The Fab Four, and some really old CD reviews

Over the last couple of years, I have become a pretty big Beatles fan. I’ve always liked the Beatles; my parents have an audio recording of me singing “Hey Jude” when I was about 3. My dad had the Red and Blue albums, and I remember being fascinated by the two pictures of the Beatles looking over the balcony, eight (or so) years apart:

I have the first Anthology CD, but it’s a lot of the older stuff — Love Me Do, Please Please Me, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, stuff like that, and I’m more into the later Beatles. I also have the “1” album, which is yet another “Best Of…” album. But other than the hits (of which there are several), I never really knew much else.

I was going to start off the first sentence of this story by saying “I’m not really sure why”, but that’s not true — the reason I’m such a big Beatles fan these days is because of my guitar teachers over the last couple of years. I’ve had three different teachers, and the last two were huge Beatles fans. My current teacher, who is probably ten years younger than I am, knows how to play just about every Beatles song there is (though Eleanor Rigby might be challenging on guitar), and a few months ago we went through and played about three quarters of the Abbey Road album. Something, Here Comes The Sun, and Blackbird are some of my favourite Beatles songs to play.

Thanks to him, I’ve become more interested in the rest of the Beatles catalogue. Gail gave me Let It Be for Christmas, and this past week I bought Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour, Rubber Soul, and the White Album on eBay (and was outbid for Anthology 2 and 3). I also have (illegal… shhhhh) copies of Abbey Road and the Red and Blue albums, although I intend on buying those too.

I’m also really interested in Beatles trivia, and I love reading the Wikipedia entries on various albums. I don’t know what it is about Beatles trivia that makes it more interesting to me than trivia about the Stones or the Who or any other band. Things like:

  • the drums you hear on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” were played by Paul because Ringo had temporarily left the band when it was recorded.
  • John hated Paul’s song “Ob-la-di Ob-la-da”, and came into the recording studio one day claiming to be more stoned than any of them had ever been, and sat down at the piano and played the opening that was used on the recorded version. (A lot of people consider that to be the worst Beatles song ever, but I kind of like it. It’s better than Revolution 9, anyway.)
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was based on a picture that Julian Lennon drew while he was in kindergarten and had nothing to do with LSD. Some real fanatics have gone through the history books, and figured out who Lucy really was.
  • George Harrison left the band for a week or so during the recording of Let It Be, and the remaining Beatles considered asking Eric Clapton to replace him, but then decided that if anyone left the band, it just wouldn’t be the Beatles anymore. They were right.
  • At various times, each of John, George, and Ringo left the band, only to be coaxed back by Paul. But the Beatles disbanded because Paul left.

I look at some famous musicians and marvel at what a great piano player or guitar player or whatever he is. It’s even more amazing when that person has other musical talents, like singing or songwriting. You can look at Eric Clapton, and he’s one of the best guitar players ever. He’s a pretty good songwriter as well, and he’s a decent singer, but as far as I know can’t play any other instruments. Elton John is an amazing piano player, and a good singer, but only writes music, not lyrics, and doesn’t play guitar or bass or drums. The amazing thing about the Beatles is not just that they have someone like that — George Harrison is also an excellent guitar player who can sing and has written some really great songs — but then they also have two more who are even better. Paul McCartney and John Lennon both play guitar, they both play piano, they both play bass, Paul plays drums, they are both great singers, they are both great songwriters (music and lyrics), and they work very well together as well as individually. And then there’s Ringo, who I’ve complained about before. He can’t sing, wrote a total of two songs during the entire life of the Beatles, and plays no instruments other than drums. But there’s no denying that he’s a very good drummer, and I’ve heard of tons of modern-day rock drummers who cite him as an influence.

You don’t often see CD reviews that are not of recent releases, and very rarely of albums that are over forty years old, but here are a couple:

Abbey Road

Abbey Road is not considered one of the best rock albums of all time for no reason. It’s certainly got its share of big hits (Come Together, Something, Here Comes The Sun, Octopus’s Garden), but most of the other songs are just as strong. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is a little silly, but kind of fun. I love Paul McCartney’s Oh! Darling — it sounds like the kind of song that John Lennon would normally sing, but Paul does a good job with it. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) is a little repetitive and the end goes on a bit too long, but different stanzas using the same lyrics with different musical styles is kind of cool. The only songs I’m really not thrilled with are Octopus’s Garden, because Ringo is a crappy singer and Because, which is just a little too dreamy and psychadelic.

Most of the second side (going back to the record days with that terminology — I don’t suggest turning the CD over) is a medley of short songs. It almost seems like they took a bunch of half-written half-recorded songs and mashed them together, which I believe is what they actually did, but it really works. Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End are simply fantastic, containing both a drum solo (the only one Ringo ever did) and a triple guitar solo. It’s hard to believe while listening to this album (which I have done numerous times over the past month or two) that the Beatles were barely even a functioning group at this point.

Let It Be

Let It Be was recorded before Abbey Road but for various reasons was released after. It’s kind of too bad, since it would have been nice for the Beatles to end their run with an amazing farewell album. Instead, we got Let It Be. This is kind of unfair, since it is not a bad album by any stretch, but is just not as strong as Abbey Road. The title track is one of my favourite Beatles songs ever, despite being very repetitive, which is something I generally dislike (George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” drives me batty for that very reason). The Long and Winding Road, Two of Us, Get Back, and Across The Universe (even with the indecipherable chorus “Jai guru deva om”) are also really great songs. I really like One After 909, at least partially because it’s so different from the other tracks on the album. I was about to write that it sounds more like a very early Beatles song than the rest of Let It Be, and then I checked the Wikipedia entry and found that it was indeed written by John Lennon more than ten years earlier, even before the Beatles were the Beatles.

I should receive the CDs I bought sometime next week. I’ll give them a few listens and then post my thoughts on them sometime after that.


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