la Andy Warhol, sought to exploit and explore. It was, says Wikipedia, first planned to be called A Doll’s House, and is “often hailed as one of the major accomplishments in popular music”. Using the one criterion I’ll stick with throughout this exercise, The Beatles was ranked No 10 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It is also the Beatles’ best selling album, at 19-times platinum, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and the 10th-best selling album of all time in the
The album had its origins, says Wikipedia, during the Beatles’ visit to
During the nearly five months of recording, Wikipedia says the sessions were “reportedly undisciplined and sometimes fractious”, because “tensions were growing within the group”. This was partly due to the simultaneous launch of their new multimedia business corporation Apple Corps, which caused “significant stress”. And it was during these sessions, says Wikipedia, that Lennon’s “new girlfriend and artistic partner, Yoko Ono” made her first appearance in the studio. She would “thereafter be a more or less constant presence in all Beatle sessions”. Previously, says Wikipedia, the Beatles had been “very insular during recording sessions, with influence from outsiders strictly limited”. The process culminated in the Beatles’ first and only 24-hour recording/producing session when final mixing and sequencing of the album was overseen by Lennon, McCartney and George Martin.
As had become apparent over the past few albums, the individuality of each of the Beatles was coming increasingly to the fore, and Wikipedia says The Beatles “captured the work of four increasingly individualised artists who frequently found themselves at odds”. It says the “extraordinary synergy” of their previous studio sessions was harder to come by. Often McCartney and Lennon recorded separately in different studios “for prolonged periods”, each using different engineers. At one point, says Wikipedia, Martin, “whose authority over the band in the studio had waned”, left on vacation, leaving Chris Thomas in charge of production. Martin was later quoted as saying that his working relationship with the four changed during this time. He found many of their efforts unfocused, with long jam sessions often sounding uninspired. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick, with the band since Revolver, pulled out in disgust with the “deteriorating work environment”, says Wikipedia. And even Ringo, on August 22, abruptly left the studio, saying he felt his role was being minimised. After the others begged him to reconsider, he returned two weeks later. But it meant that in his absence, McCartney played drums on Back In The USSR and Dear Prudence. But Starr later said the schism was the precursor of future “months and years of misery”. Lennon and Harrison would also stage similar “unpublicised departures” after The Beatles was completed. McCartney’s public departure in 1970 marked the formal end of the band. One presence which calmed things down was that of Eric Clapton, who
Some indication of how the sounds of instruments were becoming melded and blurred can be gleaned from the fact that the famous “guitar solo” on the introduction to The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill was “actually made by Chris Thomas playing a mellotron”, says Wikipedia. Which seems a real tragedy, because I always admired that piece of acoustic guitar work. Another musician who helped on the album was Nicky Hopkins, who played piano on Revolution, which also features horns, as does Savoy Truffle. There was also a bluegrass fiddler on Don’t Pass Me By, orchestral players and soothing backround singers on Good Night. Yet, says Wikipedia, no external contributors are listed on the sleeve notes.
For the technophiles, Wikipedia says the album marks the band’s “formal transition from 4-track to 8-track recording”.
Wikipedia says the album contained a diversity of musical genres –1930s dancehall in Honey Pie, classical chamber music in Piggies and avant-garde sensibilities in Revolution 9, which were “quite unprecedented in global pop music in 1968”. There was both praise and criticism. Ono and John Cage’s Revolution 9, “a densely layered 8:13 minute sound collage, has attracted bewilderment and disapparoval from both fans and music critics over the years”. As one who listened to it often at the time, I had to conclude it was simply a load of crab. I may think differently were I to hear it again today, but sadly the tape recording I have of the album excludes it. Significantly, Wikipedia says the only western instrument available to the band while in
Wow! I have just given the White Album a fresh listen and I am left agog. This has to be one of the greatest albums ever, ever made. I have to agree fully with McCartney’s view – on Anthology – that far from being too long, every second of sound here is worth its weight in gold – though, again, I cannot vouch for Revolution 9.
I mean, really! Has there ever been an album with 30 tracks of such diverse and gifted genius? It’s easy, looking back over 40 years of rock since this album, to think that other bands easily surpassed the Beatles, technically, lyrically and in various other ways. But this album proves that they were not only a very good rock group, but that as composers and songwriters they had an inventiveness and originality that remains unequalled. It is also attributable, I believe, to their willingness to explore avenues of sound and genre which would be unthinkable to others. Certainly, given their status as the world’s most popular band at the time, they would have been emboldened to do their own thing – yet, Revolution 9 aside, they have again run a tight ship. There is no superfluous stuff here. Quite the reverse, each song is a nugget in the history of rock.
The album is also an interesting commentary on the music of the time, with several references to contemporary musicians. And it starts on the opening track, Back In The USSR, a McCartney classic which clearly pays homage to the surfing sound of the Beach Boys. But it is, of course, also a brilliant riposte to those who saw the
As occurs on all the great albums, this mixes heavy with lighter, more relaxed songs. So, following this early onslaught, we are treated to nearly four minutes of sublime Lennon folk rock on Dear Prudence, with the initial gentle guitar picking emerging seamlessly as the plane sound fades. Wikipedia says this was written about actress Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence, “who attended the transcendental meditation course with the Beatles in Rishikesh. Often she stayed in her room, engaged in meditation.” Instead, Lennon thought, she should be enjoying the day. “Dear Prudence, won't you come out to play / Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day / The sun is up, the sky is blue / It’s beautiful and so are you / Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play.” This is a prime example of how the Beatles made a great song brilliant. There are grace notes, nuances, here which give the song a rich timbre and texture. They are found in the big bass sound, rich brass touches and enveloping harmonies. “Dear Prudence open up your eyes / Dear Prudence see the sunny skies / The wind is low the birds will sing / That you are part of everything / Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?” Isn’t the switch to these lines typically Beatles-like: “Look around round round / Look around round round / Look around round round.” It was also an object lesson for us South Africans with our flat vowels on how to pronounce the “ou” sound. “Dear Prudence let me see you smile / Dear Prudence like a little child / The clouds will be a daisy chain / So let me see you smile again / Dear Prudence won’t you let me see you smile?” There is some nice bluesy electric guitar towards the end of this beautifully understated song which ends with the opening verse repeated, and just the sound of an acoustic guitar being plucked.
I used to somehow resent the heavier tracks on this album, which burst into the reverie induced by gentler fare like Dear Prudence. But this time round I came to the realisation that even when they’re heavy, the Beatles retain a calmness and sense of humour which softens even the hardest blows. And then there are the lyrics which often explore earlier Beatles songs. Glass Onion starts with heavy bass and drums, as Lennon’s vocals kick in. “I told you about Strawberry Fields / You know the place where nothing is real / Well here’s another place you can go / Where everything flows. / Looking through the bent backed tulips / To see how the other half live / Looking through a glass onion.” Wikipedia says the song is “parodic” and “mocks fans who read too much into Beatles’ lyrics”. “I told you about the walrus and me-man / You know that we’re as close as can be-man / Well here’s another clue for you all / The walrus was Paul. / Standing on the cast iron shore-yeah / Lady Madonna trying to make ends meet-yeah / Looking through a glass onion.” So here he has parodied I’m The Walrus and Lady Madonna, while also taking a little dig at those who kept seeing symbolism for McCartney’s death in lyrics or album cover imagery. But more of McCartney’s lyrics come under the spotlight, perhaps emphasising that this album was really the beginning of the end. “I told you about the fool on the hill / I tell you man he’s living there still / Well here’s another place you can be / Listen to me. / Fixing a hole in the ocean / Trying to make a dovetail joint-yeah / Looking through a glass onion.” The repetition of that last line has echoes of the best surrealist Dylan songs, where everything comes back to the final line or two of a verse. Again, the string arrangements and other sound devices render this a classic.
There was great excitement among the teenagers and tweenagers in
The sounds which go into the 52-second-long Wild Honey Pie are somewhat squeaky and wobbly, an interesting array of aural textures. The words Honey Pie are repeated a dozen or so times before the concluding line: “I love you, Honey Pie.” It is what Wikipedia calls one of the “incomplete song fragments” on the album, which is, as I have said, all the richer for them.
Because out of this emerges that superb acoustic guitar solo which, I learnt earlier, was actually performed on a mellatron, before The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill gets under way. Here Yoko Ono provides the first female backing vocals on a Beatles song. Acoustic guitar and tambourine are backed by typically thumping bass. “Hey, Bungalow Bill / What did you kill / Bungalow Bill?” After those opening lines, Lennon, I think it is, sings the verses: “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun / In case of accidents he always took his mum / He’s the all American bullet-headed Saxon mother’s son. / All the children sing…” Then that crazy chorus is repeated, before the story continues: “Deep in the jungle where the mighty tiger lies / Bill and his elephants were taken by surprise / So Captain Marvel zapped it right between the eyes / All the children sing …” Good to see one of the comic book superheroes we were so addicted to in our youth made it onto a Beatles song. After the chorus, the final verse: “The children asked him if to kill was not a sin / Not when he looked so fierce, his mother butted in / If looks could kill it would have been us instead of him / All the children sing…” It is another wonderfully irreverent bit of Beatles fun. Not surprisingly it ends with whistling and clapping.
And then the mood becomes more serious as one of the all-time classic of rock history, about a crying guitar, starts, not with guitar, but with piano. First there is a “hi-ho!” before the acoustic guitar and cymbals, followed by the lead guitar bring forth Harrison on arguably his most famous song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which Wikipedia says “expresses concern about being ‘bought and sold’, probably a major factor in most artists’ lives. “I look at you all see the love there that’s sleeping / While my guitar gently weeps / I look at the floor and I see it need sweeping / Still my guitar gently weeps.” Then to the chorus: “I don’t know why nobody told you / how to unfold your love / I don’t know how someone controlled you / they bought and sold you.” It is about here that Eric Clapton’s lead guitar comes to the fore. In fact, as they would do often in live concerts in the 1970s, he and
Then from guitars to guns. We had our own rather rude couple of lines which we worked into Happiness Is A Warm Gun. This is another Lennon classic – a weird and wonderful piece of fun. It starts quietly, with piano and guitar. “She’s not a girl who misses much / Do do do do do do- oh yeah…” That last line, for me, clearly inspired a certain David Bowie a couple of years later. Indeed, if anyone carried the Beatles baton on into the 1970s, apart from the lads themselves, it was
McCartney wasn’t just the writer of good tunes. His creations are as vital to the overall Beatles package as Lennon’s, providing as they do a sort of less serious counterpoint to Lennon’s intellectualism and
Lennon, in a way, brings us down to earth on the next song, I’m So Tired, which is a slow, bass-led blues. Of course, as the lead electric guitar pours forth jazzy riffs, so the song grows in intensity. “I'm so tired, I haven’t slept a wink / I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink / I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink / No, no, no.” He subsides back into contemplation. “I’m so tired I don’t know what to do / I’m so tired my mind is set on you / I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do…” Then the realisation dawns, as the mood switches. “You’d say I’m putting you on / But it’s no joke, it’s doing me harm / You know I can’t sleep, I can’t stop my brain / You know it’s three weeks, I’m going insane / You know I’d give you everything I’ve got / for a little peace of mind.” After that outburst, he has no choice but to lie back and reflect again. “I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset / Although I’m so tired I’ll have another cigarette / And curse Sir Walter Raleigh / He was such a stupid git.” Interesting touch that, blaming the guy who brought tobacco back to the
From an intense, introspective Lennon we switch to a McCartney on one of his most uplifting, and obviously famous, songs, Blackbird. What brilliant acoustic guitar work! The Beatles’ achievements on this basic instrument are underestimated, because time and again it comes through on these songs as the foundation, the bedrock, of their compositions. This must rank as one of the most beautiful acoustic ballads ever written, and it is performed superbly. “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.” What precisely he means by learning to fly with broken wings, perhaps we’ll discover later. “Black bird singing in the dead of night / Take these sunken eyes and learn to see / all your life / You were only waiting for this moment to be free.” Then, as the acoustic guitar works its magic, the chorus: “Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly / Into the light of the dark black night.” This is repeated before the next verse. It is worth noting that in southern
Then it was time for a little more
Ever inventive, McCartney’s magic is up next with Rocky Raccoon, which Wikipedia calls a “Bob Dylan parody”. I don’t agree. Surely it is simply a rip-off of your typical country and western song, sung in an affected American accent. It opens with acoustic guitar and a bit of harmonica, as McCartney launches into that slow drawl. I never did hear the opening line, so it’s good to finally see what was being sung. “Now somewhere in the black mining hills of Dakota / There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon / And one day his woman ran off with another guy / Hit young Rocky in the eye Rocky didn’t like that / He said I’m gonna get that boy / So one day he walked into town / Booked himself a room in the local saloon.” I suppose it is Dylan-like in that there is a narrative, but that was surely true of most country songs of this nature. By this stage a piano has picked up the pace, as the song continues. “Rocky Raccoon checked into his room / Only to find Gideon’s bible / Rocky had come equipped with a gun / To shoot off the legs of his rival / His rival it seems had broken his dreams / By stealing the girl of his fancy. / Her name was Magil and she called herself Lil / But everyone knew her as
Piano and drums get Don’t Pass Me By under way, and there is some excellent fiddle playing soon after Ringo starts singing: “I listen for your footsteps / Coming up the drive / Listen for your footsteps / But they don’t arrive / Waiting for your knock dear / On my old front door / I don’t hear it / Does it mean you don’t love me any more.” This is actually a fine song, with that fiddle adding lilt to the country sound. “I hear the clock a’ticking / On the mantel shelf / See the hands a’moving / But I’m by myself / I wonder where you are tonight / And why I’m by myself / I don’t see you / Does it mean you don’t love me any more.” Then that chorus. “Don’t pass me by don’t make me cry don’t make me blue / ’Cause you know darling I love only you / You’ll never know it hurts me so / How I hate to see you go / Don’t pass me by don’t make me cry.” And the fiddle just keeps on sawing away. Then a bit of Ringo lunacy. “I’m sorry that I doubted you / I was so unfair / You were in a car crash / And you lost your hair / You said that you would be late / About an hour or two / I said that’s alright I’m waiting here / Just waiting to hear from you.” The song fades and then returns, with drums, fiddle and backing vocals, before fading again.
The drumbeat is picked up again, alongside some loud clapping before a voice cries the title of the next track, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, a McCartney song which Wikipedia says is a Little Richard parody. Whatever it is, I know it obviously had our young imaginations wondering just what “it” was – and making the obvious assumption that it was of a sexual nature. With piano and bass, and electric guitar joining in, this turns into an excellent bluesy number. But lyrically it is minimalist, with the title almost as long as the song, which consists of these words and these words only: “Why don’t we do it in the road? / No one will be watching us / Why don’t we do it in the road?”
After that bit of heavy stuff, the album was crying out for something gentler, and McCartney offered his alter ego in the form of what Wikipedia calls a pop ballad, I Will. Again, the acoustic guitarwork here is superb. It is backed by what sounds like bongo drums and rounded bass notes. The backing vocals ably support another McCartney tour de force. “Who knows how long I’ve loved you / You know I love you still / Will I wait a lonely lifetime / If you want me to – I will.” So simple, yet so effective. “For if I ever saw you / I didn’t catch your name / But it never really mattered / I will always feel the same.” Then, like Dylan, McCartney’s penchant for melody asserts itself even further on the chorus. “Love you forever and forever / Love you with all my heart / Love you whenever we’re together / Love you when we’re apart.” The song is short, with the final verse offering just the sort of conclusion it was calling for. “And when at last I find you / Your song will fill the air / Sing it loud so I can hear you / Make it easy to be near you / For the things you do endear you to me / How you know I will / I will.” All the time it must be stressed, that acoustic guitar is working its magic alongside McCartney’s vocals, guaranteeing a sublime end result.
And how better to follow this than with a Lennon ballad, arguably one of the most beautiful ever written – and ever put down on record. Wikipedia tells us that Julia was the name of “Lennon’s beloved but frequently absent mother, who died during his youth”. One cannot underestimate that loss on a sensitive soul like Lennon obviously was, and that is why he returns to this subject several times in his later solo career. But this first time is probably the most moving. His acoustic guitarwork is also out of the top drawer, while he sings in that inimitable, slightly subdued tone which has Lennon stamped all over it. As teenagers, we probably misconstrued this, thinking it was being addressed to his lover. Consider the wonderful imagery used to describe this woman whom Lennon would only ever have known as a young, probably beautiful, person. “Half of what I say is meaningless / But I say it just to reach you, Julia.” What a confession! It is as if to say that she, his late mother, alone can affirm what he does, but can he ever reach her? The backing vocals add a soft, soothing dimension as he eulogises this woman. “Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me / So I sing a song of love, Julia / Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me / So I sing a song of love, Julia.” And he waxes even more lyrical as the key changes. “Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering / In the sun.” But what beautiful images ensue. “Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me / So I sing a song of love, Julia.” Few songs can have said as much in so few words. “When I cannot speak my heart / I can only speak my mind, Julia.” The images continue to flow. “Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me / So I sing a song of love, Julia… / Hum hum hum hum...calls me / So I sing a song of love, Julia, Julia, Julia.”
Side 3 lets you know the Beatles have now become a serious rock band. It opens with another McCartney classic, the solid rock track, Birthday. This starts with excellent lead guitar and rhythm section, before a chorus of voices sings the opening lines: “You say it’s your birthday / It’s my birthday too, yeah / They say it’s your birthday / We’re gonna have a good time / I’m glad it’s your birthday / Happy birthday to you.” Heavy drumming and what sounds like electric piano get the mood rockin’. “Yes we’re going to a party party / Yes we’re going to a party party / Yes we’re going to a party party ...” The backing vocals are typically perfect on a track which did indeed become a popular song at birthday parties. The pace escalates. “I would like you to dance (Birthday) / Take a cha-cha-cha-chance (Birthday) / I would like you to dance (Birthday) / Dance.” Heavy lead guitar and even some female backing vocals take us through a repeat of those lines and the opening verse. Funny that this is the first time I’ve seen what the second line of this song was. I never knew he said “well it’s my birthday too, yeah”, but thought it was something like “well happy birthday to ya”. Shows how wrong you can be.
From that upbeat sound, to the deeper, more moody Lennon classic, Yer Blues. Wikipedia says Lennon’s songs on this album are “generally more hard-edged lyrically than his previous output, a trend which carried over to his solo career”. It says an example is his “plea for death on Yer Blues”. This is seriously heavy blues-rock, with lead and rhythm section setting the tone straight out. “Yes I’m lonely wanna die / Yes I’m lonely wanna die / If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why.” As with most great blues songs, a woman’s love lies at the heart of the matter. “In the morning wanna die / In the evening wanna die / If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why.” Then that amazing middle section. “My mother was of the sky / My father was of the earth / But I am of the universe / And you know what it’s worth / I’m lonely wanna die / If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why.” McCartney’s bass is especially good on here, while Ringo proves his worth as a drummer, as the cymbals are flailed unflinchingly. “The eagle picks my eye / The worm he licks my bone / I feel so suicidal / Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones / Lonely wanna die / If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why.” And isn’t that reference to Dylan’s Mr Jones a wonderful example of the youth culture reinforcing itself? “Black cloud crossed my mind / Blue mist round my soul / Feel so suicidal / Even hate my rock and roll / Wanna die yeah wanna die / If I ain’t dead already / Ooh girl you know the reason why.” The lead guitar wails and whines as this great number finally fades.
What next? It would have to be a softer, slower ballad, and what better than McCartney’s Mother Nature’s Son? Again, the acoustic guitar is adroitly picked, with a gentle rhythm section and a bit of brass and strings giving the song the full Beatles treatment. McCartney’s vocals are again superb. “Born a poor young country boy, Mother Nature’s son / All day long I’m sitting singing songs for everyone.” This is a celebration of nature and of the words that describe it. “Sit beside a mountain stream, see her waters rise / Listen to the pretty sound of music as she flies.” Finally, “Find me in my field of grass, Mother Nature’s son / Swaying daises sing a lazy song beneath the sun. / Mother Nature’s son.” At 2:47 minutes this is not a short throw-away song, despite the brevity of the lyrics. Instead, it is couched in wonderful acoustic-guitar based music that one can only lie back and savour.
Because you need to brace yourself for the next track, which has one of the longest titles in rock history and is as heavy, probably, as the Beatles get. Lead guitar, drums, bass, action! The adrenalin is pumping as Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey gets rolling. “Come on come on come on come on / Come on is such a joy / Come on is such a joy / Come on take it easy / Come on take it easy / Take it easy take it easy / Everybody’s got something / to hide except for me and / my monkey.” Wail guitar, wail. Thump you bass, thump. “The deeper you go the higher you fly / The higher you fly the deeper you go / So come on come on / Come on is such a joy / Come on is such a joy / Come on make it easy / Come on make it easy.” After the chorus is repeated, the final verse goes: “Your inside is out and your outside is in / Your outside is in and your inside is out / So come on come on / Come on is such a joy / Come on is such a joy / Come on make it easy / Come on make it easy / Make it easy make it easy / Everybody's got something / to hide except for me and / my monkey.” The song ends with interesting jabbering and yelping, but what is most important about this song is that, despite it being hard rock, it retains sophistication, a stamp of Beatles taste, which sets it apart.
As noted earlier, there were rumours that Sexy Sadie was originally written by Lennon as an attack on the Maharish for trying to have his way with Mia Farrow (“Maharishi / You little twat”.) It is interesting to look at the lyrics in this context, but this time addressed to Farrow. Once again, the song has a crisp, understated texture. It starts with piano, drums and bass, with some languorous lead guitar at the end. “Sexy Sadie what have you done / You made a fool of everyone / You made a fool of everyone / Sexy Sadie ooh what have you done.” It’s like a judgment on someone’s behaviour. “Sexy Sadie you broke the rules / You layed it down for all to see / You layed it down for all to see / Sexy Sadie oooh you broke the rules.” Lennon’s voice is again at its best. “One sunny day the world was waiting for a lover / She came along to turn on everyone / Sexy Sadie the greatest of them all.” Or could this be heavily barbed sarcasm directed at the Maharishi? “Sexy Sadie how did you know / The world was waiting just for you / The world was waiting just for you / Sexy Sadie oooh how did you know.” Then comes a warning of retribution. “Sexy Sadie you’ll get yours yet / However big you think you are / However big you think you are / Sexy Sadie oooh you’ll get yours yet.” Whoever this was about, Lennon’s pen was poised for revenge. “We gave her everything we owned just to sit at her table / Just a smile would lighten everything / Sexy Sadie she’s the latest and the greatest of them all.” I guess this will remain one of the great John Lennon mysteries. The song concludes with: “She made a fool of everyone / Sexy Sadie. / However big you think you are / Sexy Sadie.”
Wikipedia calls the next track, Helter Skelter, “the prototype heavy metal”, and it certainly is McCartney at his most loud and proud. I remember it best for somehow being linked to the horrific murder of actress Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s sinister sect in 1969. Anyway, this really does start with some heavy, head-banging electric guitar and the energetic opening lines: “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide / Where I stop and I turn and then I go for a ride / ’Til I get to the bottom and I see you again, yeah, yeah yeah …” By now the bass is surging, the drums are rampant and the cymbals slashed and burning. “Do you, don’t you want me to love you / I’m coming down fast, but I’m miles above you / Tell me, tell me tell me, c’mon tell me the answer / Well you may be a lover but you ain’t no dancer. / Now Helter Skelter, Helter Skelter, Helter Skelter, yeah ...” I visited Brighton while living in
Talk about beautiful bass playing, McCartney really excels on the next track,
If that song was laid back, then the song that launches Side 4, Lennon’s Revolution 1, is in-your-face rock, with a biting political message. Despite starting with bluesy acoustic guitar, the song is given an old rock ’n roll vibe with the advent of a heavy electric guitar riff before those immortal first words are sung. “You say you want a revolution / Well you know / we all want to change the world / You tell me that it’s evolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know you can count me out, in.” On the film, Imagine John Lennon, he says he deliberately sets out to create ambiguity by singing “in” after “count me out”. Clearly, though, Lennon was not advocating destruction. The song is a slow rock number, with brass adding texture, and a saxophone also chipping in before the chorus: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright / Alright Alright.” There is a nice bit of harmonising here, with some of the lads singing shoo-be-doo-wap, shoo-be-doo-wap, before the next verse. “You say you got a real solution / Well you know / we’d all love to see the plan / You ask me for a contribution / Well you know / We’re all doing what we can / If you want money for people with minds that hate / All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.” Lennon’s peace crusade, which defined his solo years, is fully to the fore here, as he again reassures the youth. “Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright / Alright Alright.” I doubt whether any pop or rock song had even contained the word “constitution” before this one. “You say you’ll change the constitution / Well you know / we’d all love to change your head / You tell me it’s the institution / Well you know / You better free your mind instead / But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow / Don't you know it’s gonna be alright / Alright ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT.” Nice to see that, despite the popularity of Mao’s Little Red Book among the trendy lefties of the time, Lennon had no truck with his form of Marxist dictatorship. Not only does some fine electric lead guitar add urgency, there is also some peppy piano on here and brilliant acoustic lead guitar. It’s fun, too, to hear Lennon’s ah-ah-ahs moving between speakers as the song ends.
It took McCartney to bring just the sort of change of mood and focus which makes this album such a rich, eclectic mix. Wikipedia describes the next track, Honey Pie, as a “music-hall foxtrot”. It certainly evokes a sort of 1930s air, including the use of McCartney’s voice which at one point sounds like it was recorded way back when and is being played on a dusty old record. Naturally, a piano gives McCartney backing as he opens with: “She was a working girl / North of England way.” Then that scratchy-record sound: “Now she’s hit the big time / In the U.S.A.” Before his voice returns to normal: “And if she could only hear me / This is what I’d say.” The tempo increases. “Honey pie you are making me crazy / I’m in love but I’m lazy / So won’t you please come home.” It is another love-inspired classic. “Oh honey pie my position is tragic / Come and show me the magic / of your
Talk about an album offering a cornucopia of delights, a smorgasbord of delectable treats. Well it’s food that is the subject under discussion on the next track,
Then it’s back to the ephemeral world into which Lennon’s mind games lead us, on the gentle acoustic ballad, Cry Baby Cry. What sounds like a clarinet joins the acoustic guitar and piano, as the song opens. “Cry baby cry / Make your mother sigh / She’s old enough to know better.” The song has an old English folk-song quality, buffered by at times quite heavy and intense drums and cymbals, and presaging the likes I suppose of Fairport Convention and Pentangle. There is even a hint of Donovan’s influence in the vocals. “The king of Marigold was in the kitchen / Cooking breakfast for the queen / The queen was in the parlour / Playing piano for the children of the king.” The chorus is repeated before the nursery-tale type narrative continues. “The king was in the garden / Picking flowers for a friend who came to play / The queen was in the playroom / Painting pictures for the children’s holiday.” Another chorus then: “The duchess of Kircaldy always smiling / And arriving late for tea / The duke was having problems / With a message at the local Bird and Bee.” What an inspired bit of songwriting, taking us right back to medieval
My cassette of this album, probably made nearly 20 years ago, does not include Revolution 9. It’s a C90, and the rest would probably not all have fitted if it did. But I still have bits of it in my memory – after nearly 40 years! Wikipedia says it is a Lennon-McCartney composition featuring Lennon, Harrison and Yoko Ono on lead vocals. It was, I recall, a weird and at times rather nauseating use of over eight minutes of an album. As noted earlier, Ono’s influence was evidently great, as the track included avant garde tape loops and numerous other sound effects. Throughout there are audible words sung or spoken, so it will be interesting to look at a transcript of those. This, according to one lyrics webside, it what transpires, amidst all that other sound. “(Bottle of Claret for you if I had realised... / Well, do it next time. / I forgot about it, George, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? / Yes.)” Then the repeated: “Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9 / Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9 / Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number...” This is followed by: “...then there’s this Welsh Rarebit wearing some brown underpants / ...about the shortage of grain in Hertfordshire.” A little later: “Everyone of them knew that as time went by they’d get a little bit older and a litter slower but...” And then: “It’s all the same thing, in this case manufactured by someone who’s always/umpteen ... / Your father’s giving it diddly-i-dee/district was leaving... / Intended to die ... Ottoman / ...long gone through... / I’ve got to say, irritably and... / ...floors, hard enough to put on ... per day’s MD in our district / There was not really enough light to get down / And ultimately ... slumped down / Suddenly...” As I said, really a load of gobbledygook, but considered so hip at the time. “They may stop the funding... / Place your bets / The original / Afraid she’ll die ... / Great colours for the season … Number 9, number 9.” There are a few intelligible passages towards the end: “A man without terrors from beard to false / As the headmaster reported to my son / He really can try, as they do, to find function... / Tell what he was saying, and his voice was low and his hive high / And his eyes were low... Alright!” Then this, which has Lennon written all over it. “So the wife called me and we’d better go to see a surgeon to price it ... / Yellow underclothes / So, any road, we went to see the dentist instead / Who gave her a pair of teeth which wasn’t any good at all / So I said I’d marry, join the fucking navy and went to sea …” This is followed by the line: “In my broken chair, my wings are broken and so is my hair” and “I’m not in the mood for whirling.” Then the interesting: “How? Dogs for dogging, hands for clapping / Birds for birding and fish for fishing / Them for themming and when for whemming … “ This is followed by: “Only to find the night-watchman unaware of his / presence in the building” and more Number 9s and the lines, “Industry allows financial imbalance” and “Thrusting it between his shoulder blades”. I do recall the words, “The Watusi, the twist”, which were clearly audible, but not the “Eldorado” that follows. I also recall “Take this, brother, may it serve you well”, but not “Maybe it’s nothing / What? What? Oh...” or “Maybe, even then, impervious in
So much for that revolution. In order to restore sanity, the album ends with a gentle lullaby, Good Night, which I found fairly effective at getting me off to sleep. Strings, a harp, a soporific singing voice and gentle backing vocals, soothing bass. This is probably the closest to heaven the Beatles are going to take you – if heaven is anything like the total oblivion of sleep. It is not even clear who is singing though the song has the McCartney stamp about it. “Now it’s time to say good night / Good night Sleep tight / Now the sun turns out his light / Good night Sleep tight / Dream sweet dreams for me / Dream sweet dreams for you.” It really is soporific. “Close your eyes and I’ll close mine / Good night Sleep tight / Now the moon begins to shine / Good night Sleep tight / Dream sweet dreams for me / Dream sweet dreams for you.” And so it continues before ending with: “Good night Good night Everybody / Everybody everywhere / Good night”, said in a whisper.
So much for the brilliant batch of songs which comprise The Beatles/The White Album. Wikipedia informs us it marks the first time female voices are heard on a Beatles album, with Ono adding backing vocals on Birthday, along with Pattie Harrison and Linda Eastman. Ono also contributed a solo line on Bungalow Bill.
Remarkably, several songs were recorded in demo form but could not be incorporated in the album – and so of course would bolster the arsenal for their next album. These include such classics as Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam, both of which would be used as a medley on
This was the Beatles’ first album released by Apple Records, and their only original double album. Wikipedia says producer Martin had initially opposed a double album, but the band insisted. While Ringo, on Anthology, said he thought it should have been released as two albums, and
And of course the lads were multi-taskers, no doubt under hard task masters. Because Wikipedia tells us that during the White Album sessions, the band recorded Hey Jude, which was released as a seven-single before the release of The Beatles. Interestingly, it includes something of a rarity on its B side – a version of Revolution 1, called Revolution, which contains “heavily distorted guitar and a high-energy keyboard solo from Nicky Hopkins”. It was their first Apple single and became “the best selling of all Beatles singles in the
Several songs from the album were released as singles around the world, one as late as 1976, to coincide with the release of the compilation album, Rock ’n Roll Music.
But what of that famous minimalist album sleeve? Wikipedia says it was designed by “notable pop artist” Richard Hamilton. His design was “in stark contrast to Peter Blake’s vivid cover art for Sgt Pepper’s”, consisting, as we all know, of a plain white sleeve, with the band’s name embossed just below the middle on the right side. It also featured a “unique stamped serial number”, which would, said
So was it as great an album as I think it is? Wikipedia says in late 1968 the Beatles were “at the peak of their global influence and visibility”. Sgt Peppers, released in 1967, had “enjoyed a combination of commercial success, hyperbolic critical acclaim and immense popular influence that had previously seemed inconceivable for a pop release”. Time Magazine had called it a “historic departure in the progress of music – any music”, says Wikipedia. While Magical Mystery Tour was their next album – and a great one too in my mind – Wikpedia says the White Album would be their “first major musical statement” since Sgt Peppers. Both the mainstream press and the “youth-orientated counterculture movement with which the band had by this time become strongly associated”, were full of expectations. Wikipedia quotes Tony Palmer of The Observer as writing that the album confirmed Lennon and McCartney as “the greatest songwriters since Schubert”. Richard Goldstein in The New York Times called it a “major success”. But Nik Cohn in the same paper called it “boring beyond belief”. Alan Smith of NME “derided Revolution 9” but praised “most of the rest”. Wikipedia says the album continues to “provoke heated discussions”. Naturally, I agree with the view of “some contemporary critics” that “the inclusion of supposedly extraneous material is a part of its appeal”. As observed earlier, we listened to this album devotedly, religiously, for years. Each song, each note, became part of our psyches. Are we now going to knock music that for decades has fed our souls?
Wikipedia discusses the sudden penchant at the time to find hidden meanings in songs, but dwells pointedly on the Charles Manson “connection”. It notes his “now-infamous theory of the album’s supposed hidden meanings culminating in the Tate-LaBianca muders”. Cult leader Manson, says Wikipedia, “used the record, and generous helpings of hallucinogens, to persuade members of his ‘family’ that the album was in fact an apocalyptic message predicting a prolonged race war and justifying the murder of wealthy people”. He evidently took the song Helter Skelter and construed it as “the conflict he thought impending”. It adds that the album’s association (which, I must add, it never sought) with the murder was “one of many factors that helped to deepen the accelerating divide between those who were profoundly sceptical of the ‘youth culture’ movement … and those who admired the openness and spontaneity of that movement”.
Ah, and it emerges that the single version of Revolution 1 did not contain the spoken “in” after “count me out”. This, on the album, says Wikipedia, the “radical left” at the time took as Lennon’s acknowledgement “after considered thought, that violence in the pursuit of political aims was indeed justified in some cases”. This coincided with growing street and campus unrest in Paris and Berkeley.
The album was “a major commercial success”, says Wikipedia. It spent eight weeks at No 1 in the UK, the first being that of December 7, 1968, and nine at No 1 in the US, with the first being that of December 28. Total
Interestingly, Wikipedia says the album was re-released in 1978 with the disc pressed on white vinyl, to complete the “white” package. A similar pressing was done in
It is impossible, looking at a section on who played which instruments, to be sure just who was indeed playing what. Lennon, for instance played lead and rhythm (electric and acoustic) guitars, 4- and 6-string bass, piano (electric and acoustic),
And then of course there was George Martin who did string, brass, clarinet, orchestral arrangements and conducting, and played piano on Rocky Raccoon. Fellow producer Chris Thomas played mellotron on Bungalow Bill, harpsichord on Piggies and piano on Long, Long, Long. Ken Scott was the engineer and mixer, along with Martin. The guest artists included, as mentioned earlier, Eric Clapton, Jack Fallon on violin on Don’t Pass Me By, Jimmy Scott on congas on Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da and many others, some of them mentioned earlier. The album also features a host of session musicians playing violins, violas, cellos, trumpets, flugelhorn, French horn, trombone, tuba, clarinet and saxophone.
Wikipedia says the Beatles “produced most of the sessions themselves, and were there for the mixing sessions but, as usual, were not credited”. It says the same goes for the orchestral arrangements, “as both McCartney and Harrison worked on their own songs’ arrangements”.
But enough already. When all is said and done, this album ranks as one of the greatest in the history of modern music. It was a privilege to have grown up with it.
But of course there was more to come. Yellow Submarine only made it to No 3 on the
Wikipedia says the album’s genre is “rock, classical”, and it is that dichotomy that galls most Beatles fans. Let’s see if they expand on why those long tracts of classical stuff were included. It was the Beatles 10the official album and the soundtrack to the film. Wikipedia says “in contrast to how the film was received, Yellow Submarine is usually considered the Beatles’ weakest album, as it featured only six songs by the band”. That’s exactly my point. It adds that the Beatles themselves did not consider it a studio album “since the four previously unreleased tracks on it were recorded at various times in 1967 and early 1968”. Only A Northern Son was recorded during the Sgt Peppers sessions, and It’s All Too Much soon afterwards. Hey Bulldog was recorded in February 1968 and All Together Now in May 1967. The title track had, as noted earlier, already appeared on Revolver in August 1966 and as a hit single at about the same time. All You Need Is Love was a hit single in 1967, says Wikipedia, and was also on the
But it’s Side 2 that’s the problem, since it consists of arrangements recorded specifically for the album of George Martin’s orchestral score. A plan to release Yellow Submarine as a five-track EP never materialised.
As regards the cover, the
Listening to Yellow Submarine again is something of an anti-climax. As noted above, Yellow Submarine had already been released on Revolver back in 1966. It is always worth a fresh listen, however. Ringo’s vocals along with some great acoustic guitar backing and the sound of waves breaking are instantly equated with the movie. I hope to get onto them later in this tome, but there was an album by a bunch of Liverpool poets and musicians called The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene which was part of our growing up, and it featured poems by Adrian Henri about The Amazing Adventures of Che Guevara, who at the time was something of a left-wing, revolutionary hero. Anyway, in each he would comment on topical issues, and in one he reports: “Mysterious yellow submarine spotted off the North Korean coast. Recorded voice, supposedly of the captain, said in dull, monotonous tones: ‘I thought we’d go to
McCartney’s more accessible self makes itself felt on All Together Now – at least I trust it’s his work, primarily, though both he and Lennon seem to share the lead vocal duties. Some fast-strummed acoustic guitar leads into the count-up. “One, two, three, four / Can I have a little more? / five, six, seven eight nine ten I love you.” Then, with almost kindergarten naivety, it continues: “A, B, C, D / Can I bring my friend to tea? / E, F, G H I J I love you.” This song really captures the mood of the movie. With bass and drums prominent, there is a lovely bluesy harmonica played through much of the song. The chorus is catchy: “Sail the ship, Chop the tree / Skip the rope, Look at me…” Then the lead and backing vocals chant the line “All together now....” before the next equally simple verse. “Black, white, green, red / Can I take my friend to bed? / Pink, brown, yellow orange blue I love you.” The chanting of “All together now....” speeds up as the song reaches its conclusion, and ends with a round of applause.
Hey Bulldog brings a bit of Lennon gravitas to the album. Or Lennon genius, rather, because he was never one to take himself too seriously, but he clearly took seriously how his songs were produced. And this is a gem. A jaunty piano lays down the melody, which is then copied by lead guitar and finally the bass guitar. Lennon’s vocals have a quality that harks back to tracks on the early Beatles albums, rough and rollicking. “Sheep dog standing in the rain / Bulldog doing it again / Some kind of happiness is / measured out in miles / What make you think you’re / something special when you smile.” Again, the lyrics are mysterious and difficult to pin down. “Childlike no one understands / Jack knife in your sweaty hands / Some kind of innocence is / measured out in years / You don’t know what it’s like / to listen to your fears…” Then the chorus. “You can talk to me / You can talk to me / You can talk to me / If you’re lonely, you can talk to me.” The lead guitar in here somewhere is sharp and acerbic, while the bass guitar simply ripples along. “Big man walking in the park / Wigwam frightened of the dark / Some kind of solitude is measured out in you / You think you know but you haven’t got a clue.” The chorus is repeated before the words “Hey Bulldog” conclude the vocals. Then, as the song winds up, a spoken voice asks “What do you say?” and a dog’s bark is heard, along with more chatter and laughter.
The final rock song on the album, All You Need Is Love, was used in the
And then, if you’d bought this album back then, you would have been seriously disappointed. These are no doubt great music, composed by George Martin (with the final track, Yellow Submarine In Pepperland credited to Martin, Lennon and McCartney), and in the context of the movie, constituted a fine soundtrack. But listened to in isolation, as one hoping to hear the Beatles, you will be devastated. Purely orchestral instrumentals, Pepperland,
The Beatles returned to their winning ways when
Classified as rock,
It was the Beatles’ 11th official album, but was actually recorded after the 12th and final album, Let It Be, released just before the band’s dissolution in 1970, says Wikipedia, which adds that it is “regarded as one of the Beatles’ most tightly constructed albums, although the band was barely operating as a functioning unit at the time.” In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed it at 14 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
With the White Album sessions having been beset with conflict, Wikipedia says McCartney suggested to Martin that they get together again and make an album “the way we used to”, without any of the conflict of the White Album sessions. Initially it was to be called Get Back, but was later retitled Let It Be, which seems to acknowledge acceptance of the band’s end, rather than the former title, which points to a getting back together again. On Anthology, Wikipedia notes, the surviving Beatles indicated that they suspected this would be the band’s last album, and agreed to set aside their differences and “go out on a high note”.
The Let It Be album was thus partly finished when sessions for
Clearly the youth of the world, and we were part of them, knew the end was nigh, so they went out and bought this album in their millions. Wikipedia says
Heck, I don’t even recall if we had this album. But every track is like part of the soundtrack to my life. And it was great to give the album a fresh listen, and to realise the strength of each track on what was the last Beatles album produced mainly by George Martin.
The opening track, Come Together, is one of the great Beatles classics, and I have to confess that as teenagers we couldn’t help reading into it some sexual connotations. I wonder if they were intended? On certain tracks, the Beatles had the ability to create sounds that were not easily identifiable. And that is the case with this one. Who knows precisely which instruments conspire to accompany those opening sounds, which sound a bit like “Shoompa galoo”, but are not included in the lyrics I found on the Net. McCartney’s bass is again brilliant as the band emerges as tight as ever on this opening track, with Lennon laying those crazy lyrics on us. “Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly / He got joo-joo eyeball he one holy roller / He got hair down to his knee / Got to be a joker he just do what he please.” The second verse is equally odd. “He wear no shoeshine he got toe-jam football / He got monkey finger he shoot coca-cola / He say ‘I know you, you know me’ / One thing I can tell you is you got to be free / Come together right now over me.” Now fortunately, Wikipedia has some serious notes on each song, so let’s see what this is all about. They confirm that the song was “contributed by Lennon”. It says the chorus was “inspired by a song Lennon originally wrote for Timothy Leary’s campaign for governor of
Then the first of two pieces of Harrison magic, Something, which opens with drums and bass before that definitive riff on the lead electric guitar, da daa da daaa, daaa, daaaa … “Something in the way she moves / Attracts me like no other lover / Something in the way she woos me …” Then, with lead guitar, electric piano, the rhythm section and some strings weaving their magic, the famous chorus: “ I don’t want to leave her now / You know I believe her now …” before that lead riff is repeated. “Somewhere in her smile she knows / That I don’t need no other lover / Something in her style that shows me … Don’t want to leave her now / You know I believe her now…” Then the tone becomes bolder: “You’re asking me will my love grow / I don’t know, I don’t know / You stick around now it may show / I don’t know, I don’t know.” The song then again becomes reflective. “Something in the way she knows / And all I have to do is think of her / Something in the things she shows me … / Don’t want to leave her now / You know I believe her now…” With the to be expected superb backing vocals, supportive string arrangements and Harrison’s own lead guitar, not to mention fine drumming by Ringo, this is another Beatles gem. Wikipedia says the opening line of this track, originally written during the White Album sessions, was based on a James Taylor song, called Something In The Way She Moves.
Rely on McCartney to bring an altogether different angle to songwriting, which he does on Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, the next track. Piano, cymbals, bass. These lay the groundwork for the opening line. “Joan was quizzical; studied pataphysical / Science in the home. / Late nights all alone with a test tube. / Oh, oh, oh, oh.” Now what’s that all about? I have to concede I never really heard those lines before. “Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, / Calls her on the phone. / ‘Can I take you out to the pictures, / Joa, oa, oa, oan?’” This, surely, was
McCartney is back with a vengeance, not literally, on the next song, Oh Darling, which again starts with piano, bass, drums and lead guitar, and his singing of that opening line. “Oh! Darling, please believe me / I’ll never do you no harm / Believe me when I tell you / I’ll never do you no harm.” The second verse is similar. “Oh! Darling, if you leave me / I’ll never make it alone / Believe me when I beg you / Don’t ever leave me alone.” The tempo picks up from a slow blues. “When you told me you didn’t need me anymore / Well you know I nearly broke down and cried / When you told me you didn’t need me anymore / Well you know I nearly broke down and died.” Here, McCartney uses that voice of his to its fullest. It is loud and aggressive at times, a far cry from the angelic sounds on the likes of Yesterday and Michelle. There are some nice sharp, chirpy guitar chords on this song, which, no matter your view on the lyrics, most of which are repeated, remains a fine Beatles achievement. Wikipedia notes the strain the song took on McCartney’s voice, saying while recording it he only did one take a day. Interestingly, Wikipedia says Lennon “was of the opinion he should have sung the lead vocal on this song, remarking it was more his style and McCartney didn’t sing it well”. While listening to it, I did have similar thoughts. So many of the raspy, heavier songs of this nature on earlier albums were Lennon’s preserve.
The next track, Ocotopus’s Garden, has been ridiculed as a mediocre Ringo Starr effort. Nevertheless, it remains an integral of this album, and as such will always have a special place in my heart. The lead guitar is tight and bold alongside bass and drums as Ringo’s distinctive voice starts. “I’d like to be under the sea / In an octopus’s garden in the shade / He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been / In his octopus’s garden in the shade.” The whole group seem to join in with the chorus. “I’d ask my friends to come and see / An octopus’s garden with me / I’d like to be under the sea / In an octopus’s garden in the shade.” The song may be naïve and simple, but what it does do is create a unifying atmosphere on an album where the main egos seem to be fragmenting the Beatles. Here, at least, one gets the sense they are all having a bit of much-needed fun. “We would be warm below the storm / In our little hideaway beneath the waves / Resting our head on the sea bed / In an octopus’s garden near a cave.” It is as if Ringo was hankering after a bit of fun, far from the madding crowd. “We would sing and dance around / because we know we can’t be found / I’d like to be under the sea / In an octopus’s garden in the shade.” Maybe he was remembering earlier visits to warmer climes. “We would shout and swim about / The coral that lies beneath the waves / (Lies beneath the ocean waves) / Oh what joy for every girl and boy / Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe / (Happy and they’re safe).” Yeah, I think Ringo wanted a life without deadlines and pressure probably as much if not more than the others. “We would be so happy you and me / No one there to tell us what to do / I’d like to be under the sea / In an octopus’s garden with you.” Wikipedia says this, Ringo’s second composition on a Beatles album, was inspired by a trip to
Lennon’s profound influence again manifests itself on I Want You (She’s So Heavy), the next track. Heavy lead and rhythm guitars augment the rhythm section before these opening bars stop, and the opening lines assail one. “I want you / I want you so bad / I want you, / I want you so bad / It’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.”
There can be few songs with a more instantly recognisable introduction than
Lennon is back to the fore, if that makes sense, with Because. I had noted that it featured electric piano, but Wikipedia says it is fact a Moog synthesizer, played by
Not having heard the vinyl album for decades, I cannot tell whether I thought of the next 16 minutes of songs as a medley, and when I listened to the CD just now, I considered the first three songs as separate entities. However, Wikipedia says “the climax of the album” comprises a medley “of several short songs, both finished and unfinished, blended into a suite by McCartney and George Martin”. It says most were written and originally recorded as demos, during sessions for The Beatles and Get Back/Let It Be. It starts with a McCartney song, You Never Give Me Your Money, which, in the light of his recent divorce and ongoing, let’s say, obsession with money, is a bit ironic. He seemed to like the immediacy of opening with a few bars on the piano, this time slow and moody, with the bass ever present. “You never give me your money / You only give me your funny paper / and in the middle of negotiations / you break down.” I have to admit this is the first time I’ve actually contemplated what he was on about. “I never give you my number / I only give you my situation / and in the middle of investigation / I break down.” And I’m still not quite sure what it’s about. Anyway, the pace quickens, with the voice becoming more distant. “Out of college, money spent / See no future, pay no rent / All the money’s gone, nowhere to go / Any jobber got the sack / Monday morning, turning back / Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go…” A honky-tonk sound then kicks in. “But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go / Oh, that magic feeling / Nowhere to go / Nowhere to go.” Who can blame us for being confused. What is “magic” about having nowhere to go? Anyway, the McCartney vocals get heavier, as the lead guitar kicks into overdrive. “One sweet dream / Pick up the bags and get in the limousine / Soon we’ll be away from here / Step on the gas and wipe that tear away / One sweet dream came true today / Came true today / Came true today / Came true today (yes it did).” And I never heard that really before. I thought he was saying “hey Jude, Judy”, not “came true, today”. Where this next little snippet fits in I don’t know, but it does. “One two three four five six seven, / All good children go to Heaven.” And as it is repeated, the bass pulsates alongside the lead, with other crazy sounds thrown in too, before it fades. I detected a distinct Jethro Tull quality to the song at this point. Wikipedia says it was “based loosely on the Beatles’ financial problems with Apple”, which seems an odd thing to sing about.
For me there is a distinct break between that and Sun King, a Lennon masterpiece which for me has echoes of the famous early Peter Green instrumental, Albatross. Slow, deliberate electric rhythm guitar and bass set the scene for another choral classic. An organ also grinds away pleasantly. “Here comes the sun king / Here comes the sun king / Everybody’s laughing / Everybody’s happy / Here comes the sun king.” Apart from the seeming continuation of
Anyway, out of that emerges a heavyish drums and bass-led rock sound, and then those immortal words, “Mean Mister Mustard sleeps in the park / Shaves in the dark trying to save paper / Sleeps in a hole in the road / Saving up to buy some clothes / Keeps a ten-bob note up his nose / Such a mean old man / Such a mean old man.” It’s great finally to see what was being sung there. The vocal harmonies are again strong. “His sister Pam works in a shop / She never stops, she’s a go-getter / Takes him out to look at the queen / Only place that he’s ever been / Always shouts out something obscene / Such a dirty old man / Dirty old man.” These lines are repeated, somewhat, before there is a change of pace and some big bass chords, and more importantly, acoustic guitar chords and a fine lead guitar solo. And before you know it you’re in the next song, another Lennon composition, Polythene Pam. “Well you should see Polythene Pam / She’s so good-looking but she looks like a man / Well you should see her in drag dressed in her polythene bag / Yes you should see Polythene Pam / Yeah yeah yeah.” By this stage, homosexuality and transvestism were old hat, with the Kinks and probably others having incorporated elements into their songs. “Get a dose of her in jackboots and kilt / She’s killer-diller when she dance at the Hilt / She’s the kind of a girl that makes the ‘News of the World’ / Yes you could say she was attractively built / Yeah yeah yeah.” It is an interesting bit of social commentary, with the News of the World adding a seedy media dimension. And then, yet again, before you know it, you’re into a McCartney song, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, the first of four that follow. It starts with Lennon saying: “We’ll listen to that now. He he he. Oh, look out!” before the McCartney lyrical assault. “She came in through the bathroom window / Protected by a silver spoon / But now she sucks her thumb and wanders / By the banks of her own lagoon.” Born with a silver spoon in her mouth? Was it Linda Eastman? “Didn’t anybody tell her? / Didn’t anybody see? / Sunday’s on the phone to Monday, / Tuesday’s on the phone to me.” It means little at face value, but certainly had a nice ring, if you’ll pardon me. “She said she’d always been a dancer / She worked at 15 clubs a day / And though she thought I knew the answer / Well I knew but I could not say.” The narrative continues: “And so I quit the police department / And got myself a steady job / And though she tried her best to help me / She could steal but she could not rob.” I wonder what the cops think of that dismissal of their profession? Ah, but Wikipedia says this is not about Linda, but about a fan who literally came into McCartney’s residence via the bathroom window, though it says “citation (is) needed” for this claim. The chorus is repeated before a gentle piano announces a slumbering song, Golden Slumbers. This is typical post-Beatles McCartney, which anticipates For Your Eyes Only. “Once there was a way to get back homeward / Once there was a way to get back home / Sleep pretty darling do not cry / And I will sing a lullaby.” The strings soar, the bass booms, drums echo, and the song soldiers on. “Golden slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles awake you when you rise / Sleep pretty darling do not cry / And I will sing a lullaby.” The opening verse is repeated before there is a change of mood, and thumping bass and drums announce Carry That Weight. Golden Slumbers, says Wikipedia, is based on lyrics but not the music of Thomas Dekker’s 17th century song of the same name. All four sing vocals on the ballsy Carry That Weight. “Boy, you gonna carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time / Boy, you gonna carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time.” Brass and strings, plus good electric lead guitar smooth and soothe the way forward. “I never give you my pillow / I only send you my invitation / And in the middle of the celebrations / I break down.” Then it’s back to that resounding, “Boy, you gonna carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time / Boy, you gonna carry that weight / Carry that weight a long time”, as the tempo picks up and drums and bass harden. “Oh yeah! all right! / Are you gonna be in my dreams, tonight? / Love you, love you, love you...” There is even a rare almost drum solo about here, and what sounds like two lead guitars in tandem. Then a whimsical bit of piano-accompanied profundity from McCartney: “And in the end, the love you take / is equal to the love you make.” Wikipedia confirms that Ringo “hated solos” and had to be persuaded to do the one on this track, which was edited down. It confirms too that McCartney, then Harrison, then Lennon played alternately the 18 bars of the lead guitar solo, each playing two at a time. Says Wikipedia: “Each had a distinctive style which McCartney felt reflected their personalities: McCartney’s playing included string bends similar to his lead guitar work on Another Girl from the Help! album;
There is a long silence now, but don’t think that the album is over, because McCartney still has to serenade the Queen. Backed by some lovely acoustic guitar, he sings a short song which may just have inspired Dave Cousins of Strawbs to do Hey Little Man. “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say / Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl but she changes from day to day / I want to tell her that I love her a lot / But I gotta get a bellyful of wine / Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl / Someday I’m going to make her mine, oh yeh, / Someday I’m going to make her mine.”
Wikipedia says Her Majesty was originally meant to appear between Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam (Lennon songs), but McCartney baulked, and had it removed. A sound engineer, told not to exclude anything, after the group left the recording studio that day, literally picked up the song off the floor and then spliced 14 seconds of red leader tape onto the final mix reel, followed by Her Majesty. This gets technical. But Malcolm Davies at Apple, who received the tape – and also told to throw nothing out – was confronted with a note on the album’s master reel telling him to leave Her Majesty off the final product. So he “cut a playback lacquer of the whole sequence, including Her Majesty”. And, says Wikipedia, the Beatles “liked this effect and left it on the album”. Which accounts for the long (14 seconds) break before Her Majesty. And, says Wikipedia, on the first printing of the LP cover, it was not even listed, although it is shown on the record label. Bizarrely, the song starts with the “final, crashing chord of Mean Mr Mustard, while the final note of Her Majesty remained buried in the mix of Polythene Pam”, where it was snipped off. The cut in the medley, says Wikipedia, was “subsequently disguised with further mixing”, but Her Majesty “was not touched again and still appears in its rough mix”.
There is more technical stuff for the aficionados. Firstly, this was the only Beatles album mainly recorded on an 8-track tape machine, rather than a 4-track machine. This, says Wikipedia, is noticeable in the “better sound separation and mixing of the drum kit”. Conservative EMI had still not approved the use of a new 8-track Studer deck, which led to the album being recorded at three different studios – Abbey Road, Trident and Olympic. Which is extremely ironic considering the album’s title.
Another interesting aspect is that it was Harrison who introduced the Moog synthesizer, which plays a key role in Because, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Here Comes The Sun. First used by The Monkees, with Daily Nightly, Wikipedia says Harrison discovered the Moog while staying in
And then there’s the cover, probably the most talked-about in pop history, if the truth be known. Was the shoeless Paul McCartney actually dead, everyone was asking. Wikipedia quotes Geoff Emerick as saying that at some point the album was to be called Everest, after a brand of cigarettes. It would include a photograph of the
And from covers to cover versions. Wikipedia says the songs were covered many times by numerous artists including George Benson, Booker T & the MGs and Phil Collins.
As noted earlier, it was put at No 14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums. In 2006, Time Magazine included it among its 100 best albums of all time.
A list of the instruments each played shows that all except Ringo had use of the Moog synthesizer. They played lead and rhythm guitars, acoustic guitars and bass (though not Lennon). Again, Martin helped out on piano, harpsichord and harmonium, while Billy Preston played
Let It Be
The rumours about the
I recall, not long after the album’s release, heading into
Superficially, you know an album by its cover. This one featured four mugshots of the lads – McCartney and Ringo with beards, Harrison with a moustache and Lennon clean-shaven. This, in itself, was symbolic. Each was going his own way, staking his own identity.
Released on May 8, 1970, when I was still a tender 14-year-old but already steeped in music, the album was recorded at Apple Studios in Savile Row,
So was Let It Be so bad that it required McCartney to recently orchestrate a re-release of an earlier production before Spector got his hands on it? Having just listened to it again, and bearing in mind that I am a firm believer that you cannot “improve” on those Beatles originals, I found the album as good, if not better, than I expected. Talk of Spector’s “wall of sound” obliterating the nuances and subtleties is codders. The album was, to my untrained ear, very similar in substance and style to earlier George Martin productions. And it does feature some of Lennon and McCartney’s absolute classics, like Across The Universe, Let It Be and Get Back.
But let’s see what our informed sources at Wikipedia have to say. They start by noting that in early 1969 the Beatles were rehearsing, not for a new album, but to start touring again. McCartney wanted them to make “a grand statement, or rather something unorthodox, after two years of having not performed live. For the past six months, though, tensions had risen as each band member pursued “personal projects”. So they went to Twickenham Studios on January 2, 1969, and, as they were rehearsing for a live show rather than attempting to record an album, no multi-track recordings were made of the sessions, says Wikipedia. However, they say bootlegs were taken from mono recordings that were “synchronised to the film cameras”, which means the sessions were filmed. They discussed locations for the live show during the rehearsals, among them a Roman amphitheatre in
Meltdown, it seems, was imminent. However, on January 22, multi-track recording began at Apple and lasted till January 31.
Now here’s something I didn’t know. Wikipedia says the Beatles played “hundreds of songs during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions”. Apart from those released on Let It Be, they did versions of most of the songs that would appear on
Ah, finally we get to the root of the production/arrangement controversy. Wikipedia says after the “increasing use of overdubs and multi-layered recordings on recent albums”, the plan was to record the new album “live”. It would be a back-to-roots concept, with the cover artwork intended to be an “update of the cover of their first album, Please Please Me”. Yeah, remember it? The four looking down a stairwell at EMI’s
Sound engineer Glyn Johns, says Wikipedia, put together a “rough version” of Get Back in March 1969. It included many of the same songs that made the final cut, as well as McCartney’s Teddy Boy. But when he played the tape to the Beatles, they were “not really interested in the project any longer”. But in March, 1969, Lennon and McCartney contacted Johns and “offered him free rein to produce an album from the Get Back recordings”. Wikipedia says from April 3 till May 28, Johns mixed the album at Olympic Studios, and presented the “final banded master tape” to the band on May 28. Side 1 comprised One After 909, Rocker (Instrumental), Save the Last Dance For Me (a cover song), Don’t Let Me Down, Dig A Pony, I’ve Got a Feeling and Get Back. Side 2 comprised For You Blue, Teddy Boy, Two Of Us, Maggie Mae, Dig It, Let It Be, The Long and
And so it might have been. The Get Back album, says Wikipedia, was intended for release in July 1969, but this date was delayed to coincide with a planned television special and “theatrical film” about the making of the album. But it was delayed again till December, as the Beatles had just recorded
But the quest to get the Get Back album out continued, with the Beatles asking Johns to use the Get Back tapes to make an album that matched the songs on the as yet unreleased Get Back film. By January 8, 1970, new mixes were ready. Teddy Boy, not in the film, was omitted – possibly also because McCartney wanted it for his upcoming McCartney album, says Wikipedia. It did, however, include Across The Universe, which was a “remix of the 1968 studio version”, which just shows how long that great song had been kicking around. Also included was I Me Mine, which totally excludes Lennon, who had “left the band by that time”, says Wikipedia. It had to be newly recorded as no multi-track recording was made for the film version. But the Beatles again rejected it.
Clearly, this was the last splutterings of a great group which had reached the end of its natural life. So in March 1970, the session tapes were handed to US producer Phil Spector, “with McCartney’s reluctant agreement”, says Wikipedia. He compiled the eventually released album, now titled Let It Be. The album and film were released on May 8, 1970, after the Beatles had broken up. Wikipedia says the movie “captured on film the critical tensions within the band”. The last song performed on the rooftop, the last live Beatles performance, was Get Back. And in an incredible irony, it ends with Lennon remarking: “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” This is how the album ends as well. Here, having dominated the pop music scene for nearly a decade, having pioneered the path for much of that time, Lennon was always able to see the dark humour in things.
Wikipedia tells us that the recording sessions dished up several songs which were released as singles in different versions to those on the album. These include Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down and Let It Be. Lennon’s Across The Universe, we learn, was “added to pad out his sparse contributions to the album, having previously been released as part of the World Wildlife Fund charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World”. On that album the song was speeded up, and on Let It Be it was slowed down. It took until the Let It Be … Naked album in 2003 before it appeared at its original speed.
Aside from those three songs mentioned earlier that were recorded live on the rooftop, Two Of Us, Dig It and Maggie Mae were from the live studio sessions. The rest, however, all featured “editing, splicing and overdubs”, says Wikipedia, apart from Across The Universe, which as noted earlier was slowed down. It was only rehearsed at Twickenham and not professionally recorded on multi-track tape. So what got up McCartney’s nose? Well it had to be his own stuff that he was unhappy with. Wikipedia says he was “deeply dissatisfied” with Spector’s treatment of some songs, particularly The Long And
When the album was released in the
Was the album as “shitty” as Lennon claimed, and were McCartney’s reservations justified? I suspect there was so much animosity flying about at the time, and for years to come, that both were prejudiced views. The fact is this is the last original Beatles album to be released. It was solo stuff from here on. As such, whatever the problems in producing it, it is a part of rock history. And, frankly, it is an interesting and most enjoyable slice of the Beatles. I particularly enjoy the use of the banter and chat between and even during songs. This certainly does not sound like a group about to slit each other’s throats. Indeed, the sense of humour which George Martin so admired all those years earlier, though often sardonic, remains at the core of the Beatles’ work. That and a singular Britishness that, I believe, flows from the massive sacrifices that country made during the Second World War, and which influenced the characters of those who grew up in the wake of that conflict, such as the Fab Four. So don’t slag off this album. It is still a beauty, no matter what anyone says.
The album opens with a bit of Beatles chatter before bass and acoustic guitars launch McCartney’s Two Of Us, one of those recorded live. A somewhat muted vocal performance, he is ably backed by typical Beatles harmonies as this rollicking rock number gathers momentum as drums and lead guitar join in. “Two of us riding nowhere / Spending someone’s / Hard earned pay / You and me Sunday driving / Not arriving / On our way back home / We’re on our way home / We’re on our way home / We’re going home.” I have to confess, again, that is the first time I’ve really actually digested what was being sung, despite having heard this song scores of times. “Two of us sending postcards / Writing letters / On my wall / You and me burning matches / Lifting latches / On our way back home / We’re on our way home / We’re on our way home / We’re going home.” McCartney had a knack for writing catchy songs, and I don’t doubt this was largely his baby. There is a nice change of pace as his voice, which somehow changed and became more mature as the 1970s started, intones: “You and I have memories / Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Then it’s back to these snapshots of a life shared. “Two of us wearing raincoats / Standing so low / In the sun / You and me chasing paper / Getting nowhere / On our way back home / We’re on our way home / We’re on our way home / We’re going home.” The chorus and last verse are repeated, before the song ends with “We’re going home / Better believe it”, and some chatter, during which the word “goodbye” is heard.
Then follows another live track, Dig A Pony. Again, there is a bit of chatter, before a single electric guitar note sounds, followed by a “hold it!”. Fast-paced, tight rock then slows for a typical Lennonesque, “ah, a-ha-ha, a-ha-ha”. Then, with acoustic guitar prominent, Lennon’s voice comes through crisp and clear: “I dig a pony / Well you can celebrate anything you want / Well you can celebrate anything you want / Ooh.” What the song was about, is anyone’s guess. “I do a road hog / Well you can penetrate any place you go / Yes you can penetrate any place you go / I told you so, all I want is you. / Ev’rything has got to be just like you want it to / Because …” And then there is more bizarre imagery, this next verse possibly inspired by the lunar landing of 1969 and earlier Soviet missions to put a dog in space. “I pick a moon dog / Well you can radiate ev’rything you are / Yes you can radiate ev’rything you are … / Ooh.” And what was a stoney? I recall as teens who virtually lived on the
Now I’m not one of those technically savvy souls who insist on their music being pure and pristine. So it matters not to me whether the next track, Across The Universe, was not recorded on a multi-track tape, or whatever the problem was. The fact is it’s a classic, featuring some superb slide acoustic guitar and string arrangements, which add to the swirling, undulating sensation. In fact, the sparseness only emphasises that sense of being thrust out into space, a desolate sense of dislocation. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells us that David Bowie did a cover of this on the 1975 album, Young Americans, which I have not heard. And it features Lennon on vocals and guitar. Now that’s worth looking out for. But what was he singing about? Because to me this has always been one of those Lennon songs which set him apart as a truly great songwriter. Anyway, as that guitar slips and slides, he lays it on us. “Words are flying out like / endless rain into a paper cup / They slither while they pass / They slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow waves of joy / are drifting thorough my open mind / Possessing and caressing me.” Brilliant! Words are a Lennon thing. Here they become tangible objects, yet impossible to pin down amidst that swirl of emotions. But what of that chorus? I naively always heard something like “What, a new day”. But now I discover it goes, “Jai guru deva om / Nothing’s gonna change my world / Nothing’s gonna change my world / Nothing’s gonna change my world / Nothing’s gonna change my world.” He was quite insistent about that, but what of those first four words? Well the danger of the Internet is the more you probe, the more information becomes available. There is no way I can analyse each song to the extent available. There are dozens, possibly hundreds of sites which dwell on this song alone. But I’ll rely on Wikipedia’s objectivity. Firstly, they say Lennon came up with the opening lines about words flowing after hearing then-wife Cynthia chatting on and on about something. He later “turned it into a sort of cosmic song” and began writing the rest of the lyrics before going to bed and forgetting about them. The next day he began putting chords on the piano to the song. Wikipedia says the song’s flavour is heavily influenced by the Beatles’ short-lived interest in transcendental meditation in late 1967 and early 1968. As a result he “added the mantra Jai guru deva om” as a link to the chorus. “The Sanskrit phrase is a sentence fragment whose words could have many meanings, but roughly translate to ‘Victory to God divine’, ‘hail to the divine guru’, or the phrase commonly invoked by the late Maharish Mahesh Yogi, ‘All Glory to Guru Deva’, then the mystic syllable om, which is theoretically the cosmic sound of the universe and used by monks during meditation”. Of course it was the Moody Blues who would latch onto that in a big way. Wikipedia says in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon said the song had perhaps the best, most poetic lyrics he had written. And of course the song did indeed go across the universe. Wikipedia says on February 4, 2008, Nasa transmitted it in the direction of the star Polaris, 431 light years from Earth. This was done using a 70m antenna at the Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex using an X band transmitter radiating into the antenna at 18 KW. It was done to mark the 40th anniversary of the song, the 45th of the Deep Space Network and 50th of Nasa. So Lennon’s voice singing these words might still be floating around out there in deep space: “Images of broken light which / dance before me like a million eyes / That call me on and on across the universe / Thoughts meander like a / restless wind inside a letter box / they tumble blindly as / they make their way across the universe.” After the incantation and chorus, the final verse. “Sounds of laughter shades of life / are ringing through my open ears / exciting and inviting me / Limitless undying love which / shines around me like a million suns / It calls me on and on across the universe.” The chorus and mantra are then repeated as this absolute classic soars off into the ether.
As noted earlier, Lennon wasn’t even around when I Me Mine was recorded. It was another case of
All four Beatles are credited with composing the bit of fun that is Dig It, a 49-second bit of English frivolity, which, with Lennon singing, bears all the hallmarks of his sense of humour. The song opens quietly before building up a head of steam before getting quite heavy. And of course it is one of those quirky precursors to a real classic, Let It Be, which are imprinted on the minds of Beatlephiles. So here is Lennon having fun. “Like a rolling stone / A like a rolling stone / Like the FBI and the CIA / And the BBC – BB King / And Doris Day / Matt Busby / Dig it, dig it, dig it / Dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it.” As the guys again break into chatter, a high-pitched male voice, almost certainly Lennon, says: “(That was ‘Can You Dig It’ by Georgie Wood. And now we’d like to do ‘Hark The Angels Come’.” And that, naturally, is the sign for everyone to shut up and listen to a bit of McCartney genius. He liked nothing better than laying down a melody on the piano and then letting his voice do the business of turning words, lyrics, into a brilliant song. And so the anthem-like melody is short before these words to Let It Be pour forth: “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, / speaking words of wisdom, let it be. / And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, / speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” The chorus, sung by a chorus of voices, couldn’t be simpler, or more effective. “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. / Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.” This song also has a message and, as the second verse starts, so does McCartney’s well-rounded bass flesh the whole thing out beautifully. The drums also get progressively heavier. “And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree, / there will be an answer, let it be. / For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, / there will be an answer, let it be.” With the next chorus, the organ becomes more insistent, and a serious bit of brass can also be heard. After that famous daa-da-da-daa-da-da-daa-daa-daa, played on lead guitar and organ, and a short sharp lead guitar solo, the final verse. “And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me, / shine until tomorrow, let it be. / I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me, / speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” As the words, “Let it be, let it be” are sung alongside some further robust lead guitar, large, dramatic chords finally bring the song to an end. McCartney was singing about the “broken-hearted” and “parted” people of the world, but may just as easily have been singing about the band itself. In the end he is philosophical. What will be, will be. And it was. It was one of the all-time Beatles classics.
The Beatles could always be counted on to offer up something completely different. And so it was that all four are credited with the arrangement of a traditional song, Maggie Mae, all 41 seconds of it, which concludes Side I. Again, it is a folk acoustic guitar which launches this quick-paced bit of fun. Backed by bass and drums, it sound like a drunken pub song, with Lennon using his zaniest accent. “Oh dirty Maggie Mae they have taken her away / And she never walk down
Side 2, you get the feeling, is McCartney feeling his way into a solo career. It starts with the live recording of his I’ve Got A Feeling, a straight rock song rich in piano and bluesy lead guitar. “I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside / Oh yeah, Oh yeah. (that’s right.) / I’ve got a feeling, a feeling I can’t hide / Oh no. no. Oh no! Oh no. / Yeah! Yeah! I’ve got a feeling. Yeah!” At this stage it is pretty much a nothing song, lyrically. “Oh please believe me, I’d hate to miss the train / Oh yeah, yeah, oh yeah. / And if you leave me I won’t be late again / Oh no, oh no, oh no. / Yeah Yeah I’ve got a feeling, yeah. / I got a feeling.” It was McCartney at pretty much his blandest. “All these years I've been wandering around, / Wondering how come nobody told me / All that I was looking for was somebody / Who looked like you.” Of course, as a Beatles song, it was still impeccably packaged, but the lyrics are really weak. “I’ve got a feeling that keeps me on my toes / Oh yeah, Oh yeah. / I’ve got a feeling, I think that everybody knows. / Oh yeah, Oh yeah, Oh yeah. / Yeah! Yeah! I’ve got a feeling. Yeah!” Now I don’t know precisely what the division of labour was in writing this song, but as the mood changes and Lennon takes over the vocals, there’s suddenly an injection of fun and poetry. “Ev’rybody had a hard year. / Ev’rybody had a good time. / Ev’rybody had a wet dream. / Ev’rybody saw the sunshine.” McCartney can then be heard singing: “Oh yeah, Oh yeah. Oh Yeah.” “Ev’rybody had a good year. / Ev’rybody let their hair down. / Ev’rybody pulled their socks up. (yeah.) / Ev’rybody put their foot down. / Oh yeah. Yeah! WOOOOHOO!” They then sing their separate parts, allowing each to collide, sorry harmonise, with each other as the song unwinds. At one point someone says, “Oh my soul...it’s so hard.”
Lennon’s stamp seems to be all over One After 909, another live recording. A fast-paced rock and roll song, this has echoes of Chuck Berry and harks back to the early 1960s, when the Beatles were first starting out on their journey. “My baby says she’s trav’ling on the one after 909 / I said move over honey I’m travelling on that line / I said move over once, move over twice / Come on baby don’t be cold as ice.” The lyrics are by no means memorable, but this is another well-executed song, which winds down amidst more frivolity, during which a voice (Lennon’s) is heard to sing “Oh Danny boy…”. Again, Spector, or whoever was responsible, got it spot-on, because this joviality then settles for another of the album’s great moments, McCartney’s The Long And Winding Road.
As noted earlier, McCartney had serious reservations about the treatment given to his song. I haven’t heard Let It Be … Naked yet, so can’t compare this version to how he’d have liked it. But this is one we grew up with, heavy orchestration or not. It opens with his singing those opening words, “The long and winding road …” before the dramatic chords (CLUNG GLUNG) which then subside… “That leads to your door / Will never disappear / I’ve seen that road before / It always leads me here / Leads me to your door.” Make no doubt about it, this was a moment of inspired song-writing. “The wild and windy night (CLUNG GLUNG) / That the rain washed away / Has left a pool of tears / Crying for the day. / Why leave me standing here? / Let me know the way.” McCartney’s songs always have a somewhat sentimental touch, which I believe endeared him to the female fans. But it does mark the big difference between him and the more cynical Lennon, who clearly didn’t suffer fools. But McCartney was a melody maker par excellence. Here he switches to another key. “Many times I’ve been alone / And many times I’ve cried, / Anyway you’ll never know / The many ways I’ve tried.” There’s no escaping it, it’s soppy and sentimental. But it was a Beatles song and it has become one of the most famous songs of all time. “And still they lead me back / To the long, winding road / You left me standing here / A long, long time ago / Don’t leave me waiting here / Lead me to your door.” This is an iconic ballad, but possibly Spector did get a bit carried away with the choral backing and orchestration. But who could blame him? And those of us who grew up with this song will always enjoy it in the original, no matter what old Paul might say.
And it took George Harrison to prick the sentimental bubble with a song which is sparseness personified. No one could accuse Spector of over-embellishing For You Blue, which is a lovely acoustic blues with slide guitar of the sort the Rolling Stones were taking to ever greater heights. Interestingly, it is not one of the live songs on the album, because it too starts with some chatter, and has a lazy, laid-back quality to it, as if it was recorded while Harrison and the others were all just sitting around jamming. The version of the lyrics I found says the song starts with the (no doubt spoken) words, “Queen says no to pot smoking FBI members”. Then follows this lovely bit of guitarwork, and
How many all-time classics are on this album – songs that have survived, as young as ever, for nearly 40 years, and will do so for 100 years? Well the album closes with one of the greatest Beatles tracks of all, Get Back. It would be the last song on their last album, and it was recorded live. Fittingly, it starts with a bit of natter, with Lennon again sounding like the alpha male, as it were. A voice says, “Rosetta…”, then Lennon, I’m sure it is, launches into “Sweet Loretta Fart thought she was a cleaner / but she was a frying pan, yeah ...” According to my web-found lyrics, other words uttered include “Rosetta...” and “The picker! The picker! Picture the fingers burning! / Oo-wee!” Then Lennon says: “OK? / 1,2, 1,2,3,4”, before the heavy, chunk-chunk chords set the wheel in motion. “Jojo was a man who thought he was a loner / But he knew it wouldn’t last / Jojo left his home in
Since this was their last song on their last album, I thought I’d delve into Wikipedia’s vast store of information and see what they had to say about it. As usual, plentch. It was, they say, “primarily” written by McCartney. Originally released as a single on April 11, 1969, it reached number one around the globe. It was the first Beatles song released in true stereo, but only in the
Of course, for all this talking of getting back, the Beatles never did get back together again, all four of them. But who can blame them? After a decade, during which they produced some of the world’s most memorable and influential music, they had done considerably more than they could ever have hoped for when they first set out. They remain the archetypal rock band, their achievements never to be emulated.