Sunday, March 30, 2014

One Month of Beatles and How I Discovered the Greatest Band of All Time (50 Year Anniversary)

Sorry for the prolonged absence, but I was conducting a little experiment with myself. The experiment: listen to nothing but the Beatles for a month straight. To be quite honest, this was a bit of an unexpected journey because prior to February, I was not a fan of the Beatles. Yes, I know, blasphemy to music fans! Justin, how can you be a musician and not listen to the founding fathers of modern rock? It was simple, I listened to what was in my era...or that was my excuse at least. 

A child of the 90s, and a music fan of the early 2000s, I was pretty ignorant to classic rock, and hearing it would make me cringe a bit. For me, everything was dated, and I liked what I grew up on naturally. The Beatles were always obviously there, and I gave them the respect and reverence they deserved and even knew some of the greatest hits. However, with that being said, I had no interest in digging deeper, and boy was I wrong.

This idea sparked from the Beatles 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan show performance that kicked off Beatlemania. I watched the whole show with my father, and slowly got introduced to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Seeing their impact on music, and how one legendary talk show performance changed the world, I thought at 25 years of age that it was a good time to get acquainted. I made it a goal to listen to a few albums at work the next day.
Well, with so many classic albums to choose from (all of them), I decided to begin with one of the more popular ones, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. From there I bounced around. It took around two or three days to listen to every album, and I decided I would listen the rest of the week after posting my thoughts on Facebook. Many people suggested I listened to an album two or three times before I made a decision. One week of Beatles stretched into two weeks, then into three weeks, and finally I decided to go the whole month listening to nothing else unless it was required of me for work, or it was on where I was. I did not consciously put on anything myself, other than music I worked on with my band.

Curiosity turned into creativity, as my song writing began to transform in front of my band one practice. At a time when I am normally listening to the group play a song and thinking of lyrics, I began conducting the song in my head. I heard drums parts, breaks and stops, guitar chords, harmonies – it was pretty awesome. An impromptu jam, became a solo song. The juices were flowing, was it the Beatles? I don't know, but I felt especially inspired.

At this point of my month, I had listened to every record around eight times, and really grew to love the Beatles from 66-69, the experimental years. It was amazing to hear the birthing of the very music I listened to in their songs. The first metal, the first punk, the first progressive – it really was an amazing thing, and I made a connection to everything I listen to now. 

Even now, as I am back on "regular" music, it sounds so different to me. Some of it does not seem worthy, and some it really reminds me of the Beatles, which is a funny thought. I tend to find myself looking a little deeper into songs now to see what the song actually is sonically and technically, rather than the words and lyrics. Hip-hop has been weird so far because it is far removed from the Beatles, and it took me a while to build back in. Again, I am looking for content and context.

What the Beatles managed to do, was evolve with every album they put out. Sure, some albums were similar, mainly ones that were back to back, but they still had their own distinct quality and sound. I couldn't get enough of the music.

I scoured the Internet for every back track, demo, studio session, unreleased song; and I found them. I heard all the live tracks, all the special editions, and even their records as the Quarrymen. I became obsessed really. It seemed a bit crazy, but the music just hit me and affected me. Wikipedia was my best friend as I looked up every song meaning, album break down, and who did what track per track.

But enough about me, lets talk the music. 

My top Beatles albums changed many times during my journey, but I think I am able to round out my favorites based on the amount of times I have revisited them since February.

1. Rubber Soul
There is just something about this album that I can't stop listening to. As a whole, every track hits me perfectly. This album was the end of the friendly boyish stars, and the beginning of the trippy hippy music revolutionaries. Rubbersoul provided the perfect blend of both eras of the Beatles. From the iconic opening riff of "Drive My Car" to the controversial but so bad it's good closing of "Run For Your Life," this album is flawless. Other highlights for me include, "Michele," "I'm Looking Through You," and "Nowhere Man." I can basically pop on this album at any point of the day, and I'll randomly be singing one of these tracks, so fair warning.

2. The Magical Mystery Tour
Sgt. Pepper gets a ton of the shine as being arguably one of the best Beatles albums, but I believe their follow up is even better. Unfortunately some great singles that should be on Pepper, wound up on here, and because of that, Mystery Tour edges it out. The opening "Magical Mystery Tour" sets the tone for the entire album, "The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away..." "The Fool on the Hill" is an often forgotten classic. "Blue Jay Way" is my favorite Harrison song, and perhaps one of the trippiest and most fun musically. The non-sense of "I Am the Walrus" and the imagery of "Strawberry Fields" is fantastic as well.

3. Abby Road
This album was the end of the Beatles, and they sure went down in style. Despite many problems and internal conflicts within the band, the guys managed to churn out a timeless album that until this day serves as a wonderful farewell. The bass line of "Come Together" carries the album right in. "Something" is the next highlight track, and is one of the band's best ballads. "I Want You (She's so Heavy)" is perhaps the simplest song lyrically written by the band, but it happens to be my favorite song. This song really is "heavy," the bass line is incredible, and the force and passion behind the few lines is unmatched. "Here Comes the Sun" is a great cut, and of course "The End," the only track to feature a solo by Ringo, and a solo for everyone on the same track. Had Let it Be not been released, this was the goodbye they were looking for. 

4. Revolver
Revolver also frequently makes in into the top spot of greatest albums ever, but for me, it just did not resonate as much. As an album, it feels so complete through and through, but I think what it is lacking for me is the ability to captivate me in every song. With that being said, the production qualities and effects used on this album were ground breaking for the time. The maturity and overall creative approach to recording an album was unbelievable, and many techniques used here are amazing even now. Revolver like Rubbersoul opens up in grand fashion with "Taxman," which is followed by the huge "Eleanor Rigby." "I'm Only Sleeping" follows, which is in my top five Beatles songs. For me, Revolver has one of the best openings of any of their albums, but it loses me a bit in the middle. I'm not too found of the Indian influenced songs, but appreciate their sentiment. The second half of the album's "Good Day Sunshine" is my only other top song on here.

5. The Beatles "White Album"
The White album is essentially a collection of Beatles inspired solo work. As a whole, this album does not really have continuity, but when picked a apart and played with the notion that the entire band began falling apart, it picks up a whole other meaning. On this album you see John's experimentation, Paul's vocal and creative range as his voice goes through the motions of many different styles, and George's wonderful ability to craft timeless songs on his own. A bunch of the songs on this album display sounds that were previously unheard before, and they essentially invented genres on the spot within the walls of the studio. The Beatles really were master craftsmen at starting off an album, "Back in the U.S.S.R." is another example of this. The softer "Dear Prudence" is a nice cut, while the silly catchiness of "Bungalow Bill" seems to draw me in every time, even if it does feature a rickety verse by Yoko. Another classic by George is on here, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and Lennon's journey into drugs and progressive rock, "Happiness is a Warm Gun." The old timey feel of "Rocky Raccoon" is fun, and "Helter Skelter," is a nice surprise and a warm welcome to metal in its earliest form. 

6. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Having this album at the halfway point for some may be considered lunacy, but this is my opinion! As a whole, this album flows beautifully, but the best songs were taken off the album. For me, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields" are magnificently surrounded by "good" songs but not great. The best part of this album is the final song, and how it switches from John to Paul, and becomes a completely different song within one listen. "A Day in Life" is one of my favorite songs by the band, and honestly is just perfect.

7. Please Please Me
Please Please Me is a foray into perfect pop sensibilities, and the introduction to the Fab Four. The relative ease and smooth listening of these tracks makes them fun. I originally thought most Beatles music sounded like this...was I totally wrong. After so many listens, though not my favorite genre of Beatles, it is something I enjoy because of the catchiness. "Twist and Shout" is amazingly performed by John. The raw subtle screams and rasp of his voice is captivating. "It Won't be Long" and "She Loves You" can get caught on the brain for hours. Other tracks such as "Misery," "Love Me Do,"  and "Please Please Me" are just so genuine and convincingly awesome.

8. Let It Be
To me, Let It Be is a sad album because of the lost potential. Couple that with the movie, and it is essentially the end of the band. The Beatles were able to seek some sort of redemption with Abby Road, but the end was here. It is basically a rough demo cut of songs that could have also been on Abby Road. The release of Let It Be...Naked does a better job of capturing that raw sound they wanted to go back to. With that being said, the album features some great songs. Harrison's "I Me Mine" and "Don't Let Me Down" are a cut above the rest for me. "Dig a Pony" is great, and of course the mighty, "Let it Be."

9. Help
Help was the last of the classic sounding Beatles albums. It was a soundtrack for their second movie, and spawned one of their most well known songs of all time. While the album only has a a few songs I would consider some of my favorite's, the album works well together in its track-listing. Aside from "Help," "She's Got a Ticket to Ride" is a lot of fun, and of course the most covered song of all time, "Yesterday." McCartney kills it with "Yesterday" and it is no wonder the song has taken on a whole legacy of its own.

10. With the Beatles
The band's second album is a little tighter than their first musically, but not as memorable as their debut. With that being said, the reason why it is so low on my list is because everything else is so great. The standout's of this album are the contagious, "It Won't be Long" and  "Please Mister Postman," along with their more upbeat love ballad, "You Really Got a Hold on Me." I have grouped in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" because it was the single that was floating around at the time of the album, and of course, everyone knows this track.

11. Beatles for Sale
Beatles For Sale is kind of a thrown together album for the group. In the midst of the band's constant touring they essentially had to put together an album because of their demand. The album features mostly covers, and the title plays on them being a hot ticket item. The best cuts from this album include "No Reply," "I'm a Loser," and the infectious "Eight Days a Week." This record squished between to movie soundtracks still holds up well on its own 

12. A Hard Day's Night
Despite having one of the group's most beloved songs, and being the soundtrack for their first movie, A Hard Day's Night is a little boring for me, and when I went track by track of every album, had the least amount of songs I truly loved on it. Of course the title track is the best song! "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You" is another solid number by the group, and remise of the old school Beatles.

13. Yellow Submarine
Although some do not view this as a full album, it is often included in box sets as an official one, so for arguments sake, it is here. Yellow Submarine is a scrapped together incomplete album. While being a good and cool album, it does not hold to the Beatles standard of good. "Hey Bulldog" is really the only take away here, while most of the other tracks appeared else well. The second half of the album is movie scoring by their producer George Martin, and although very cool, it is not the Beatles.

Of course this is all subjective as nearly everyone's list is completely different, and to be honest there is no right or wrong answer because no matter what order of albums you pick, it is still all fine. In the grand scheme of things it is incredible to think Beatlemania lasted less than a decade. Every album put out in a seven to eight year span is a certified classic, along with it being an almost genre bending work. The creativity that existed all while touring over 200 days a year and being given a handful of days to go record is incredible. 

The later years of the Beatles were filled with experimentation and landmarks in song writing and recording. It was also filled with tons of drugs, solo workings, and no touring. People say Yoko broke up the Beatles but as someone who has been in a band nearly seven years, I think it was the lack of shows. There is a certain closeness and camaraderie built when performing with band mates and being together all the time. It becomes like a family atmosphere, even if tension rises, it is settled. In the case of the Beatles, they all did their own thing, and then got together after long periods of time to sit down and try to write in the studio. At first this worked, as everyone harbored their creativeness. We saw this in Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Magical Mystery Tour. However, the time away became evident on The White album when everyone returned to the table with vastly different songs; basically a batch of solo workings. Nearly half of the songs on the album were not even played with the full band. 

Let it Be was the head of the worst time, which is evident in the movie. There is no unity, and no general sense of urgency or interest in playing together. Ringo wanted to do movies and have more creative input, George did not want to be the third wheel anymore, John wanted to make avant garde music with Yoko and made her a constant presence in the studio, and Paul wanted to seize control of the band. Many blame John's insistence of Yoko and waning substance abuse along with Paul's overbearing take over of the band as the two heads clashing to end the band. However, again it goes back to the group. Had they been a cohesive unit that played shows and stuck together, each one would not have stepped out into their own attitudes and ideologies. Every action stemmed from one another. Paul took over because John did not care. George worked better with John and not Paul, and Ringo got pushed further to the back because of the feuding egos.

Abby Road saw the band pull it together for one more shot, and from the sounds and the feelings of the album it was easy to understand it would be their final curtain call. From the bass line of "Come Together" to the fleeting one time solos of the band in "The End," this was how it was to be. Had John lived longer, this still probably would have been the last record put out by the four piece. There was no other way for them leave. The real last great tragedy of the band is the amount of quality that came from the studio only years. None of these songs were ever played live outside of solo performances by the members and that rooftop performance. With improving technology and bigger stage productions, a show could have been epic, but for now we are only left to wonder what could have been.

So now, 50 years since Beatlemania, and over 50 years since the band started, the Beatles are still arguably the best band of all time. People can say Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Queen, whatever, the Beatles did it first, and they did it best. It is amazing to hear music today and see what grew out of those pop melodies and catchy "she loves me, yeah yeah yeah." None of the band members on their own truly stand out as the best at what they do of all time, but together, they created an unmatched team of timeless bottled up creativity, and music that is just as good now as it was in the 60s. There will never ever be another Beatles, there will only be bands that aspire to one day capture a glimpse of a moment in time where everything would just "Come Together."

My Ultimate Beatles Playlist:

DISC1 1962-65

Please Please Me
She Loves You
I Saw Her Standing There
Twist and Shout*
It Won't be Long
Love Me Do

With the Beatles
It Won't Be Long
Please Mister Postman
You Really Got a Hold on Me
I Want to Hold Your Hand

A Hard Day's Night
A Hard Day's Night
I'm Happy Just to Dance with You

Beatles For Sale
No Reply
I'm a Loser
Eight Days a Week

She's Got a Ticket to Ride

Rubber Soul
Drive My Car*
Nowhere Man
I'm Looking Through You
Run For Your Life*

DISC2 1966-70

Eleanor Rigby
I'm Only Sleeping*
Good Day Sunshine

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
A Little Help From My Friends
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds*
A Day in the Life*

The Magical Mystery Tour
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool on a Hill
Blue Jay Way*
I Am the Walrus*
Strawberry Fields

Yellow Submarine
Hey Bulldog

White Album
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness is a Warm Gun*
Rocky Raccoon
Helter Skelter*

Let it Be
Dig a Pony
I Me Mine*
Let it Be
Don't Let Me Down*

Abbey Road
Come Together*
I Want You (She's So Heavy)*
Here Comes the Sun
The End

*Top 15

1 comment:

  1. Check these out then Justin! Public radio specials on The Beatles' stuff.


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