11 November 2013
I’m a first generation fan – my first album was Help ! on reel-to-reel tape because we didn’t have a record player in 1965.
Having hit my 60s I became aware of an element of staleness and negativity in my attitude towards all things Fab, and I wondered just how much of this was being officially old.
So I revisited the albums, track by track, in chronological order. I emphasise that what follows is entirely personal – the point of view of someone who has listened to the canon perhaps a little too often (if that is possible), trying to reconnect with what meant so very much to me in my teens. Comments – agreement, disagreement, observation – are of course all welcome, and I hope that what follows – and the exercise itself – is of some interest.
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11 November 2013
I Saw Her Standing There – this is one hell of a start to an album (and, for that matter, a recording career). The fact that they have played it about a million times by the time they get into the studio shows through. Seminal, in very possible way.
Misery – a decent song, but somewhat hamstrung by the limitations of instrumentation and recording technology inherent in making your first album in 1962/3, not to mention John’s cold. I would have loved them to have revisited this in later years.
Anna (Go To Him) – a boring dirge, made worse by John’s cold.
Chains – one of the better covers on PPM , but that’s not saying much.
Boys – nope. Sorry. Doesn’t work in any way whatsoever.
Ask Me Why – a very good song, delivered well, albeit it might have benefitted from a little more work on the arrangement, and the vocal reverb does it no favours. The lightness of touch means that it doesn’t sound as dated as much of the rest of the album.
Please Please Me – First rate in composition, arrangement and delivery. Gentlemen, you’ve made your first number 1. Bloody right.
Love Me Do – It has its moments (it was the first Beatles song I ever heard, and it definitely attracted my attention), but it’s not actually that good. “Gauche” might be a good word for it.
PS I Love You – I always felt that this is a solid companion piece to Ask Me Why – accomplished early songs which maybe deserved better than what they were able to be given at the time.
Baby It’s You – this one isn’t a boring dirge, it’s a turgid drone. See Anna, the same comments apply.
Do You Want To Know A Secret – a very good song, not done justice by George or his colleagues.
A Taste Of Honey – one of the better covers, destroyed by too much echo on the vocals, and an over-dramatic lead vocal.
There’s A Place – Superb. Everything works.
Twist And Shout – at last John’s cold pays its dues.
Revisiting this album (which I never really knew as an album, I was already familiar with everything on it by the time I finally got the LP) makes me realise several things:
1. Recording 10 tracks in a day was an amazing feat, but it shows. The spontaneity and energy is great, but the thing is massively underproduced.
2. The McCartney-Lennon originals are phenomenally good for a first album at a time when people didn’t write their own stuff: Love Me Do , their first single, is probably the weakest!
3. The covers, with the exception of Twist And Shout , are no better than adequate, and usually worse, with several bordering on horrid.
This album, revisited, impresses more than entertains.
11 November 2013
It Won’t Be Long – another superb opening track: great song, great arrangement, great group performance.
All I’ve Got To Do – following which, this rather limp offering kills the momentum stone dead. While the percussion/syncopation in the verse is fine, the melody never quite gets itself away from meandering around accomplishing not very much. The bridge is nice and dramatic, though.
All My Loving – and then we’re back in business, with one of their best early songs, one of the singles which never was.
Don’t Bother Me – following which George puts a downer on it! Not a bad effort though, from someone whose songwriting never came as naturally as John and Paul.
Little Child – John’s skiffle-tinged rocker is good fun if inconsequential, and these days carries worrying whiffs of paedophilia.
Till There Was You – from the same shelf in the shop as A Taste Of Honey , but benefits from a tighter arrangement, a gorgeously tasteful guitar solo, and an un-echoed vocal. Probably the second best cover so far, after Twist And Shout .
Please Mister Postman – Until this one. The Beatles make Motown their own. Delivered with passion and a sense of fun.
Roll Over Beethoven – George makes a decent stab at a Berry cover. Not bad.
Hold Me Tight – Oh dear. This is Paul’s version of All I’ve Got To Do – a song which wanders around in search of some direction, and fails to find it.
You Really Got A Hold On Me – some people like this. I’m a bit meh. It’s OK. Completely average.
I Wanna Be Your Man – a bit better than Boys , but not classic Lennon-McCartney by any means. Or even classic Ringo.
Devil In Her Heart – a cover that is no better than adequate. Sorry, George.
Not A Second Time – another meandering effort. What is it on this album? Why can’t they focus their originals?
Money (That’s What I Want) – and another blistering cover.
WTB was always my least favourite of the original albums – it sounded dated almost as soon as it came out, and didn’t have the advantage of spontaneity, dynamism, or rosy-cheeked optimism which PPM did.
And, on reviewing it, it is clear that (unlike PPM ) the covers here are better than the original songs. There are a couple of classics – It Won’t Be Long and All My Loving – but the rest of the originals are the most woeful bunch they ever cranked out. They were giving away better songs than the ones included here. Bloody good covers though.
With PPM I could get a whiff of what hooked me. WTB doesn’t help, though.
11 November 2013
A Hard Day’s Night
A Hard Day’s Night – Wow! What a song! They boys almost always kicked off albums with a killer track, and AHDN was no exception, doing the same job with the film as it did with the album – an electrifying start. Considering that this was essentially written to order, it is a stunningly good song, with a great group performance.
I Should Have Known Better – followed up with a joyous singalong. This was the first occasion on which John matched a downbeat lyric with an upbeat melody which is so infectious that you more or less ignore the mood of the lyrics.
If I Fell – and John’s third entry is his best ever ballad. A poignant and vulnerable lyric has a matching musical accompaniment in which John and Paul sing a two-part which is not so much melody and harmony as two countermelodies.
I’m Happy Just To Dance With You – George’s vocal is an under-rated song, very much in the same vein as I Should Have Known Better musically, albeit with an upbeat lyric.
And I Love Her – and Paul delivers one of the great ballads, too – good lyric, super melody, terrific guitar solo.
Tell Me Why – a third upbeat singalong-type song, with a great close harmony vocal running throughout the verse section. The trip into falsetto in the bridge lets it down slightly, the only misstep on this side of the album..
Can’t Buy Me Love – an established hit before the album came out, time shows it to have rather cliched lyrics, but they were still fairly fresh in 1964. And the Anthology version shows how well The Beatles shifted from drafts to final versions with arrangements which were exactly right.
Any Time At All – side 2 kicks off with the weakest track on the album so far – bags of potential, but not worked at long enough. Again, the falsetto doesn’t quite work out, and the instrumental bridge is a bit feeble.
I’ll Cry Instead – Noticeably better than the previous track, but still not quite Beatles at full strength. And another downbeat lyric. One starts to see a pattern emerging.
Things We Said Today – A B side which was worthy of being an A side – strong lyrics, strong musically, good arrangement and performance. Fine work from Paul.
When I Get Home – another fairly feeble track, the “Whoawoah – aaah!” being one of the weakest vocal elements on any Beatles song.
You Can’t Do That – following which John produces another killer. Stunningly good in every respect, and a great group performance.
I’ll Be Back – and the album draws to a close with a song which is both wistful and strong, with great harmonies and impressive shifts between major/minor. And the fade out, for me, lives in my auditory memory and kind of extends the album.
A Hard Day’s Night is not a perfect album: it is a track short, for starters – Ringo deserved his one song per album. Plus there are 3 filler tracks on side 2 – nothing much wrong with them but, by Beatles standards, they fall somewhat short of expectations (my expectations, at any rate).
But, wow, an album of originals with John’s fingerprints all over it and, mostly, of stunningly good quality. This album, as opposed to its two predecessors, sounds as fresh as it did the day it came out. Considering the amount of work they were doing in 1963/64, the fact that they were able to produce a long-playing record of this quality, so far ahead of PPM and WTB in terms of quantity and quality of original material, production, sound and performance, is nothing short of staggering. This is a quantum leap over what came before – not the last such leap, for sure, but definitely ahead of what previous releases would have led us to expect.
I cannot praise AHDN enough. It is a major step towards my reconnecting with the catalogue.
3 August 2012
I agree with you about There’s a Place – it’s a forgotten masterpiece! The Beatles could make great material which can’t be deemed as filler although that’s what it was made for. I think the With the Beatles version of There’s a Place is Not A Second Time but it is not as good as the former. I enjoy it a lot but as John had only just introduced it to the others and it was done in a big rush, they could have made it much better but unfortunately, they didn’t have the time.
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Times I find it hard to say / With useless words getting in my way
11 November 2013
No Reply – a low key kicker-offer, but a great, great song. They worked on it, as Anthology shows, and it was worth it: this one is polished until it gleams.
I’m A Loser – John in downbeat lyrics/cheery melody mode. Great bassline from Paul, terrific c+w guitar solo, and superb vocals. Another great track.
Baby’s In Black – the third track from John (and the second successive jolly tune/depressing lyrics in a row), it’s not quite up to the previous two, but perhaps only because the lyrics are so black, juxtaposed with the jaunty melody, that the whole thing is quite obviously a joke (or, if not, it is in the very worst of bad taste!).
Rock And Roll Music – their best cover for some while, there is commitment and passion here.
I’ll Follow The Sun – an oldie pulled out of the exercise book, stripped down from its skiffle origins and retooled as a wistful and philosophical acoustic piece, what was originally a rather hokey bit of knockabout washboard trivia becomes a beautifully played and sung song which mixes sadness and hope to good ends.
Mr Moonlight – I don’t mind Mr Moonlight at all, even with the cheesy organ, and greatly prefer it to most of the covers on PPM . Great vocal from John.
Kansas City /Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! – routine cover. Nothing much going on here. Move along.
Eight Days A Week – only ever an album track in the UK, another great piece – they worked on the arrangement and it shows. One of their great singalong pieces.
Words Of Love – a decent reworking of a Buddy Holly song – nice harmonies, atmospheric production (the increase in production value is much more noticeable on this album).
Honey Don’t – Not a favourite Carl Perkins song to start off with, and Ringo doesn’t do it any huge favours. It holds his place on the album, though only marginally.
Every Little Thing – a decent enough potboiler. The tympani crashes add something.
I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party – another potboiler. Lyrically interesting, and the verse/bridge variation works nicely. Good harmonies.
What You’re Doing – They worked enough on this one to have gone to a remake, but they still didn’t get it to work properly. I prefer the rawness of take 11. There was a great song struggling to get out here, and it remained only good.
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby – horrible. Sorry George.
BFS was the second Beatles album I had – again, on reel to reel tape, before we got a record player. There was quite a lot I wasn’t familiar with as many of the tracks didn’t get much airplay.
BFS comes in for criticism as being a “tired” album (not suprising given their work rate during this period), and I understand the criticism (borne out by the inclusion of another half dozen covers). But that unfairly denigrates the album as a whole. The three filler tracks on side 2 are an improvement on the three filler tracks on side 2 of AHDN , and John’s songs on side 1 are as striking as those on AHDN . But it is the covers which really let this album down. With the exception of Rock And Roll Music and Words Of Love (and, arguably, Kansas City , though I don’t agree), they are an unappealing bunch.
So, in terms of reconnection, we have 2 negatives, one positive and a neutral so far (I thought you would like a little bit of electrical whimsy there – it will mean nothing to our Yank friends as they don’t have neutral, you can electrocute yourself easy as anything over there what with two-pin sockets everywhere and no earth).
1 November 2013
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11 November 2013
Help ! – another killer track to kick off the album. They really did find these great songs to start things off with a bang. Help ! Is another nearly perfect song: the combination of lyric, melody, arrangement and performance is stunning.
The Night Before – a potboiler, but rather a good one. Lots of nice little touches in a solid group performance.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – John produces a melancholy acoustic piece with lovely guitar work and – often forgotten due to its being overshadowed by Yesterday ’s string quartet – the first use by the Beatles of orchestral instrumentation, the flute passage closing out the song. Very highly thought of by many, I would rank it bottom of Division 1/top of Division 2: very good, but not classic.
I Need You – after the qualified success of Don’t Bother Me, George pulls a winner out of the hat. Everything works here – the lyric and melody dovetail perfectly, and the arrangement is terrific. The volume pedal gets all the glory but, personally, I love the swelling background vocals. And more cowbell!
Another Girl – Like The Night Before , this is a superior potboiler, with Paul’s first(?) recorded lead guitar piece. Again, excellent backing vocals (what a surprise).
You’re Going To Lose That Girl – one of the most under-rated songs in the entire Beatles catalogue, perhaps because John didn’t rate it that highly. But it is simply terrific – an imaginative chord sequence and structure, an engaging melody, good words, excellent vocals (both lead and supporting), this is one of my favourite Beatles tracks.
Ticket To Ride – a stunning piece of pop in its day, TTR has lost some of its allure for me over the years: I now find it rather turgid and overlong. But it is distinguished by many original elements – the droning opening chord held for so very long, the unusual drum pattern, the pronounced variation from verse to bridge, and the overall feel of the piece – and it thoroughly deserved its success at the time.
Act Naturally – this track holds a unique place in the Beatles catalogue, being the only cover version which was not a part of their live act (as far as is known) before they recorded it. Ringo does a good job on it – the sentiment suits his toneless vocal, but it is George’s licks and Paul’s harmony which really score.
It’s Only Love – somewhat under-rated (again, perhaps because of John’s self-denigrating put down of it), this is a rather lovely minor love song, with a vocal of gentle emotion which belies John’s comments.
You Like Me Too Much – George gets two songs on an album for the first time! This is a rather jolly effort with a strong electric piano holding it together, and one of the earliest Liverpudlian flourishes in the vocal.
Tell Me What You See – a potboiler, quite good but not 100% successful. Some nice vocal work on a melody which isn’t quite sure what it wants to do.
I’ve Just Seen A Face – a very well realised acoustic foot-tapper. Somewhat inconsequential, but everything works and works well. And Paul’s Liverpudlianism joins George’s.
Yesterday – there is a reason why Yesterday is the most covered song of all time – it is very very good. The melody from nowhere is joined (after months) by a well thought out lyric of some depth (putting the lie to the notion that McCartney can’t do good words), and an exquisitely poignant string arrangement produces what is probably the Beatles’ first piece of Class.
Dizzy Miss Lizzy – horrid tinny lead guitar spoils any chance this cover had of being listenable.
Help ! was the first Beatles album I owned, and I have it in my head as a unity rather than a collection of tracks. I love it all, apart from Dizzy Miss Lizzy which I think is awful. Even the potboilers are among my favourites of their ilk.
While it isn’t as significant (I don’t like that word) as AHDN , and it is noticeably a re-tread of that album, it remains a very solid album in its own right, and one of my favourites.
3 August 2012
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Times I find it hard to say / With useless words getting in my way
11 November 2013
Drive My Car – again, the album has a great opener. Overfamiliarity via Paul’s live performances have taken the edge off it somewhat, but it is still a great song musically, with a powerhouse group performance. Only the lyrics are, with hindsight, a bit weak – like many jokes, it doesn’t stand up to repetition.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) – and the sitar makes its first entrance in John’s veiled confession song (and another joke is in here too, albeit so obfuscated that you don’t know until you have it pointed out to you). With 3 distinctly different versions in existence, all 3 are good.
You Won’t See Me – an unusually personal song from Paul, this is almost very good. It fails – just – on the grounds that, having made its point, it stays around a little too long. Good bass line, one of the first songs where Paul’s bass starts to stand out.
Nowhere Man – a gem. A lyric of depth, a great performance, and a terrific 3 part harmony (and kudos to George for handling that thankless melody-free middle part).
Think For Yourself – the fuzz bass is lovely, but the song is no better than OK. It is one of George’s earliest examples of lecturing his audience. Good backing vocals.
The Word – A Potboiler. It has its moments – the staccato shuffle rhythm has a hypnotic insistence and some of the vocal work is effective, but as a whole it doesn’t quite come off. And the lyric is not one of John’s best.
Michelle – the schoolboy French adds a naive charm to this terrific song – gorgeous acoustic guitar and bass.
What Goes On – Ringo’s track on Rubber Soul comes in for criticism, but it’s OK. No better than OK, admittedly, but not awful.
Girl – another great piece from John – an interesting lyric, original arrangement, and fascinatingly different vocals.
I’m Looking Through You – and Paul chips in with another very personal song, dressed up in cheery singalong fashion. It’s a fun listen, albeit its inspiration may not have been fun for its writer.
In My Life – John turns out a fourth classic. The early lyrics show the benefits that came when they devoted some effort to crafting their work. I love this song, although I sometimes find myself wondering what it might have sounded like if delivered with a little more delicacy and less robustness.
Wait – even though it was a leftover from the Help ! sessions, I love this one, too. I think it has a very good lyric, and fabulous vocals. It is also great fun to play.
If I Needed Someone – George’s second song on Rubber Soul , and his first song to be covered, I think (The Hollies had a hit with it). It’s not bad, but I think it needed more work on the arrangement. The guitar pattern on the offbeats is a good idea but (for me) doesn’t work when maintained throughout the song, and I find George’s earliest use of deliberately clumsy timing/structure, well, clumsy.
Run For Your Life – singalongawifebashing! John’s piece of Elvis-flavoured oop North misogyny is huge fun. Ignore the words, listen to the music – this rattles along wonderfully.
Rubber Soul was an album I lusted after, and didn’t actually own until a number of years after it was released. This was the first album where the sleeve made me go “Wow!” – notwithstanding the arty-farty b/w of WTB, the excellent design of AHDN and the great photo on BFS, this one was the first sleeve which shoted “We’re different!” (as if we needed telling).
The weak spots on this album are few and far between, and they’re not that weak – when I listen to this album, I don’t skip any tracks.
So, 6 albums down, and two negatives, one neutral, three positives. It’s going well…
11 November 2013
Taxman – George gets his first lead-off track, and it’s a cracker. The lyrics still entertain despite the 1966 references, and the arrangement and playing is first-rate. George’s singing is pretty good, too, a lot punchier than previous efforts.
Eleanor Rigby – and along comes Paul with more strings in another classic, a story song which is both sensitive and poignant. Excellent lyric, string arrangement, and singing (especially harmonies).
I’m Only Sleeping – and then John comes up with a classic in this soporific dreamy piece, with George’s clever smeared backards guitar and Paul’s bass line which acquires a life of its own (and is great fun to play).
Love You To – an Indian flavoured piece from George: not a favourite at the time, it has grown on me a great deal since.
Here, There And Everywhere – a gorgeous and sophisticated ballad, a great group performance, glorious backing vocals. A classic.
Yellow Submarine – who else could do this and get away with it? A perfect children’s song, and Ringo gives it the perfect vocal.
She Said She Said – a great song to finish side one – lyrics full of (at the time) mystery, howling guitars, stellar drumming, and the best ever transitions between 4:4 and 3:4.
Good Day Sunshine – its lyrics may seem somewhat simplistic in hindsight, but it was a summery song in 1966, with a jaunty arrangement, some tricky syncopation, and that great vocal fadeout.
And Your Bird Can Sing – simply wonderful. What on earth does it mean? I don’t care, it sounds great. Jangling guitars, super creamy vocals, lovely touches in the arrangement.
For No One – you can feel the loneliness and isolation in this, almost a companion piece to Eleanor Rigby . Another personal lyric, this marches along with great precision. A heartbreaking song.
Doctor Robert – one of the lesser songs on Revolver , the arrangement here is terrific. Some great guitar work from George, chuntering and growling along in the verses, and the contrast of the “Well well well” sections in the bridge is very effective.
I Want To Tell You – George’s 3rd song – they let George have 3 songs! Unfortunately, it’s not a patch on the previous two, what with its deliberate shift into melodic awkwardness and chordal dissonance. George was trying out ideas which he would return to with greater success.
Got To Get You Into My Life – another Paul classic, driven by a great brass arrangement. There are other joys in this track, though many of them are buried in the mix. Oddly, the bit I don’t like is the delivery of the title line, Paul’s horrible strangulated vocal, never a favourite vocal technique of his as far as I’m concerned.
Tomorrow Never Knows – and, for me, the album goes out on a disappointing note with a track which I have come to appreciate, but have never liked. John strays away from the mainstream for the first time in a track which is commonly regarded as a classic. I am a dissenting voice in lonely solitude.
This was my first vinyl LP and I loved it. I loved the cover illustration which said, quite clearly, “The last sleeve was not a one-off oddity – We Are Different.” There is virtually no filler here – only 3 or 4 tracks can be counted as average-ish – all the others are solid classic material. I played this until it died, partly because I didn’t have very much else to play, but mainly because it is simply that good. A superb record.
We’re up to four positives.
11 November 2013
Sgt Pepper ’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt Pepper ‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band – they had sound effects during Yellow Submarine , but the orchestra tune-up was the first time they had used an effect to set up expectations, viz. the start of a show. And it worked very well at doing that. And, again, a hell of a song to kick off the album – those vicious guitars, great harmonies, the complete move away from rock band to brass with the horns, the audience reaction effects, and the song setting up the start of a show. Brilliant.
With A Little Help From My Friends – and then segueing into Ringo’s song, and it’s another classic. Ringo’s voice doesn’t even harm it, it actually enhances it. The song is excellent and the performance (group and lead vocalist) is great.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – and then in steams some full-blown psychedelia. On an album where John is fairly lightly represented, Lucy displays a pretty big footprint. Everything works – the far-out lyrics, the spaced-out arrangement, the vocals and harmonies. This is Tomorrow Never Knows without the Ugly.
Getting Better – Another one where everything works – the chopping crotchet guitar from the intro onwards, the bass which wanders about all over the place, the lyric (and counter lyric), the Indian drone – great song, great arrangement.
Fixing A Hole – a far less immediate song than anything so far, but caressed by classy guitar work from George. Another great song which needed a little time for its joys to be brought home.
She’s Leaving Home – Eleanor Rigby mk 2 – I like the song, I don’t particularly care for the arrangement which I find rather more glutinous than what George Martin would have come up with. Still pretty good though.
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite ! – and more Lennon psychedlia, with another sound picture constructed to match the subject matter of the lyric. And a killer end to side 1.
Within You Without You – It took me years to come round to this, but once I got my head round it everything changed, and I have come to regard it as a classic – lyrically more profound than anything else on a Beatles album, and blessed with a wonderful combination of Indian and western instrumentation, this is a brilliant musical collaboration between the two Georges.
When I’m Sixty-Four – and a witty and thoughtful bit of sequencing sees it followed by this jaunty bit of whimsy – fruitiness, perhaps. You may not like Paul’s Granny music, but this is clever example of it: catchy melody, amusing lyrics, simple but effective arrangement
Lovely Rita . If this album has any potboilers, Rita comes closest. It is more whimsy and, arguably, the album might have benefitted by having something different inserted between two pieces of Paul whimsy. That said, it is quite different to 64. There are some nice elements in the arrangement (backing vocals, piano break) but, overall, it’s a bit forgettable.
Good Morning Good Morning – GMGM would also be a potboiler if not for a) great vocals, b) great drumming, c) great guitar solo and d) the wonderful playing around with time signatures. I LOVE trying to conduct this, it’s all over the place!
Sgt Pepper ‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) – the repeat was a brilliant idea, Neil Aspinall, with a completely different feel to the opening track, and clever connections to the tracks which bracket it.
A Day In The Life – followed by the best closing track on any album ever. I first heard this on my transistor radio one early summer afternoon, down on Shanklin sea front, about a week before the album came out, and I had to sit down on the sea wall, I was so stunned. They never did anything which surpassed this track.
My memory of my first encounter with this LP are recounted elsewhere – it is an amazingly strong memory.
Time has treated Pepper unkindly. After PPM and WTB, Pepper is the most dated sounding of their albums, because everything on it places it so squarely in 1967. For me, it was always a holistic listening experience – I can’t imagine any of its songs existing anywhere except in the company of the other songs on the album and, for that reason, Pepper as a whole has a listening flavour which says “Psychedelia” more strongly than any one of the songs on it. This is a weakness, and not a fair one, because Pepper blazed trails, all of which have now become clichés.
I forgive it. I love it for what it is, and for what it was, and because it is very very good, and because it is probably the most important pop/rock album of all time, because it showed the world what was possible: ephemeral, trivial, superficial pop didn’t have to be like that – it could be ART.
So add another positive!
11 November 2013
Magical Mystery Tour – the title track is brassy, bouncy melodic fun, with good vocals and, ultimately, it is completely inconsequential. Not unenjoyable, but fundamentally trivial and superficial. Does music have to be more? I don’t know, but given that this was the first album track after the game-changing A Day In The Life ….
The Fool On The Hill – thankfully, it is followed by one of Paul’s best Beatles songs: a sweet, wistful melody, and lyrics of both poetry and depth.
Flying – the only instrumental released during the group’s active lifetime (actually, calling it an instrumental ignores Ringo’s very strong vocal offering), and the only composition credited to all 4 of them, this is terrific – very atmospheric, it has a unique presence.
Blue Jay Way – although it has grown on me, I still find it difficult to like this. It succeeds at what George was trying to achieve, but it is not a wonderful listening experience.
Your Mother Should Know – more Paul Granny music. While it is moderately effective, it doesn’t have the charm of When I’m 64 and comes across as a rather clinical exercise in fruity tweeness. In fairness, it remains the only song to provide the accompaniment to The beatles doing a soft shoe shuffle…
I Am The Walrus – What on earth was going on in John Lennon ’s head? This profoundly strange and hugely effective song arrived as the B side of Hello Goodbye a week or so before the Magical Mystery Tour collection appeared. It has entertained, puzzled, and disturbed ever since. George Martin’s arrangement is great, but it is not until it is stripped away in the Anthology version that you can appreciate the passion in John’s vocal, one of his best ever.
Hello, Goodbye – jaunty melodic word games, the ideal Christmas single. It is easy to dismiss it as being empty, but there is quite a lot more to it than that – it is a cleverly assembled pop single, and needs no apology. This is the first Beatles song I ever heard in stereo – “Wow, there are cellos in it!”
Strawberry Fields Forever – I disliked this intensely when it first came out, I now love it passionately. On this occasion, John’s move towards avoiding the mainstream works perfectly, aided by the other 3 and George Martin’s work: it was very unfair of John to disparage this recording.
Penny Lane – Penny Lane appears simple but is anything but. Its musical regularity hides some awkward chord progressions and unlikely modulations, the clock-like crotchet progression in the verses syncopates to a relaxed swing in the chorus, the arrangement is witty and effective. No wonder PL/SFF is often regarded as the best 45 ever (a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree).
Baby You’re A Rich Man – a vastly underrated B side. Never mind the serpentine clavioline, I love the bass sha-dubba-dubba-dubb at the start, and George’s growling guitar which underpins the whole thing.
All You Need Is Love – corny, but completely effective, John playing more quirky time signature games, George’s lead flub preserved for all time, and endless arguments over who is singing “Yeah yeah yeah” at the end. What larks!
OK, I have to say that, for me, MMT is not a real album. What I played, over and over, is the mono double EP. Once I became aware of it, I understood that the US LP was actually a sensible way of packaging the material, and I bought it as an import (the vinyl was so thin, you could pretty much wobbleboard with it).
The 6 MMT tracks have 2 winners, 3 average and a dud. The other side has 5 stellar recordings. So I have to add this album to the list of positives. The lads are scoring strongly!
11 November 2013
Back In The USSR – The Beach Boys /Chuck Berry pastiche was a great way to kick off the album. Over the years, this track has lost its allure for me somewhat, however, as I come to realise that it is not something I seek out, but rather I just passively experience it.
Dear Prudence – this odd and rather hypnotic track is brilliant, stellar guitar, rather good drums, excellent backing vocals.
Glass Onion – a lot of effort went into this, to relatively little effect. John puts in a good vocal on a track which simply doesn’t work.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – this cheery bit of quasi-reggae, on the other hand, works well, despite Paul putting everybody’s back up by working it so excessively. The song is amusing nonsense, but the arrangement is great.
Wild Honey Pie – drivel.
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill – another John song which doesn’t really work. One appreciates how it came to be written, but as a singalong it’s a bit dreary, the structure is all to cock, the stop/start business is awkward rather than effective, and the messy way it slithers to a conclusions is, well, messy.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – George’s first offering is commonly recognised as one of his classics. But I’ve gone off it over the years, especially after the far superior Anthology demo and the Love version with strings. The one thing the guitar is not doing on the White Album version is gently weeping, it is stridently wailing. For me, this song works far better as a gentle lament rather than a bombastic howl.
Happiness Is A Warm Gun – and here, John gets everything right. This profoundly peculiar piece, assembled from ill-fitting components nailed together in a frame of bizarre time signatures before concluding with an outrageous cod doo-wop sequence which manages to be both straight-faced and tongue-in-cheek at the same time, is perfect. One of my very favourite Beatles songs.
Martha My Dear – jaunty and melodic and, for McCartney, very irregular. In fact, for me, its deliberate irregularity works against it: I would have found it more successful if it hadn’t been quite so metrically awkward.
I’m So Tired – Atmosphere and lyrics match perfectly in a sparse, funny song from John, beautifully played and sung by everyone.
Blackbird – a song of apparent simplicity (but not really), great beauty, and lyrical subtlety. One of Paul’s Great pieces.
Piggies – George picks up the humour baton (there is a LOT of humour on this album, albeit some of it quite savage). Very funny, very mordant, great vocals, and Chris Thomas’ harpsichord makes it. Let’s not forget those cellos which see the thing out, either.
Rocky Raccoon – oh ha ha. Paul is a bit too self-aware to pull off the humour necessary for this to succeed. I do like the rinky dink piano in the bridge, though.
Don’t Pass Me By – the only song in the Beatles catalogue played on a brass bedstead. Or it sounds like it, at any rate. Kudos to Richy for actually getting a composition on record, even if he had to wait 5 years for it. Shame it wasn’t a better one.
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? – drivel.
I Will – sublime. One of Paul’s most underrated songs. Beautiful melody and lyrics, beautifully sung and played.
Julia – One of John’s most personal songs, this has an ethereal dream-like atmosphere to it. Sung and played well, I just wish it had been wholly about Julia , but hey ho. A gentle conclusion to disc 1.
Birthday – a barnstorming upbeat rocker – little substance but bags of vitality and a great group performance. Such good fun to play along with, too.
Yer Blues – an unattractive generic blues just to show we can do it.
Mother Nature’s Son – an interesting track. I don’t think a great deal of the lyrical content, but I quite like the melody, and there is some nice stuff in the arrangement. I like the way it wavers between jauntiness and wistfulness.
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey – there are some elements of the arrangement which I like in this otherwise annoying song. I don’t like being hectored, and that’s what this song does (the first of rather too many finger-wagging songs from John). Also it’s an aural mess.
Sexy Sadie – well done! After the clever opening, where conflicting rhythms suddenly all come together, this goes off in its own direction. The arrangement is undisciplined, but it somehow still works.
Helter Skelter – a loud boring mess which outstays its welcome. McCartney exercises his unpleasant shrieking voice. Just plain nasty.
Long, Long, Long – an exquisite song from George. A personal and spiritual lyric gets an arrangement where every instrument is given its own spine-tingling moment to shine. There is no other Beatles song with such dramatic dynamic contrast in it. Simply wonderful.
Revolution 1 – I love this every bit as much as the harsh electric version. Terrific.
Honey Pie – Paul Granny music, but cleverly (and accurately) pastiched. Others don’t like it, but I do.
Savoy Truffle – great stuff from George – more of that dark, laconic humour, and a terrific arrangement. I’m not a big fan of saxes, but I love them here, that distorted farty sound is just great. And this, too, is huge fun to play along with. Love the cut off ending (did it give John ideas for I Want You, I wonder?).
Cry Baby Cry – another of John’s songs which seems to live on the edge of dreaming. There is a dusty evening feel to this song which poaches images from nursery rhymes before meandering off into the borders of the following track.
Revolution 9 – what to say? I actually quite like the start of this track – the “number 9”, the bit of piano, and the early effects. If it had been segued into something else at about 30 seconds…. but, no, the Lennons give us 6 minutes of increasingly tiresome, what’s the word now? oh yes, drivel.
Good Night – I didn’t recognise Ringo’s voice when I first heard this: it took me some considerable while to finally comprehend that this was Mr Starkey warbling. Commonly regarded as saccharine dross, I really like this and always have.
The White Album was such a cool thing to have when it first came out. It was the soundtrack of many a teenage Christmas party in 1968 (by which I mean the sort of party when the parents were out for the evening, you got drunk by 7.30, spent the next 2 hours snogging in a darkened room with the White Album playing, and the tried to sober up before catching the last bus home), and my first copy got ruined on one such occasion. My second copy had one of the discs melted when someone put it on a radiator – it was a cold winter, and the heating was on high – I moved to stereo on my third copy. My fourth copy is the original CDs. I’m stopping there, thanks, the absence of further accidents permitting.
This album was good listening value – there was an awful lot of stuff to listen to (not only 2 LPs, but they were both 5 minutes longer than usual). There are undoubted low points – the throwaways should have been thrown away, and both Paul and John come out with some major missteps (George doesn’t, and his fifth White Album song was pretty good, too).
But the good stuff here is really good and far outweighs the poor stuff. Another strong positive score.
11 November 2013
Yellow Submarine – see Revolver
Only A Northern Song – more deliberate dissonance from George. I get the point he is trying to make, but it doesn’t make the listening experience any happier.
All Together Now – as a piece of singalong fluff this is adequate, but it has no substance whatsoever. No reason why it should have, of course.
Hey Bulldog – and there, in among the loose shavings and offcuts, is a diamond. All the more surprising for having been made up on the spot, more or less, everything comes together here. The lyrics are utter rubbish yet, somehow, they work. The insistent piano, and it being doubled with guitar and tripled with bass on the riff, works perfectly. The bass is great, the lead guitar is better, and the vocals, both lead and harmony, are peerless. Simply wonderful. And it was a throwaway!
It’s All Too Much – there is a decent song struggling to get out here, but it has so much extraneous sound shovelled in on top of it that it doesn’t have a chance. If they were going to go with that much overkill, they might as well have given us the full version.
All You Need Is Love – see MMT
Sea Of Time
Sea Of Holes
Sea Of Monsters
March Of The Meanies
Pepperland Laid Waste
Yellow Submarine In Pepperland
You hadn’t even had time to draw breath after the White Album before this arrived. I liked George Martin’s orchestral stuff and played it a lot, whereas the first side was a lot to wade through just to get to Bulldog. The (eventual) songtrack was one of the two right ways to deal with this, the other would have been an EP with George’s two songs on one side, and the two better songs on the other.
On balance, this is no more a Beatles album than the Long Tall Sally EP so, for the purposes of scoring, I’m going to ignore it (other than to tuck away an emergency bonus point for Hey Bulldog in case I need it elsewhere).
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11 November 2013
Come Together – I always regard this as John’s Beatles swansong – the strongest single song to come from him in the last batch of group recording sessions. I didn’t realise it at the time, I just took it as a wonderful opening track. It had a feeling unlike any other song they had ever recorded, opening with that strange echoing amalgam of drums, Shh sound, and echo. The strange and uneasy lyrics, the swooping bass and idiosyncratic drum pattern, the electric piano burbling in the background, the stone-hard vocal harmony – so much to love in this track.
Something – and George pulls a classic out of the hat. A lovely song, beautifully delivered (and with THAT guitar solo), with Paul’s contributions so important – that melodic bass which complements rather than detracts, and the high harmony vocal. Just gorgeous.
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – I love it and, if you don’t, that’s fair enough. It’s daft, melodic, and has some lovely touches in the arrangement.
Oh! Darling – a bit too generic to be wholly successful. Outstays its welcome a bit.
Octopus’s Garden – unfairly maligned as a retread of Yellow Submarine , the only thing it has in common is the underwater theme. I love this. OK, it’s trivial nonsense, but it is melodically strong, well sung by Ringo, and beautifully played and sung by the others. I love the modulation in and out of the bridge, and George’s terrific solo, as well as his work generally on this.
I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – I’ll say this for John, he took no prisoners. He was going to make his point no matter what. I love the instrumental section in the main body of the song, but I don’t care much for the vocal sections (never did) and the best thing about the extended end section is when it stops (both literally and figuratively).
Here Comes The Sun – and George delivers another unqualified triumph. The song is a beauty but, again, there is a lot added to it by the arrangement, particularly synth, backing vocals, and lovely crisp drumming. And I love the way the instrumentation changes place in the stereo mix with every pass through the “Sun sun sun” section, especially effective on headphones – it’s like having a rainbow of sound dancing in your head.
Because – I have mixed feelings about Because . On the one hand, it is a lovely listening experience. On the other hand, the words annoy me a bit because they’re not as clever as they think they are.
You Never Give Me Your Money – a great song. Here is the medley notion encapsulated in a single song. The wistful opening section, the Lady Madonna voice, the terrific things going on in the Magic feeling section, the exhileration of the One Sweet Dream bit, and the chanting fadeout. I loved it from the start, still do.
Sun King – of no lyrical significance whatsoever, this is a lovely piece of work, with melodies and harmonies layered around each other. Gorgeous. I wish they’d done more like this.
Mean Mr Mustard – and off we go into the medley. Daft words (but an evocative word picture nonetheless), terrific group work behind them.
Polythene Pam – morer daftness but, again, you can see Pam. And read about her in the UK’s trashiest Sunday newspaper, in full scouse. And a good instrumental section leading to –
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window – more inconsequential words which serve as a framework for terrific vocal and instrumental work. These 3 segments have words of utter bleh, but they are good fun and musically fantastic.
Golden Slumbers – McCartney nicks some old words (without a sleeve credit to poor old Thomas Dekker, although he was hardly likely to sue) and puts them to a rather sombre tune, which allows him to let rip on the Golden Slumbers line – much better and more worthwhile than on Oh! Darling , by the way.
Carry That Weight – a terrific group effort which acquires greater significance in hindsight – what did it mean? We may not have known at the time, but now we do. I loved – and love – the You Never Give Me Your Money reprise, and also the way Ringo’s voice stands out.
The End – and how on earth can you build something as wonderful as this from a scrappy collection of bits and pieces. Just the best possible note for them to end their recording career on.
Her Majesty – except for a little humorous coda with which to puncture any pomposity which might remain.
I was a conscientious schoolboy, but the day Abbey Road was released I skived off early with Gwilym Mason and Tim Slade, and we went to Gwilym’s house and listened to it for the first time (I think I had heard side 2, from Money onwards, previewed on a TV programme at Bob Hutchinson’s house the previous Friday evening).
Abbey Road – the last album The Beatles recorded – is filled with originality (the sound of the opening track, the use of synth, the creeping noise of the Heavy ending, the creative amalgamation of fragments both into medleys and within songs, a 50-minute album etc,). They were still blazing new ground, even right at the end. Plus there is a LOT of instrumental work outside of simply backing the vocals on this album – good solos on Come Together , Something , Octopus and Pam, and significant instrumental sections in Heavy, Sun, Money, Sun King , and the final medley, and it shows just how good they were as instrumentalists: maybe not flashy, but always RIGHT.
And this is a good hearted album – you can hear them working together.
I simply loved this when it came out, and I love it just as much now. The only difference is that now it breaks my heart, too.
11 November 2013
Two Of Us – a superb song, supposedly about Paul and Linda, but works equally well as a song about Paul and John. And they harmonise together as if they mean it.
Dig A Pony – drivel, saved from oblivion by great group playing.
Across The Universe – a lovely song, over-Spectorised.
I Me Mine – a good George song. The Naked version shows that it didn’t need the orchestra.
Dig It – a throwaway, by far the best bit of an overlong indulgence.
Let It Be – a very good song, somewhat sabotaged by John’s indifference/dislike, over-Spectorised, and suffering from over-exposure in Paul’s live years.
Maggie Mae – a throwaway, but I would have liked them to have done this sort of thing with a bit more commitment (and completeness) than this.
I’ve Got A Feeling – I don’t care for this. I find it turgid and long-winded, and I don’t think the two bits go together particularly well. The only element I have any time for is John’s harmony on Paul’s verse.
One After 909 – I love it! This kicks the crap out of the Anthology version. I just wish the album had used the mix which had the vocals split on opposite channels.
The Long And Winding Road – a lovely ballad ruined by overproduction – the sparse version included on Let It Be (Naked) is miles better. And, yes, I did think this at the time.
For You Blue – a cheerful piece of acoustic 12-bar from George which will now, forever, summon up to me the exchange between Paul and Ringo at the Concert For George.
Get Back – I really don’t understand why this was a hit or why Paul keeps returning to it so often. It is a) completely empty, b) melodically unexceptional, c) musically unchallenging. John’s lead licks are nice.
This LP has (for me) 4 very good songs on it, only two of which (Two Of Us and One After 909 ) are made the most of. The rest of it is indifferent. I was disappointed at the time, and I remain disappointed. In terms of reconnection, this one is effectively break-even.
11 November 2013
Love Me Do – see PPM
From Me To You – not wonderful. Pleasant enough, but a mere placeholder. Better things were to come.
Thank You Girl – amiable but forgettable. They came up with better B sides.
She Loves You – a stunning single. This cemented their position in the forefront of pop stardom in the UK. It sounds a little dated these days in terms of instrumentation and production, maybe, but it is still a brilliant song with killer hooks and a great performance.
I’ll Get You – see Thank You Girl
I Want To Hold Your Hand – similar comments to those for She Loves You , but in an American accent. As if we needed reminding after She Loves You .
This Boy – and a stunningly good B side, highlighting their vocal versatility.
Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand – for completists, part 1.
Sie Liebt Dich – for completists, part 2.
Long Tall Sally – one of the great covers, albeit never really to my taste. Paul stays clear of his strangulated vocal. Just.
I Call Your Name – a good song (good but not great) with some pleasing touches in the arrangement and a strong vocal.
Slow Down – another good cover with a good vocal.
Matchbox – OK, I appreciate you had to fling Ringo a bone every now and then, but this would have been a lot better with a vocal from any of the others.
I Feel Fine – another brilliant A side. Watch Ringo’s drumming when they do it on Ed Sullivan – this is rock’n’roll?
She’s A Woman – a good B side – better than the early filler B sides, not as good as This Boy or others to come.
Bad Boy – another very good cover. In the UK, you had to buy an LP of stuff you already had in order to get this track. This was their (or EMI’s) first piece of cynical profiteering marketing, which taints this track somewhat for me.
Yes It Is – Some regard it as a retread of This Boy : I think it is gorgeous, aurally and lyrically. The wistful melody suits the lyric so well.
I’m Down – classic, I suppose, but my interest doesn’t really lie at this end of the spectrum.
Tidying up loose ends begins.
There is nothing on this album which is bad, and a lot which is powerful, significant, and hugely enjoyable. And half a dozen which are completely (for The Beatles) average. But the album is, of course, essential and, paradoxically, due to it being a collection of disparate odds and ends, one of a pair of orphan twins, forever looking in from outside. An opportunity was lost when the Past Masters tracks weren’t integrated into the mainstream albums as bonus tracks.
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11 November 2013
Day Tripper – John’s powerful rocker, with one of the most memorable riffs ever, and (like Ticket To Ride ) sustained use of a single chord at the start of the song. The bridge is not so much a solo as a section of escalating chaos, presaging A Day In The Life .
We Can Work It Out – an excellent example of the partnership at work, the upbeat verse contrasting with the more cynical, weary bridges (which also bear John’s stamp in terms of contrasting time signature and horizontal melody). And you don’t encounter double A sides that often, but this one was worth giving both sides equal weight.
Paperback Writer – a Paul story song, and rather inconsequential, this song has dazzling playing and production, to the extent that playing it live (in 1966) really wasn’t a good idea. This song marks the point where the sophistication of studio work meant that live performance had to be knocked on the head.
Rain – and the B side was even stronger. An absolute powerhouse of sound and production, with McCartney and Starr working at levels never previously contemplated for a pop group (and don’t let’s forget George’s continuously jangling guitar either). This and Yes It Is were two of the last songs I managed to add to my collection of stuff from the main catalogue. Wonderful stuff.
Lady Madonna – a straightforward piano boogie – is this the first appearance of Paul’s Fats Domino voice? Terrific arrangement.
The Inner Light – skipped over at the time, this is one of George’s most under-rated and gorgeous Indian-flavoured pieces. Lovely.
Hey Jude – let’s try to put this in context. In the summer of 1968 there had been a lot of press about Apple (heralded by mentions on MMT), and this was the first record we saw with that beautiful label and sleeve. It was also a great song – McCartney’s gift for melody harnessed with one of his better lyrics – coupled with THAT fade. I played it over and over and over, as did everyone else. A majestic piece of work in 1968, over-exposure in McCartney’s live sets has dimmed its glory. Yet how can he not play it?
Revolution – I often say that I tend towards the quieter, less rock and roll end of the Beatles spectrum – I’ll make an exception for Revolution ! I love the sounds that they got into this track. Having said that, I WANT THE VOCAL OVERDUB FROM THE PROMO!
Get Back – See LIB .
Don’t Let Me Down – Marvellous song from John and, having listened to many of the routining passes at it on the Nagra tapes, thanks heavens they worked at it and polished it. The guitar and bass doubled counter-melody in the bridge is much better support for the vocal than some of the other stuff they tried.
The Ballad Of John And Yoko – I have mixed feelings here. On the one hand, there were elements of John’s collaborations with Yoko creeping in, and not just with the title and lyric – the use of “Christ!” had a strong whiff about it of a deliberate desire to outrage, and so it did. I’d already decided, on the basis of Rev 9, bags and John’s genitalia on public display, that Yoko’s artistic influence on John was malign and was better left outside the recording studio. On the other hand, this is such infectious fun musically that who can fail to fall for the Nerk Twins’ last hurrah?
Old Brown Shoe – and George pulls a song of lyrical perplexity and musical complexity out of nowhere. Great vocals, especially in the harmonised bridge section, an effective shuffle beat, an impossible bass riff in the bridge, and a killer guitar solo. Brilliant stuff.
Across The Universe – I had the World Wildlife album, so I had Across The Universe way before anyone else. A lovely song, with a distinct ethereal feel in the Wildlife version.
Let It Be – see LIB
You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) – well. The very last track on the very last Beatles single is also one of the weirdest. I confess to being delighted that this thing made it onto vinyl, but nobody else could/would ever have recorded it, let alone released it. Demented lunacy.
PM 2 is notably stronger than PM 1 – when the track which I regard as weakest is Get Back , then you have to be looking at an album of strong material. The same overall comment remains: this is the other orphan twin.
11 November 2013
There is a distinct line between the mainstream catalogue (up to Past Masters ) and the afterthoughts (Anthology, BBC, Hollywood Bowl, assorted etceteras, and I may yet post some thoughts on these, too).
Notwithstanding my reservations over the first couple of albums, the mainstream catalogue is packed with quality listening pleasure. There are duds here and there but, quite honestly, most of those have their points, too. This catalogue still deserves the high praise it has had over the years and, mostly, hasn’t dated at all.
The afterthoughts. First, I must say that I would rather have them than not. They shine lights into hidden corners and are, for the most part, never less than interesting. But if I take a step back and am honest with myself, most of it isn’t that entertaining. There is the odd diamond in the rough, just like there is the odd dud in the main catalogue, and the proportion is probably not far away from an exact inverse.
It has been an interesting exercise to go through this. I realise that I haven’t really fallen out of love, but I have been dulled by the volume of afterthoughts which don’t really come up to scratch. But there’s an easy answer – only listen to the good stuff!
Thank you for listening to my rambling, good people: I now return you to your normal programming!
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