Archive for August, 2009

What Would You Think?

Posted in Sgt Peppers with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2009 by fred6368

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The release of Sgt Pepper’s was a huge cultural event; “The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815“. It created the album as a coherent artform, created modern rock and set a new benchmark. Unlike, say, The Velvet Underground and Nico, it was listened to endlessly and stayed in the album charts til well after The Beatles split up three years later. It’s release on June 1st 1967 had been set up by the wonderful Liverpool dyptych of Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, a mini Sgt. Pepper’s in a single.

It was very much a conceptual album in that it had the conceit of being a release by Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you can see them on the cover, and NOT by The Beatles; thus removing expectations of what the album should be. Even so they opened with a rock track, a rock overture, before opening with Ringo’s song, the first of many unusual moves. The film Yellow Submarine captured much of the faux-Edwardiana of the album. It should be noted that many of us were wearing faux-Edwardiana at the time so Pepper felt both surreal and contemporary. Continue reading

Where Do They All Come From?

Posted in revolver with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2009 by fred6368

REVOLVER

Revolver came out 6 days after England had won the Football World Cup at Wembley in 1966. A week later the Beatles rushed off for their last, fractious tour of the USA. As a famous post in the NME asked “Where is famous Beatles Band?” Caught between embracing the counter-culture and fulfilling old musical industries contracts the Beatles were curiously absent from their own high-water mark; and so were we. Ray Davies of the Kinks, who were amongst the new English bands challenging the Beatles that summer, the Stones, Who, Troggs and Yardbirds, slated the album. With his own bitter-sweet hit of the summer Sunny Afternoon, lazily capturing our triumphant summer mood he was in a position to talk. It was Number One when Revolver was released. The other big cultural aspect of the summer of 1966 was the sudden proliferation of  pirate radio across Europe which, as we all owned little transistor radios, was the musical distribution network of choice, and suddenly radio playlists were sprinkled with the little bits of vinyl magic from the album. This time we didn’t need a big cultural event from The Beatles to cheer us up as a nation, the Charlton brothers and the West Ham Academy had seen to that. Instead the Beatles seeped out through the ether, and their new collaborative democracy was signified by Ringo singing the single and George kicking off the album with the misunderstood Taxman, “the Taxman’s taken all I’ve got” indeed; it’s a shame about Ray… Continue reading

The Word is Love

Posted in rubber soul with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2009 by fred6368

RUBBER SOUL

Rubber Soul holds a special place in my Beatles iconography as it is the first album I bought at the time it came out. Actually I got lucky, we were in Germany and a lots of goods were tax free. That immediately cut the price by 25% but we were also allowed on to Allied bases and just 20 miles from Hamm was Soest and the legendary Canadian Army PX. Just like today, and all times in between, albums were cheaper in North America, so you could get an album then for around a £1, about 60% of what we would normally pay. However this also meant that you were at the vagaries of whatever was fashionable in Canada, which fortunately at that time, like the rest of the world, did include the Beatles.

I’ve commented previously on how every Beatles album had a track that sounded like an unreleased single. This time they were legion, indicating the quality of their writing, playing and collaborations in the studio.

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys commented to his wife at the time that every track was a classic and then went off and wrote Pet Sounds as a riposte, despite Mike Love’s effort to stop him. Our own teenage response to Rubber Soul was an endless debate about what the best track was. Michelle, Girl and Norwegian Wood gained early support back in 1965.

I was 15 when I first heard Rubber Soul, trapped in Boarding School, abandoned in my little German enclave, and without access to Top of The Pops just before Pirate Radio rescued us when it seemed to colonise all of Europe in 1966. For me personally it was 1962 all over again.

With Rubber Soul The Beatles moved from cultural heroes to counter-cultural heroes, almost, like Orson Welles, living their lives backwards. Only their lives were even more remarkable than the Citizen with the mark of Kane, and they didn’t lose any of their booming popularity, beep, beep yeah.

So, as was customary, they gave us a bright and cheerful opening track to hook us in; old pros and consummate entertainers. Drive My Car, driving song; metaphor or opening gambit? Or Both?

Awake now? Ready to take a journey? Continue reading

Unbutchered

Posted in Unbutchered with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2009 by fred6368

THE BEATLES UNBUTCHERED

The Beatle’s albums are often divided into early period Beatlemania and late period mature artists. Their run of classic albums is universally seen as beginning with Rubber Soul. Difficult for me to disagree with that as Rubber Soul was the first album that I bought and, from Sgt Pepper onwards, each new Beatles Album was BOTH a media event and a musical event, as well as being a coherent artwork. From the perspective of the twenty first century it seems obvious that an album is an album, but at the time Beatles albums were thrown together as they rushed around the world, burning up records. However my own interest in the Beatles is because they created new forms; they imagined new futures. Perhaps they didn’t realise they had invented the rock album until Brian Wilson released Pet Sounds; his response to Rubber Soul. Despite the coherence of Rubber Soul and Revolver my guess is that Sgt Pepper was the first album that they consciously planned as an art work. What we mostly got in the sixties was the “outlier genius” of the Beatles, accidentally creating new possibilities.

As we look back at Rock’s rich tapestry, the Beatles are seen as a corner stone; actually no, they are the foundations, they created its lineaments, one of which is the album as art form. For me their only pre-cursor in popular music is Frank Sinatra’s 1954 (!) “In The Wee Small Hours” a concept album shot through with coherent brilliance. I am going to leave aside that classic quartet of jazz albums recorded in 1959, as jazz’s relationship with the album is different, and argue that Beatles invented the album in it’s modern creative form. And, secondly I am going to argue that they achieved this with Hard Days Night. The reason we didn’t recognise this at the time is that Hard Days Night was (just!) a soundtrack, Beatles for Sale was weak and HELP! was also a soundtrack; leaving Rubber Soul to be revealed as their first stand alone album work of genius.

Now I disagree with George, and others, who see Rubber Soul and Revolver as a dyptich. For me the great divide in Beatles albums is between Rubber Soul and Revolver. Why? Because they went from being great songwriters playing their songs well to being the first great musicians of the recording studio, Pet Sounds notwithstanding. Rubber Soul is both the last album of the glorious Beatles Band and the last of the mid-period Beatles. For me the “mid-period Beatles” released three classic albums.

1) Hard Days Night, a stumble upon multi-media classic

2) Unbutchered; Digg It! The one they put together as their first bite of the Apple

3) Rubber Soul; the delicious flowering up of their genius

And the stone classic five-star album Unbutchered, as we all know, starts with Eight Days a Week. Here’s the cartoon version; Continue reading

Eight Arms To Hold You

Posted in help! with tags , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2009 by fred6368

HELP!

HELP! is a great mid-period Beatles album. The songs hold up well throughout and Anthology reports that they spent time at John’s house in Weybridge working on them together. This sounds like Rubber Soul; the Prequel, and the songs demonstrate a broader range of influences and styles. Lennon didn’t hide his personal problems on the album like he did seven months earlier on Beatles for Sale. This time his cry for HELP! was the single AND the title of the film. This is how the film presented Help! In his own write Lennon knocked off another single overnight. How many classics like this did he knock off when he wasn’t working?

Continue reading

Beatles in Black

Posted in beatles for sale with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2009 by fred6368

BEATLES FOR SALE

After the peak of Hard Days Night recording their fourth album in just 20 months almost cracked The Beatles productive creativity, so they filled Beatles for Sale with covers and some unremarkable performances and songs. Not even the 10,000 hours of hard graft in learning their craft could save them. Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that they had “outlier” genius looked like it was on hold. They may have had nothing to declare but their genius, but they were clearly knackered. Mind you it being 1964 and Beatles for Sale being a Christmas release it was still, the best selling album of 1964. However singles were outselling albums by 4 to 1 and I had finally saved up the money to buy I Feel Fine on the day it came out, December 5th. Broke after buying that a bike for Christmas seemed more exciting to me than the glumsome foursome displayed on the album sleeve. For a year we had thought John, Paul George and Ringo were glib cheeky chappies cheering up our black and white Britain, but now they had gone monochrome; Beatles in Black. The opening “Lennon trilogy” points the way to Rubber Soul and actually their outlier genius is readily apparent on some of the songs, such as the opener No Reply. Continue reading

Working Like A Dog

Posted in Hard Day's Night with tags , , , , , , , on August 4, 2009 by fred6368

HARD DAY’S NIGHT

Hard Days Night. Was it a single, an album or a film? Was it fab, a phenomenon, a virus or a multimedia experience? All of the above of course. After giving us the album as cultural artefact they now gave us being a Beatle as pop art. We wanted to be in their gang and this is what it is like. You can’t buy love but you could experience Beatlemania, be their mates for 89 minutes, then run from the cinema laughing out loud with the exhilaration of it all. We identified with them completely; and with their view of the world. If only we could be as cool in dealing with authority.

From the opening declamatory chord of the single, which I first heard on Juke Box Jury, this was the consummate Beatles experience for their fans. And in 1964 the film was second at the box office to Goldfinger, where James Bond makes a point of mocking them, so most of the UK must have seen it. Here’s the Beatlemania vision of the single.

Continue reading