The Beatles

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The Beatles

Post by flinx1241 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:37 pm

As some of you may have noticed, when I get interested in something, I can get a bit wordy... Well, here's a topic that has not only kept my attention for over 20 years (Good lord, that long?), but has recently been rekindled. So, without further ado, here's the first in a series of overly long posts about... wait for it... The Beatles!

The Beatles. Rock and roll progenitors? World’s best pop band? Overrated hacks? With near universal plaudits always comes a handful of reactionary detractors. Still, most would agree that their place in musical history is long written in stone, and their continued allure, forty years after their last new recording, is testament to their staying power.

Myself, I became a fan in high school. It was a genuine epiphany moment. Sitting at home, listening to the top 40 countdown (which included Tiffany, Belinda Carlisle and Richard Marx – to set a time period), they took a break heading into the top 10 in order to play an “oldie but goodie” – Let it Be. Needless to say, this classic stood out amongst the backdrop of forgettable pop that had been dominating the evening’s lineup. The next day at school, as others discussed the latest flavors, I was already delving into the one tape that I had found in my father’s vast music collection to contain tunes from the Fab Four (Being a fan of American folk music, he had never forgiven The Beatles for taking over the music scene from his beloved Kingston Trio, and he owned just a single album of theirs – an Apple release of Hey Jude – and one mixed tape that he had put together from a friend’s albums).

This tape was another eye-opener: Come Together, Hey Jude, Can’t Buy Me Love, Revolution, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, and many more. Every song a classic. I soon bought both the “Red” and “Blue” compilations on tape, and eagerly awaited the upcoming release of their catalogue to CD (yeah, this was before they were even available on disc). I spent quite a few of my mowing dollars picking up Sargeant Pepper’s, The Beatles (White Album), Rubber Soul, and a few more as they were released. Each one brought new joys and a further expansion of my appreciation (a sore point with my contemporary friends, who were either into pop or hair bands, both of which I enjoyed as well, but neither as much as my newfound, burgeoning Beatles fetish.)

So, what’s brought on this wave of nostalgia? Well, Beatles Rock Band, for starters. A video game available on all of the major consoles (Playstation, Nintendo, X-box), this is one of those games where you have a fake guitar, drums, microphone, etc, and “play” along with some rock songs. Kind of a glorified karaoke, and had never really appealed to me before. But a Beatles version? With 43 of their songs, and accompanying “videos”? Garnering across-the-board great reviews? My resistance was futile, and I had purchased a whole setup within days of its release.

Far too many hours later (and after a few “jam sessions” with friends that were a lot of fun), I’m still enjoying the game. More to the point, it got me all fired up about some of my longtime favorite tunes, and I soon found myself purchasing The Beatles newly remastered CDs as well (this was a big deal for this band in particular, as their previous CD releases were definitely sub-par. Basically just thrown onto disc with no effort put into cleaning them up at all).

And listening to the new CDs, I thought I would drop a few lines (now turning into much more, as is often the case with me) about my new purchases, and my thoughts on The Beatles oeuvre in general. So, without further ado, a series of reviews / thoughts about this amazing band and their body of available work (as with their releases in the CD era, I’ll stick to the UK release titles as well as make mention of their most popular compilations and “leftover” projects)…

INDEX of subsequent posts (as suggested by Luvbeers):
Post A - Summary
Post B - Breakthrough Phase Reviews - Please Please Me / With the Beatles
Post C - Top of the Pops Phase Reviews - Hard Day's Night / Beatles for Sale / Help! / Rubber Soul
Post D - Psychedelic Phase Reviews - Revolver / Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band / Magical Mystery Tour
Post E - Dissonant Genius Phase Reviews - The Beatles (White Album) / Yellow Submarine Soundtrack / Let it Be / Abbey Road
Post F - Compilations Reviews - Past Masters / Anthology / 1 / Red and Blue Albums / Love

More to follow...?
Last edited by flinx1241 on Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Post A - Summary

Post by flinx1241 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:39 pm

Post A - Summary

To start with, let me say that most people tend to divide the Beatles’ work into two periods, early and late, with the dividing line coming somewhere around the release of Revolver or Sgt Pepper’s, and a decided preference for one era or the other. Myself, I’ve always thought of their works in even more divided periods – four to be exact.

The first, which I’d refer to as their “Breakthrough” stage, consists of Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and a slew of singles/EPs. This would be my personal least favorite of their periods, though there’s still a lot of great music in there. The second phase of their career, I like to think of as “Top of the Pops”, where they refined and perfected their early sound, and tentatively moved beyond it, allowing for more personal lyrics and new instruments, etc. This is my second favorite period of Beatles music, and it encompasses everything from A Hard Day’s Night through Rubber Soul.

The third period, often preferred by music critics, covers Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, and I think of it as their “Psychedelic” phase. It would be third on my list of preferences. My favorite period is in the years before their breakup, as the group slowly splintered, and their musical tastes and individual personalities further asserted themselves, making for oft-disjointed, brilliant collaborations. The Beatles (White Album), Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let it Be all fall into this final phase (as well as a few more outstanding singles not found on any LPs – “Hey Jude”, anyone?)…
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Post B - Breakthrough Phase Reviews

Post by flinx1241 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:40 pm

Post B - Breakthrough Phase Reviews

So, that out of the way, lets examine the music itself, starting with the first full length LP – Please Please Me...

Early, early Beatles. A couple of great original tunes on here, including Please Please Me and Love Me Do, as well as a bevy of solid cover songs such as I Saw Her Standing There and Twist and Shout. If they had included the breakout singles I Want to Hold Your Hand and/or She Loves You, this one would have been much stronger. As it is, it’s an amazing debut, especially given the times. And it was a harbinger of things to come, showcasing an energetic, upbeat team of tight, well-trained young musicians, each with a distinctive personality. Joelstars 8/10.

With the Beatles: Their second release, coming quickly on the heels of their first, was another mixed bag. Again, some of their best stuff was reserved for singles, but the album is full of solid, fun tunes such as It Won't Be Long, All My Loving, Don't Bother Me and I Wanna Be Your Man. Their playing, given a little more time in the studio, is tighter, but the material is weaker than their debut. Overall a solid sophomore outing, but one of their weaker albums. Joelstars 7/10.
Last edited by flinx1241 on Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Post C - Top of the Pops Phase Reviews

Post by flinx1241 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:42 pm

Post C - Top of the Pops Phase Reviews

The second phase of The Beatles’ career… “Top of the Pops”, so to speak… hit the ground running with the theatrical release of their feature film debut, A Hard Day’s Night. The album soundtrack that went along with the movie consisted of a handful of new, full-on Beatles songs and a few filler, instrumental tracks. The filler drags the overall experience down, but the album’s highlights are a cut above anything they’d done before. The title song, A Hard Day’s Night, kicks off the album with a distinctive power chord and never looks back, only outdone by the equally solid rocker Can’t Buy Me Love. Other highlights include I Should Have Known Better and And I Love Her. Another step up, both musically and lyrically, held back by the additional instrumental music utilized to complete the album. Joelstars 7.5/10.

Next up, 1964’s Beatles for Sale, perhaps their least known album (though the cover has become an iconic pose recreated time and again for group memorabilia). This is the first dark turn to The Beatles’ work. From the opening No Reply on through I’m a Loser, the songs here reflect the Fab Four’s growing disenchantment with their legions of rabid fans and the grind of constant touring. The LP’s biggest hit was Eight Days a Week, but I actually dig on the entire thing. It’s unlike any of their other output, and I understand why it’s among their least loved, but there’s a lot of great, undiscovered tunes on the album, and it deserves another look. Joelstars 8/10.

Help! One of my favorite Beatles album. The movie was a step down from the frenetic fun of their debut, but the soundtrack’s an improvement. The title song is one of Lennon’s signature rockers, and things stay on a high note. Ticket to Ride, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Yesterday… all reflect the group’s growing stature as lyricists and musicians while retaining their pop sensibilities. Even the album’s filler songs are solid: Act Naturally, It’s Only Love, You’re Going to Lose That Girl – any one of them could have been a hit had the band promoted them as singles. A great, enjoyable album from start to finish. Joelstars 9/10.

Rubber Soul is the pinnacle of early Beatles. It’s fourteen catchy melodies that run the gamut from quirky (Girl) to confessional (Norwegian Wood), each with a hint of folk-rock that shows just how inspired the boys were by one Mr. Dylan at this time. I love this one, start to finish. Every song is an instant “sing-a-long”, with their trademark tight harmonies on display. Still mostly a Lennon/McCartney affair, but there are a couple of Harrison songs included (If I Needed Someone, Think for Yourself). Other highlights – Drive My Car, Michelle, You Won’t See Me and the beautifully self-reflective love song In My Life. Joelstars 10/10.
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Post D - Psychedelic Phase Reviews

Post by flinx1241 » Wed Sep 30, 2009 7:26 pm

Post D - Psychedelic Phase Reviews

Phase three of The Beatles’ shooting star career arc is their “Psychedelic” phase, encompassing Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. Critics tend to grant these iconic status, beyond the group’s earlier works or that which came after. Some great stuff here, but I differ a bit in where it falls in their overall canon, placing the era a shade behind the “Top of the Pops” that preceded it and even further behind their final set of albums. That said, great and important things were happening with these discs.
Starting with Revolver, The Beatles went a whole new direction, both with their sound and their production. Recording limitations were suddenly a hurdle to be overcome. Layered tracks with a multitude of instruments came into full play, as did the term “concept album” and all of the positive and negative connotations that accompany the notion of an album as art.

Revolver was the first shot. George kicks off the album with the rocker Taxman, showing a maturity that wasn’t evident a few years prior (he had a total of three credits on the album, including Love You To and I Want to Tell You). It’s the stark loneliness of Eleanor Rigby that follows it, though, which signals the shift. To audiences used to a diet of 80% love ballads, this sad tale must have been quite an impressive oddity, and it still packs an emotional punch today. The rest of the album is similarly impressive, even if it’s not full of my personal favorites.
I do particularly like And Your Bird Can Sing, an overlooked little gem of a tune. And, of course, there are several other standouts/hits on the album, including Yellow Submarine and Good Day Sunshine. The collection gets unconditional praise for its musical maturity, and it’s a great album, but not up there with their absolute best, IMO. Joelstars 8.5/10.

Of course, everyone is familiar with their next album. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is still the gold standard when it comes to pop/rock albums. Topping many critics’ lists as the best album ever, Sgt. Pepper’s is a trippy romp through the drug-enhanced minds of our four favorite liverpudlians. Starting with the title track, which morphs into Ringo’s biggest hour (I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends), the album unleashes one pop gem after another, with subjects ranging from a fun look at aging (When I’m 64) to… well, just about everything crammed into a single song (A Day in the Life – my favorite song of the bunch).
Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny the ongoing influence and staying power of this classic album. For me, it’s nearly perfect, yet again isn’t my favorite Beatles album (though if they’d have included Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane… Hmm…) Joelstars 10/10.

Speaking of Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane – two “A” sides on one single if ever there was such a thing – a funny thing happened on the way from LP to CD; the formerly short, quirky UK EP soundtrack Magical Mystery Tour, with its five solid psychedelic songs, was expanded and enhanced by the addition of five singles songs, including the two aforementioned. What we’re left with is a collection of great tunes, minus the cohesion of your typical late-era Beatles album.
Besides the title track, the original EP featured the oft-quoted, over-analyzed I Am the Walrus and the hit The Fool on the Hill in addition to a few lesser-known gems. The addition of the singles (also Hello Goodbye, Baby You’re a Rich Man and All You Need is Love) adds a considerable amount of sing-along power, but again keeps this feeling more like a collection and less like an album. Joelstars 8.5/10.
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The Beatles

Post by Luvbeers » Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:00 pm

I need an index of toc please.

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Re: The Beatles

Post by flinx1241 » Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:55 pm

Luvbeers wrote:I need an index of toc please.
Good suggestion. Gave it a shot - Index now found in the original post...
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Re: The Beatles

Post by flinx1241 » Thu Oct 01, 2009 10:48 pm

Post E - Dissonant Genius Phase

And now, finally, we come to that final era of The Beatles. That magical, fragile time when it seemed that they might implode at any moment, yet the possibility remained that they might go on tour again. Had a hard time deciding on a cutesy name for this one. I considered “The Long and Winding Meltdown,” and a few others, but decided finally on their “Dissonant Genius” phase. Yeah, the Yellow Submarine soundtrack is mixed in here, but it’s really The Beatles (White Album), Abbey Road and Let it Be (rearrange the order of the final two as you see fit – I generally think of them in the order they were recorded in rather than release dates, but to each his own).

Up first, The Beatles. A double album with no title other than the name of the group. A bright sheen of white, perfectly mocked by Spinal Tap’s black album (“How much more black could it be, really?”). The White Album (as it came to be known) was nothing like those that had come before. Disparate influences on each member of the group, tensions between the factions and pressure to produce led to this somewhat fractured masterpiece. I’m not about to list all of the songs therein, but certainly will mention a number of favorites.
Kicking off with the rock beat of Back in the USSR, a clever send-up of Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, the first “album side” also contains the beautiful, understated Dear Prudence, as well as the much maligned sing-along Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, the gorgeously evocative While My Guitar Gently Weeps and the tongue-in-cheek Happiness is a Warm Gun.
Side two has a personal favorite, I’m So Tired, the vocal stylings of Blackbird, the “dangerous” Piggies (one of many, many controversial songs discussed ad nauseum upon the album’s release), and the episodic, off-kilter masterpiece Rocky Racoon (yeah, who doesn’t love that song, eh?)…
The second album is even more controversial (and rocks even harder). Birthday, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, Helter Skelter – all took the Beatles early guitar driven sounds to screeching new places (imagine if they’d have used the single version of Revolution instead of the more laid back Revolution #1, with it’s oft-considered “count me out… in” lyric). Of course, none of those tracks was as contentious as the Yoko Ono influenced Revolution 9 (a narrow winner over The Police’s Mother in my own personal list of crap songs on otherwise outstanding albums).
None, that is, until a certain psychotic cult-leader named Charlie Manson listed the entire album and the song Helter Skelter in particular as inspiration behind his group’s murder spree. But that wasn’t the fault of the music, which remains vital even today. The band’s disjointed frustration during the recording sessions might have been hell to live through, but it made for one hell of a record when it was all done. Joelstars 10/10 (yeah, I’m able to overlook that one obnoxious track).
Not going to devote a lot of time to their next release: the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. It was a hodgepodge of previously released material (Yellow Submarine, All You Need is Love), a couple of noteworthy originals (Hey Bulldog, Harrison’s Only a Northern Song) and a bundle of filler instrumental tracks by longtime producer George Martin. Not a bad album, but of their catalog, this is the one that I’d deem non-essential (though the movie is great hippie-trippy fun!)… Joelstars 6/10.

Saving the best for last, and indulging in a bit of revisionist history, I’m going to talk about Let it Be next. There’s precedent for this, of course, as it was the next Beatles album recorded. The idea was a noble one. Strip away all of the pretentious noodlings of the recent records and just do a back-to-basics album. Something guitar-centric, with great rock tunes and a couple of ballads. Unfortunately, when they all convened to work on what was tentatively titled the Get Back album, there were movie cameras to deal with, an idea of Paul’s that didn’t go over well with the others, and Yoko Ono’s to deal with, an idea of John’s that didn’t go over well with the others.
George fought with Paul on-camera. George fought with John off-camera. George quit the band, then rejoined after a brief discussion of whether they might be better served replacing him with Eric Clapton (whose uncredited solo on The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps was a highlight of the album both musically and as a model of best behavior band unity). Then they all played a celebrated, short concert on a rooftop, scrapped the entire project and went their separate ways. The album itself only came about later, as several versions were assembled and rejected before “Wall of Sound” wizard Phil Spector was brought in to make something out of it, and it became the final Beatles album released, in 1970.
The music: Let it Be is a tough go in many ways. It doesn’t have the beautiful flow of an Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper’s. It’s closest cousin is definitely the white album. But there are some great songs here. Hard rockin’ Get Back, lovely Let it Be, fun Lennon-McCartney numbers I’ve Got a Feelin’ and Two of Us alongside another mystical-influenced Harrison take in I Me Mine. More than any of their albums, Let it Be takes some work to get in to, but once there, it was worth the effort. Joelstars 8/10.

The final piece of The Beatles puzzle. Abbey Road. The album with the iconic photo. Is Paul dead? Why isn’t he wearing any damn shoes??? Good stuff. This is not only my favorite Beatles album, but my favorite album of all time. Bar none. Why, though? What makes it so special? A combination of things. It’s not a full-on concept album, but the second half (side two for you LP enthusiasts) is, apart from the colossal Here Comes the Sun and Because, one long medley of seemingly disparate, amazing little song snippets. It has to be listened to in one go to receive any portion of its real value.
Taken on their own, Mean Mr. Mustard or The Sun King has little to offer beyond hummability and novelty value. But in the medley, they make for great filler and mood changes between You Never Give Me Your Money and She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. And the Carry That Weight/The End combo to close out the album… a fitting way to end The Beatles catalogue (if you can ignore the 27 seconds of Her Majesty and mentally rearrange the LP release dates).
And, of course, that’s only half the fun. The first part of the album has some of the strongest songwriting from all of the Fab Four’s oeuvre. Starting out with Lennon’s growling Come Together (my favorite of his nonsense lyric songs – and if you think of this one as an Aerosmith or Oasis song, then shame on you!), there’s a run of great songs that’s not matched in their entire catalog (IMO, of course). George’s Something is undeniably moving (and another shout out to his Here Comes the Sun, possibly my all-time fave Beatle tune), the quirky ode to murder Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is an unavoidably catchy sing-along, Oh! Darling is fine (though my least favorite number of the bunch), Ringo’s Octopus’s Garden is maybe his career vocal highlight (and it’s Lukas’ favorite Beatles song, so that’s saying something) and I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is another personal fave, with that never-ending outtro that I find so groovy and endearing.
Just not a miss among the bunch. A killer set of tunes that, taken together, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Joelstars 10/10 (and fully prepared to go to a Spinal Tap-esque 11!).
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Re: Post D - Psychedelic Phase Reviews

Post by Olegis » Mon Mar 22, 2010 9:00 pm

flinx1241 wrote:Post D - Psychedelic Phase Reviews ...
Besides the title track, the original EP featured the oft-quoted, over-analyzed I Am the Walrus and the hit The Fool on the Hill in addition to a few lesser-known gems. The addition of the singles (also Hello Goodbye, Baby You’re a Rich Man and All You Need is Love) adds a considerable amount of sing-along power, but again keeps this feeling more like a collection and less like an album. Joelstars 8.5/10.
When listening to "Baby You’re a Rich Man" I can't get rid of the feeling that it is NOT Beatles. I do not recognise the style, I do not recognise voices. May be it is only ME.
This song sounds more like McCartney from Wings to me, although as I understand this was one of the few genuine Lennon-McCartney songs.
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