Best Writing (Original): 1964

I missed my usual Oscar post yesterday, so adding two today – yippee!

Actual Nominations: Father Goose. A Hard Day’s Night. The Organizer. That Man From Rio. One Potato Two Potato.

From these nominations you would be forgiven for thinking it was a slow year- a dreary romantic comedy as winner? A film based on an album, a spoof of James Bond? The Organizer is a fine Italian film but doesn’t have a remarkable script, while One Potato Two Potato attempts an emotional drama on race relations, but now looks naive. That Man From Rio looks beautiful and gets most of its plus points from attempting a rip-roaring French Bond film. My win though is A Hard Day’s Night as it sparkles with humour, surrealism, and self knowing, and like The Beatles themselves, is brimming with creativity and innovation.

My Winner: A Hard Day’s Night

My Nominations: A Hard Day’s Night. A Fistful Of Dollars. The Fall Of The Roman Empire. Band Of Outsiders. The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.

Only one film makes it to my list from the officials, and most of my picks this year are foreign productions. Fistful takes many of the cliches of the genre and twists them into a new bunch, while The Fall is noted for much more intelligence than one would usually expect to see in a film of its type. Band and Umbrella feature many innovative techniques with the former relying on an air of cool and the latter on its unexpected sung dialogue.

My Winner: A Hard Day’s Night

Which film of 1964 do you think had the best original writing? Let us know in the comments!

The Beatles – Abbey Road

Abbey Road

The last recorded album by The Beatles is filled with a sense of things coming to an end, but also has the feeling that the band still had more to say. Unfortunately the lads would go their separate ways, but thankfully give us a few more decades of new work with new friends. As with any of the last 3 or four Beatles albums it is a mixed bag- glorious highs, infuriating lows, and a mixture of sounds and influences. In many ways it is a back to basics album, low on experimentation but remaining high on invention. The first half is traditional single songs while the second consists of a combined medley of sorts, a few short songs tied together as one piece. Although the band new this would probably be their final album, the signs of a new age are marked by Harrison’s contributions- his songs here are stronger than by the other Beatles and there are more of them than on other albums. There are more ballads and pop songs than the heavier Let It Be, and it isn’t as angry as The White Album. It suffers similarly to Let It Be and The White Album by having a few unnecessary songs. There were better songs written at the time which could have been included instead. Along with Sgt Pepper and Revolver, this has one of the most famous cover pictures ever, looking back now it can be taken as signifying a band in transition, or a band leaving the studio for the final time.

‘Come Together’ opens the album, a bluesy Lennon song with some great lyrics. It has a famous bass riff, some nice guitar work but I find the verse melody too repetitive and prefer the Michael Jackson version. A favourite of many fans it is one I usually skip.

‘Something’ is Harrison’s first song on the album, opening with a fairly famous guitar part. It is Harrison’s most famous work and one of his most praised, by fans, critics, and band mates. A mellow love song with a Pink Floyd feel, it breaks into heavy chorus followed by mellow middle part with strong guitar playing.

‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is McCartney’s nonsense story of murder, filled with good lyrics and a jaunty Ringo-esque rhythm. It is a catchy song that the rest of the band were not particularly enamoured with and it sounds more like something from Sgt Pepper.

‘Oh Darling’ has a fifties rock’n’roll feel which McCartney screams through. It has a fairly typical blues feel moved along by some strange guitar sounds and heavy single piano notes.

‘Octopus’ Garden’ is one of Ringo’s most loved songs- it has the Ringo rhythm, but has a few nice melodies played over the top along with decent vocals from the drummer. The lyrics are gentle and picturesque, the drowning voices and bubbles adding the cosmic underwater feel.

‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is a long, deliberately repetitive song by Lennon. Lennon sings with a heavy angst, and the song reeks of desperation, lust, and blues. Unfortunately it is just the same short song repeated over and over with not enough new parts each time. The sudden end is a nice touch, ending the album without warning; it just comes 5 minutes too late.

‘Here Comes the Sun’ is possibly my favourite Harrison songs, and one of the best from the band. It is a perfect pop song like many of their older tracks; it is bright and uplifting with a superb guitar riff, nice synth work, and melodic singing.

‘Because’ is a Lennon ballad similar is style to ‘Something’, and with a similar structure to ‘I Want You’. The haunting vocals and the synth give a strange tone, one of longing, one of leaving which is expanded in the next song.

‘You Never Gave Me Your Money’ sounds just like ‘Perfect Day’ at the start before breaking down into a more rocking song. There is a good guitar solo chucked in before the song changes in tone and style again to more riff laden one. It is probably the most experimental song on the album, a medley in itself, and the first song in the overall medley of the second half.

‘Sun King’ begins in a mellow, twilight style with a riff floating between both ears. This is Lennon’s trippy twin of ‘Here Comes The Sun’ with gentle, drowsy melodies accompanied by organ. The lyrics break into faux Spanish for the last part and Ringo’s drum fill serves as an outro, and as an intro to the next song.

‘Mean Mr. Mustard’ is a quick, jaunty song by Lennon about a miser, mostly filler and linked to the following song.

‘Polythene Pam’ is based on one of the group’s early fans who happened to enjoy eating polythene. It is quick, short, with funny lyrics and sung in a heavy Scouse accent.

‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ begins seamlessly as the ending of the previous song rather like a lot of the prog albums that were around at the time. The song is slower, McCartney plays lead guitar while Harrison is on bass, and it is based on a time when some of their fans broke into McCartney’s house and stole some stuff. After this there is a soft pause before next part of the medley continues.

‘Gold Slumbers’ begins with soft piano and a growing string section before the bass and drums begin. The verse is in lullaby form, while McCartney growls the chorus vocals as the music surges. It is one of the best constructed songs on the album and one of their forgotten greats.

‘Carry That Weight’ again is a seamless continuation from the previous song, but mixes “You Never Gave Me Your Money’ in a perfectly fitting way.

‘The End’ feels like a rocking conclusion to the album, all chanting and heavy guitars, before a cosmic breakdown begins. This was originally meant to be the final song but due to the attitude of a few engineers, the next song was tacked on.

‘Her Majesty’ does feel tacked on and completely out-of-place. It is a filler which either should have been sandwiched into the middle of the album of left off completely. It spoils the ending of the album, but if looked at as The Beatles joking around it almost suggests that the fun isn’t quite over.

The Beatles would go out on a high, but not at their height. Abbey Road may be surrounded by sadness, but there is also celebration; celebration of what they had created here and what they had already left behind, as well as the belief that each would go on to solo glory. The story was over but the legacy remains for every new listener. This record has a few classics, not as many as on their best albums but is essential nevertheless. In only a few short years the band had become the most important thing to ever happen to music.

The Beatles – The White Album

The White Album

The White Album sees the Fab Four at their most experimental, their angriest, and some would say their best. A true epic, the band enters further into uncharted territory with sounds unheard, ideas expounded never before, lyrical flourishes and weirdness all put to glorious sound and noise. Unfortunately for an album with so many songs and with so many ideas (not to mention the band chasing the dragon around on some plain just above the rest of our heads) it has many flaws. Some things don’t come off well, there is a lot of nonsense, some duff songs, and plenty of filler. Most fans who don’t see this as their best album agree that if this had been cut down it could have been much better. The good stuff that we do have ranges from classic Harrison ballads to McCartney blues romps and Lennon’s drug fuelled madness. There are plenty of fun moments, plenty of offbeat treats, but the days of the happy mop haired lads is long gone. From here on we are left with more coarse and hard edged guitar tracks as the group began to implode.

`Back In the USSR’ opens the album in a fairly rocking fashion with some ye olde fast piano playing slpiced with the modern sounds of a jet plane. McCartney sings in a clearly more gruff way hinting at the maturity, experimentation, and arguments within the band at the
time. Ringo was absent so the rest of the band took up his duties, not that this is noticeable. The lyrics speak of the excitement and relief of flying back home to be with all the ladies and is a clear homage to The Beach Boys. The Californian interlude is quite authentic.

`Dear Prudence’ fades in gently offering an opposite to what the first song displayed. Lennon’s tribute to Mia Farrow’s sister who joined them India only to stay in her room and meditate most of the time. It builds to a jamming climax accompanied by some nice guitar
before coming down to an acoustic fade out.

`Glass Onion’ returns to the heavier feel while referencing many old Beatles hits. The lyrics are deliberately messy and confusing, full of potential mystery and ideas. Mostly it is Lennon having a laugh at obsessive fans and critics obsessing over every lyric, and a challenge for them to decipher.

`Ob La Di Ob La Da’ is a McCartney ditty, a nonsense but nonetheless catchy pop song. It sounds like the band are having fun, contrary to what was actually happening, but also highlights the experimenting mode they were in when they first came up with it.

`Wild Honey Pie’ is an experimental piece with strange guitars, voices and other noises. Basically it is the group stoned, banging together whatever was close to hand and still managing to make a song out of it.

`The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’ features a line from Yoko but is more notable for Lennon’s excellent sarcastic lyrics. He sings of a rich American who they knew for a while who happened to go hunting and kill a tiger. Lennon saw him as an upper class mummy’s boy taking an all expenses paid trip to India for some enlightenment that he could then relate to his equally rich friends. The chorus is catchy enough, the song ends in ironic applause and whistling. With a more interesting verse melody it could have been great.

`While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is Harrison’s famous downbeat sounding song about Eastern philosophy, yin yang, everything relating to everything and everyone. It features Clapton on guitar and is usually included in most lists of greatest guitar songs ever. The organs, effects, and Harrison’s vocals combine to create a trippy mood although it was probably intended to sound other worldy.

`Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ is a constantly evolving song with time and tone shifts as well as each part sounding musically distinct. Each part is linked by the gun imagery, and it inspired countless imitators from Halo Of Flies to Bohemian Rhapsody to Paranoid Android. Many of the ideas on the album don’t come off as well as they should have but on this song everything fits.

`Martha My Dear’ is McCartney’s music hall tribute, evoking images of old couple swirling about to gentle piano led songs. The lyrics oppose the feel of the song with thinly veiled insults to past lovers. Many dispute the song’s reference point- McCartney’s dog, his muse, his ex. As with most things it is a mixture of each influence.

`I’m So Tired’ was recorded at 3am, written about Lennon’s insomnia, and has a clear drowsy feel. There is emotional fatigue, the lyrics are angry, and the chorus livens things up.

`Blackbird’ is one of the better songs on the album, harkening back to simpler, more pop times. It is a typical McCartney song, singing of yearning, freedom, with some racial issues thrown in to satisfy the revolutionaries.

`Piggies’ is an interesting Harrison song featuring harpsichord and strings to give a baroque feel- a time noted for wealth and extravagance. This mirrors the lyrics as Harrison sings Orwell style of the rich people as piggies, rolling around in their opulence. Ironic yes given their own wealth, but at this time the group were rejecting all ideas of materialism. Charles Manson felt this was a large influence on his Helter Skelter plan, leading to the deaths of those he felt needed `a damn good
whacking’.

`Rocky Raccoon’ is a folk style McCartney song with Dylan leanings. There is a Cowboy movie style piano and acoustic guitar played over some storybook lyrics. It rounds off the `animal trilogy’.

`Don’t Pass Me By’ is Ringo’s first solo composition. He does his best with the vocals, though the lyrics are as bad as expected and the song has the same rolling down a hill in a shopping trolley rhythm. The strings offer a different feel from the other album tracks but it’s mostly forgettable.

`Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’ sees McCartney at his most metal, shrieking the lyrics in an attempt to match the sounds of Daltrey and Townsend. The lyrics simply speak of him seeing two monkeys at it, inspiring the primal, animal instincts in all of us.

`I Will’ is a rather simple, soft love song from McCartney to Linda. The lyrics call back to the early days when music was more important than the words. The song is catchy enough but lacks anything truly memorable.

`Julia’ closes the first side, Lennon’s only solo Beatles song. Unfortunately it is mostly tuneless as the lyrics are good and he sings and plays well. With a stronger melody this could have been a much better song.

`Birthday’ opens the second side in heavy style, blasting out with one of the most famous guitar riffs. It builds and changes with chugging chords, distorted notes, and swirling effects laden piano. It was a clear attempt to return to a more simple rock’n’roll and blues style and leads nicely into the next song.

`Yer Blues’ continues the heavier, dirtier feel with an almost Zeppelin-esque song. It showcases Lennon’s personal demons, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s a song which it is hard not to jump around to, filled with good drum parts and intertwining guitar solos. Performing this song for the Stones Rock n Roll Circus renewed Lennon’s love for playing live after years in the wilderness.

`Mother Nature’s Son’ is a better McCartney ballad inspired as with most of the other songs here by his time with the Maharishi,
except here it pays off well musically. The lyrics are suitably ideal, the melodies gentle and hard to shake.

`Everybody’s Got Something To hide…’ is Lennon’s view of his relationship with Yoko and all the negative feelings towards it. They felt they were in love while everyone else was paranoid and edgy. The song is quite heavy with a loud riff at the end of the chorus. Some have also claimed that it is more about Lennon’s heroin addiction.

`Sexy Sadie’ has the famous piano part which sounds like Karma Police but it’s almost insignificant. It is an average Lennon song with some nice, angry lyrics, some strange effects on the vocals and an up and down rhythm.

`Helter Skelter’ was McCartney’s main attempt to make the heaviest, dirtiest, most rock song out there in a time when The Who and other English R’nB bands were taking noise levels moonwards. To an extent it works, the drums are great, the guitar is pretty loud and riff laden, and McCartney sings at his loudest. The Helter Skelter motion of the song is notable, everything swirls and comes around upon itself. This song was one of the major influences on Manson’s already destructive mind as he believed the lyrics contained veiled messages and calls to war. The song fades in and out a few times at the end to good effect, and proves that McCartney was more than a ballad writer.

`Long Long Long’ is a soft Harrison ballad with good drum and piano parts. The deliberately bad production is annoying though and makes it too difficult to listen to.

`Revolution 1′ may be the most famous, most popular song on the album. It is a traditional Beatles song, filled with melody and ideology, with a few guitar effects and plenty of instruments clanging together brilliantly. The version here differs quite a bit from the single most people know, but all the hallmarks of a great song lie in both.

`Honey Pie’ is another unusual song from McCartney showing his seeming obsession with older styles of music around this time. There is a clear WWII vibe and I can’t help hear it now without thinking of Allo Allo or Wish Me Luck. The lyrics speak of a young English woman who makes it big in Hollywood only for her old lover back home to call her to return.

`Savoy Truffle’ is a good song to listen to while raiding the fridge. It is quite jazzy, with lots of brass and guitars, lots of timing shifts and is one of the more upbeat songs on the album.

`Cry Baby Cry’ is based on a nursery rhyme from Lennon’s youth, features the Harmonium again but isn’t a very exciting or interesting song. The lyrics are fine but the music isn’t particularly inspired. It segues into an unreleased song at the end which really should have been included instead, but can be found on bootlegs.

`Revolution 9′ is probably the most experimental piece the band ever produced, a collage of sounds, words, clips, effects all smashed together to create something monstrous. It still sounds awesome today, but is pretty difficult to listen to more than once. It is like falling into a sewer and being swept naked at a million miles an hour through various viaducts of time, surrounded by sights you don’t want to see, like Terry Wogan playing golf with Jimmy Tarbuck’s leg instead of a nine. Understandably it still splits fans; it’s great.

`Good Night’ is a rather sumptuous ending, almost like a Disney composition. Ringo does very well here, the strings are beautiful and the backing singers give it all a good night lullaby feel. It is deliberately lovely, cheesy, but looking past all that it is a pretty good song, and a great ending.

The White Album was the final great departure for the band. Break ups and bust ups followed and everyone agreed they should go back to their roots to try to hold on to their success. At times it is boring, at times it is brilliant but on previous albums the brilliance overshadowed everything else. Here there are simply too many songs and many tracks either don’t work at all or don’t live up to the expectation. This is still the favourite of many fans, largely because it tries so much, covers so much, is brave and unlike anything else. Full marks for trying, full marks for breaking new ground, but mostly (for The Beatles) average songs.

Let It Be – The Beatles

This is either the last or penultimate Beatles album depending on how you look at it, but either way it has a sense of loss and ending throughout. The album is almost more famous for the arguments between members which took place on a daily basis culminating in Harrison leaving and coming back. After not touring for years and pursuing various solo projects, as well as the band’s previous album seeming more like a collection of songs from each member, tensions were high. McCartney felt the group should write, record, and tour together to repair affairs and they should make a no frills, no experimentation simple album as they had before. The other 3 like the bare bones approach, but didn’t like the idea of touring and the film crew following them around every second. In the end the movie is more interesting than the album, while the album is a mix of good songs, throwaway bites, and a couple of classics.

`Two of Us’ is a McCartney song which can either be seen as a tribute to himself and Linda, or himself and John. Beginning with the famous Lennon quote it breaks down into a catchy acoustic ditty. The harmonies hark back to the good old days, the guitar is a gentle folk style, the lyrics speak of happier times, freedom, and nostalgia and features a nice bridge section without a chorus. The easy tone and whistling end suggest that everything in the group was fine, contrary to what we know. It is a good first song let down by a few fillers later.

`Dig a Pony’ is Lennon’s nonsense tribute to Yoko full of pointless lyrics culminating in the chorus where he pours his heart out to his soon to be wife. The false start is famous, the verse and chorus melodies are catchy enough, the guitars are good and Lennon sings in a rough fashion. Again it is not the sound the band falling apart, but definitely shows signs of weariness.

`Across The Universe’ may be the best song the Beatles ever recorded, and it is probably my favourite. Beautiful poetic lyrics which fit the sound perfectly, other-wordly guitars, wonderful simple melodies, an effortless meter for the words to float along, and sumptious production. The Eastern influence is stronger here in theme than in music, yet it is full of strange and foreign instruments. This is the song to play to people who do not yet consider themselves fans of The Beatles.

`I Me Mine’ is Harrisons take on both the egotistical problems of the band and his more personal feelings on wealth, personal gains and rejecting all notions of self for the greater good. The song has a bluesy waltz feel with it’s trumpets and guitars, but bursts into a heavy, rocking chorus.

`Dig It’ is a jam of ideas, words thrown in on the spur of the moment, instruments all jangling together- the sort of thing a band does when warming up or severely intoxicated. The version included here isn’t the best, and again it is throwaway filler.

`Let It Be’ is the most famous song on the album, McCartney’s follow up to Yesterday and superior in my opinion. It isn’t as dreary as it’s predecessor and has more emotion. Again the melodies stand out, full of cadences, the piano suits the sound perfectly and the guitar solo stands out; while it is a rather heavy effect for the song it doesn’t grate or sound out of place.

`Maggie Mae’ is a filler piece, a childhood Liverpudlian rhyme based on a modern folk tale about a prostitute. The tune is ok but it’s entirely pointless and should really have been replaced with something better.

`I’ve got a Feeling’ is another McCartney tribute to Linda, a sign that for him at least things were getting better. Of course there were darker truths as John had divorced Cynthia and Yoko had suffered a miscarriage and no-one was really happy within the band. It continues the blues rock feeling and is more hard edged than most of the back catalogue despite aiming to sound light and optimistic.

`One after 909′ is an early Blues attempt by McCartney brought back to fit in with the overall feel of this album. Written around 10 years prior to this release it shows the American influences on the young songwriters, but also exposes the adolescent songwriting. With all their experience since writing it they managed to turn it into a decent tune, adding plenty of extra riffs and instruments to make it a dance favourite.

`The Long and Winding Road’ is the last classic on the album, a wonderful epic from McCartney which is better due to the production. McCartney’s earlier, simpler version is strong but sounds a bit empty after hearing this. Some say it is over produced, but it is nice for the group to have a song such as this which sounds as if it is backed by an entire orchestra. The lyrics were based on the tensions between the band and a hope that they would all get through it.

`For You Blue’ continues the blues influence with the reference to Elmore James and slide guitar. Harrison’s vocals are perhaps too high for him, and I can’t stand the spoken parts. If it had had a few extra guitar parts or an underlying piano part I think I would like this more but for me it is too light.

`Get Back’ closes the album in rocking style, a good song but another one where McCartney’s vocals annoy me. He creates a story about a couple of lovers, the lyrics are fine, the music is suitably bluesy but it just isn’t a personal favourite.

And so the story came to an end, for a while at least; each member’s solo work features many great songs proving that even if the band was no more the spirit would live on. Record companies would continue to churn out re-issues and greatest hits, but it isn’t until the Anthologies, Blue, Red, and Love that fans had anything new to be excited about. Let It Be ends almost as an opposite to Please Please Me, with four older, more tired, more cynical worn out men belting out some great songs with a more weighed down enthusiasm. If you’re only getting into the band now, start at the beginning and work your way through. You’ll be smiling by the end.

Hippies

If you liked/hated this, feel free to check out my other Beatles reviews in the music section.  

George Harrison MBE (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001)

‘Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
and I say it’s all right’

Beloved Beatle and humanitarian, George Harrison was one of the most famous people of the 20th Century, as one quarter of The Beatles. Going on to further solo success, Harrison found his true calling in the East, following the philosophy and traditions of Hinduism which he would pursue for the rest of his life. An influential guitarist and songwriter, his contributions to The Beatles and his solo efforts only gained greater respect in later years, as critics saw the impact to music which his innovations led to.  

Feel free to share your memories and thoughts of George in the comments section.

Rest In Peace

George Harrison

The Beatles- Magical Mystery Tour

Magical Mystery Tour

This is the album that Yellow Submarine should have been, or at least it could have been this good with a few more songs and less instrumental guff. The UK version was only a 6 track EP while th US added a few B-Sides to make it into a full record. McCartney wanted to make a film based on a trip the band took in a bus, but this never transpired. It would have been better to have mixed together old live footage of songs, new studio footage, and the general madness and fun and games that the band got up to in the early days. The result would have been pure self indulgence, and instead the actual result was more like an experimental art film, an unscripted hour of skits and sketches involving magicians. Luckily most of the music is good.

`Magical Mystery Tour’ opens the album both literally and conceptually with McCartney inviting one and all to join him for a fun filled trip. The music is light and energetic enough, mirroring Sgt Pepper’s reprise. It also has a bit of a Help! Vibe to it, and is upbeat and up-tempo. The song is full of brass, a few samples, and fairly formulaic lyrics. The speed changes quite a few times to keep things interesting and experimental.

`The Fool on the Hill’ is a gentle McCartney song which is unduly forgotten by many. The lyrics are interesting and the flute-like instruments add something new. The song’s meaning is open for interpretation and in today’s world of fools it is easy to attach faces to it.

`Flying’ is a nice enough, mellow instrumental song features a melody played on mellatron and mirrored by chanting vocals. It is better than most of Martin’s instrumental parts on Submarine, but it isn’t one you are likely to listen to over and over. Usually it is listened to together with Blue Jay Way almost as a single track.

`Blue Jay Way’ continues from Flying with trippy, effects laden vocals and spacey lyrics. It isn’t a favourite of mine and can be skipped along with Flying. Like many of the songs on Submarine it sounds better in the context of the film rather than on its own.

`Your Mother Should Know’ is another McCartney song with nice melody. It’s catchy enough, but fairly lightweight and for me it seems to be lacking something. I think it is stretched out too long and should have either been shorter or featured an extended ending with growing instrumentation.

`I Am the Walrus’ is a fairly heavy song in comparison to the rest of the tracks on this album and features nonsensical Wonderland-esque lyrics about nothing which turn out to be some of Lennon’s most inspired words. To turn nonsensical jargon into standard lexicon and phrases people around the world know and use takes skill, and the way they fit the rhythm of the music is special. The song has never been a favourite of mine as the melodies aren’t too great, but you can’t help but admire it.

`Hello Goodbye’ finds McCartney in usual gentle melodic form, a nice song with backing violins which has an almost Christmas feel. It is his song about life in its most basic terms featuring a yin-yang philosophy. It is an underrated song on a largely underrated album. The coda has a `hippies singing round the campfire feel’ which in this case isn’t bad.

`Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a drug fuelled, superbly crafted, psychedelic masterpiece. Again showing how the band were always at least one step ahead of everyone else, at least when they were at their best. Lennon’s lyrics are existential, trippy, psychological, and full of imagery. Written after various controversies, in the middle of much drug taking and failing relationships it speaks of nostalgia for youth, for simpler times, and for home.

`Penny Lane’ is the best song here, classic Beatles with that British, mundane every day Sgt Pepper feel. The melodies are memorable, the lyrics are among the best the band would write, and it is extremely well built. The experimentation is kept to a minimum yet marked by superb trumpet work.

`Baby you’re A Rich Man’ is a combination of two Lennon/McCartney previously unreleased songs and features a clavioline part which makes the whole thing sound quite bizarre when coupled with the lyrics. It’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t add much to the album.

`All You Need Is Love’ closes the album, not the first time the song has appeared on a Beatles album. John’s song of united love, everyone knows it and most will like it.

Magical Mystery Tour is among the band’s most underrated work, a mix of classics and forgettable stuff. The good stuff outweighs the bad though and the album as a whole is pretty good. People compare this with Yellow Submarine due to the trippy nature of most of the songs and the fact that both albums and films feature some sort of journey and adventure. This is the stronger of the two, while YS could have been made better by including some of the other tracks that were unreleased at the time. They may not have fit in with the album, but like Baby You’re A Rich Man here, they could have been reworked to fit. You probably won’t return to this album much but when you do you are sure to be treated to some welcome surprises.

The Beatles- Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine is the strangest entry in The Beatles catalogue, primarily a soundtrack the record is a mix of unreleased songs, previously released songs, and instrumentals composed by George Martin. The first half is Beatles, the second half is Martin. If the best of this, and the best of the other unreleased songs recorded around the same time had been put together we could have been left with a good album. What we do have is a mess of ideas and unresolved bits. The band didn’t have the greatest amount of involvement with the project and it was released very soon after The White Album. With a bit more time and involvement it could have been better.

`Yellow Submarine’ is a song that all fans will already be familiar with, Ringo’s catchy little nonsense number made even more silly due to visions of the film and its psychedelic sights.

`Only a Northern Song’ is Harrison’s attack on one of the companies which made money from his songs, and also shows his growing annoyance at being in the band, his belief that Paul and John made more money from his own songs than he did, and wishing to branch out on his own. All the anger and bitterness doesn’t translate too well and although the lyrics are ok the music is uninspiring and forgettable.

`All Together Now’ is McCartney’s attempt at a partner to Yellow Submarine- another light, fun, sing-along song which sounded like a children’s rhyme. Unfortunately it sounds more like a child speaking in tongues whilst in bed with chicken-pox. The tune itself is ok but it is repetitive and mostly boring showing a lack of interest or inspiration from the band.

`Hey Bulldog’ begins with a cool piano riff which is then matched by the guitar, but the rest of the song doesn’t keep up with the intro. The lyrics are fine and there is plenty going on, it is fairly heavy in parts for a Beatles song but it doesn’t have any noticeable melodies apart from that riff. Paul’s barking is all fine and well, I only wish there was more style to the verse and chorus.

`It’s All Too Much’ is a much stronger effort from Harrison with a hypnotic, swirling vibe and nice guitar work. It is highly experimental with bits of notes fading in and out, instruments joining and leaving inexplicably all held together with a nice verse melody. It is perhaps too long at over 6 minutes and becomes a bit grating towards the end. If it had been kept shorter the ideas would have shone through more clearly. As it is, it has a You Know My Name feel.

`All You Need Is Love’ is probably the strongest song on the album and remains one of the group’s most famous, but it isn’t one of my favourites. It also appears in slightly different version on Magical Mystery Tour and Love and is one of Lennon’s most clear messages- a firm belief in love conquering all. Naïve and fluffy yes, but also well meaning. It has a typically memorable melody and chorus, and the ending is a nice mix of various voices and memories. I think that for me after a while the song becomes too dreary and the trumpets over the chorus are quite tiresome.

`Pepperland’ is the best of the instrumental pieces, but that isn’t saying much. Most, if not all of the second half can be skipped as it is barely more than a barrage of noises which thankfully at times sounds rather ominous and foreboding. Here the strings are quite gentle and it almost sounds like the soundtrack to a romantic movie from the 50s.

`Sea Of Time’ begins with that distinct Eastern feel and following with a few nice and simple violin parts before ending with the Pepperland theme.

`Sea of Holes’ has a dizzying quality suggesting falling into a deep, dark, unknown place. There are interesting production techniques and effects but it’s mostly tuneless.

`Sea of Monsters’ sounds more like a Tom and Jerry episode than anything else- it fits well with the movie, but isn’t very good to listen to by itself, aside from the Bach interlude and the charging outro.

`March of the Meanies’ sounds quite threatening and as if it should be from a Sci-Fi epic.

`Pepperland Laid Waste’ also sounds quite foreboding but is mostly without anything of interest. Again it is fine for the film, but not something to listen to on its own merits.

`Yellow Submarine in Pepperland’ closes the album in almost regal fashion replaying the title track in a dainty way and adding a few other emotive parts. It’s a nice enough ending which highlights the strength of the main song’s melody.

Overall this is simply an ok album which could have been better. Yes it is the worst in the Beatles back catalogue but shows that the band were still capable of having fun. The first half contains some essential stuff but the second part is mostly pointless unless you’re a huge fan. Of course I am sure there are plenty of people out there who readily enjoy the second part, which does have some good moments, but it isn’t for me.

The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Sgt Pepper’s Bla Bla Bla

So here we have it; the album most frequently cited as the best ever, from the greatest band ever. Does it stand up today as well as it did forty years ago? I’m sure you all know the answer to that but as I came to the Beatles quite late in their lifetime I hope I can give a modern perspective. I mentioned in my Revolver review that it was my favourite offering by the band over Sgt. Pepper, but there is not much to pick between them. This has all the hallmarks of a progressive record, of a coherent whole as well as having excellent, timeless, one off singles. Everyone, everywhere knows at least one of these songs by heart and for millions more the album is or was the soundtrack to some major part of their lives. This may well have been the first album to achieve such a feat, and as such led other artists to strive towards previously unimagined heights. No longer was imagination seen as a barrier to sales, no more was creativity shackled for fear of failure- all genres, rules, and thoughts were mashed together to produce the sound of a band marching to glory- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

`Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ begins the album with one of the band’s most famous riffs soon drowned out by heavy sampling and other instrumentation. McCartney shrieks the lyrics like he did in the old days before the song descends wonderfully to the tune of adoring fans into-

`With A Little Help From…’ It is probably Ringo’s best song, and by far the best version. I grew up with every other version of the song and never liked any of them. When I heard the original I was converted. Everyone knows the melody, the chorus but listen also to the sweet natured lyrics, ignore the drug references, and enjoy the jangly guitars and innocent, hopeful, timeless message.

`Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ leads us into a trippy, dreamlike, psychedelic journey, full of botched imagery and mesmerizing lyrics and sounds. Imagine riding a banana through the Zoo after someone has dropped a nuke full of neon paint everywhere, your banana’s engineless engine powered by a troop of papercut Scotsmen and you’ll have a fair idea of how the song sounds, and it still sounds as fresh today.

`Getting Better’ is McCartney’s song about the world seeming brighter when in love, countered by Lennon’s ironic `It can’t get no worse’. The bright, sharp guitar chords are unique and interesting, changing as the strange sounding Sitar comes blasting in. The guitar is then replaced by a similar sounding piano for the ending.

`Fixing a Hole’ opens with a harpsichord while McCartney sings another song of monotonous daily life, yet blends it with life as a whole by showing us what he sees outside. Expertly crafted the song is a melting pot of riffs, instruments, and ideas sounding like a travelling fun fair opening suddenly in the middle of your room while you’re doing a spot of DIY.

`She’s Leaving Home’ continues the theme of home life, a heartbreaking song of a daughter leaving home. It is unique in that it is led by harp and strings rather than guitars and bass and features some very high vocals. The lyrics are very descriptive and touching, depicting a moment all parents dread. The harmonies are employed well here as dual speakers in a conversation.

`Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite’ has a distinct circus feel due to the samples and lyrics and is the pseudo-brother song to Sgt Pepper due to the sampling and ideas. It is mostly an experiment by the group before The White Album but manages to fit in well here without feeling out of place even though there is nothing really like it on the rest of the album.

`Within You without You’ is another one of those songs which reminds me of the fire levels in Mario as it is mostly Eastern influenced, musically and lyrically. The sitar is featured heavily while existential lyrics strive to open our minds and swirly strings grow, twist, and surge to create the sensation of life, love, and everything else flowing in and around you and everyone else. It is one of the longest songs The Beatles ever recorded and proves that they could stretch there ideas beyond a mere 2 and a half minutes, and do it without ever becoming boring.

`When I’m 64′ is a jaunty, light song with some wonderful minor interludes. Full of horns, bells, and pianos it speaks idyllically of an imagined future. The lyrics are a highlight and more than anything it sounds distinctly British or more specifically, English.

`Lovely Rita’ begins with a ghostly version of the verse lyrics, before the verse actually begins. The lyrics continue the theme of Englishness and home life, with images of tea, parking ticket ladies, and possibly crumpet and Robin Asquith before he was around. The song builds towards the end with beeps and ideas thrown together and as always it works.

`Good Morning Good Morning’ continues the albums overall theme of British life as a metaphor for life as a whole. Blasting trumpets lead the way along with great drumming from Ringo. The lyrics speak of a typical day, getting ready for work, small town life. The drums give the sensation of constantly moving forwards mirroring the advancement of the characters. Some good guitar work is interspersed throughout and the ending again collapses into various samples, this time of domestic animals such as cats, dogs, and did I hear an elephant?

`Reprise’ is simply a faster, more modern version of the original’s chorus with extended lyrics. Although it’s a decent tune I think it feels a little redundant and could easily be removed or skipped. The drums here stand out, but I wouldn’t say it’s as essential as the rest of the album.

`A Day in the Life’ is a perfect ending to the album, both speaking of daily life and being full of experimentation. Of course the song is split into two parts with Lennon’s rather dark first half giving way (with a scary instrumental interlude) to McCartney’s brilliant second half- the perfect accompaniment to getting dressed in the morning. This gives way once more to the final part- a replay of part one.

Overall this is everything that you have heard it was going to be. Few albums have ever had so much scope, so much though, and so much skill and talent packed into them. Every song is a classic (with the exception of reprise) and even if you despise the band it would take a cold hearted purveyor of lies to say they can’t find anything they like here. Nothing much I can add that hasn’t been said a billion times before other than that yes this has stood the test of time, obviously, and that it should be in your collection.

If you found this review useful, please check the music section for further Beatles reviews!

The Beatles: Revolver

Revolver

While many feel that Sgt Pepper is the peak I prefer Revolver, although there isn’t much to pick between them. Lyrically as good as any band before or since, musically far reaching, ambitious, every song is a work of art offering something new. Smashing through every boundary, melding genres, experimenting, creating new ways of thinking and playing The Beatles never sounded better than here. For an album over forty years old to sound as sparkling and new as it did the day it was released is quite an achievement. For it still to be so highly regarded and listened to and for so many new listeners and artists to be inspired by it is an even greater achievement.

`Taxman’ opens the album and as was the norm for Harrison songs, it is quite separate from the other songs. We know immediately from the count-in intro and opening guitar strains that we are dealing with a new, smarter, more mature Beatles. The guitar sounds fits in well, sounding jagged and crooked like the subject matter, and the lyrics are among the most biting and socially relevant the band would write. The song is quite fast yet lacks the bright melodies of earlier releases.

`Eleanor Rigby’ is a rarity for the band in none of the music is played by any Beatle and because each member contributed at least one line to the lyrics. The music suits the song perfectly sounding like a mournful lament and the lyrics stand out as they speak of loneliness and death after a life of anonymity. The Beatles give the character of Rigby fame though, and she can stand for any lonely person around the world. It sounds modern today- imagine what it was like in 66.

`I’m Only Sleeping’ has a distinct drowsy feel due mostly to the vocal style, with the band taking on a drunken, slurred tone. The backwards guitar effect adds greatly to this and also adds to the sense that this is all a drug induced daydream. The vocal harmonies were supposedly meant to sound to an alarm clock but they sound more pleasant and dream like than alarming. The Eastern sounding end to the song adds another interesting twist, and melds nicely with the intro to the next song.

`Love You Too’ (which always reminds me of Lava levels in Mario games) is the most Eastern driven songs, all Sitars and unusual electronic sounds imbued with new lyrical ideas. It is obviously Harrison’s work with only Ringo adding some percussion. It is one of the most experimental and unusual Beatles songs up to this point. The timing speeds up towards the end suggesting some sort of frenzy.

`Here There and Everywhere’ is a soft and sweet McCartney ballad notable for Paul’s high pitched vocals. It is saved from being sickly by the haunting harmonies and minor shifts throughout the song. It has a strong message of love almost being a drug which we need to wrap around ourselves at all times and has a clear trippy feel.

`Yellow Submarine’ is probably Ringo’s most famous vocal, a classic pop song which all kids somehow know even without having heard it. Overall it is a nonsensical song reminiscent of absurdist poetry. There are many samples highlighting the band entering full steam ahead experimentation. If it wasn’t for the wonderful melody and the fact that Ringo sings well this would be dismissed.

`She Said She Said’ is an acid fuelled song based on a Peter Fonda comment, and written while the band were being besieged by fans at home. There is an Eastern feel again, the harmonies are classic Beatles, and Ringo seems to drum whatever he feels like. The fade out suggests that the song will rotate and play ever onwards.

`Good Day Sunshine’ is a song eternally attached to waking up in the morning and will forever be glued to milk adverts the world over. There are plenty of instrumental flourishes with the first piano use in some time and it is masterfully constructed with a couple of interesting middle parts. The ending is also unusual with the vocal key increasing suddenly.

`And Your Bird Can Sing’ is one of the most joyous sounding songs the band ever wrote, with one of their best guitar riffs. The lyrics are either poetic and mystical or nonsense depending on how you interpret them. It is one of their most underrated pop songs, if anything the band did can be called underrated. My only wish is that it could be longer.

`For No One’ is another classic with strong McCartney melodies and lyrics. Paul sings of the end of a relationship yet it sounds hopeful rather than previous angrier or bleak songs. The inclusion of the French Horn adds a different dimension, particularly on the final single note which you would expect to continue into a string of notes.

`Doctor Robert’ is another drug referencing song and probably the weakest on the album. It rolls along fairly enough with twangy guitars and a trippy `well, well, well’ breakdown. The lyrics and music are fine but personally it doesn’t have the same impact as others here.

`I Want To Tell You’ is the third Harrison song on the album, a standard pop song made interesting by the philosophical lyrics and almost out of tune piano and minor changes. The ending features almost Eastern style vocals.

`Got To Get You into My Life’ is bursting with energy and instruments, growing and surging at points and pulling back at others. It is another song of joy contrasting with the darker songs on the album. McCartney sings more like he did on earlier albums and the guitars are rough and twangy.

`Tomorrow Never Knows’ is another song to jump across pits of lava to, and is the most experimental song on the album, full of strange sounds and techniques. The lyrics are the band at their most mystical, the backwards guitars are all over the place with riffs thrown in everywhere to create a splendid noise the likes of which no-one up to that point has heard before. The vocals sound like they are being sung through a portal and the drums are a precursor to modern dance music. The seagull sound and jangly pianos give the sense of a drug fuelled rampage through Blackpool gone wrong. It is a strong end to a great album.

Revolver is a genre bursting album which samples different styles and influenced a number of new movements from Psychedelic to Dance, from British Invasion bands to progressive rock and at the same time pulls off a number of pop classics. There truly is something here for everyone, even people who don’t like The Beatles will find a moment or a song here which they can appreciate, respect, and enjoy. This and the next album are definitive signs of a band at their peak in every conceivable area.

Updated with score via the Nightman Scoring System:

Sales: 5 (Another smash hit)

Chart: 5 (Another smash hit)

Critical: 5 (Another smash hit)

Originality: 5 (A step up from the previous experimentation, this is the band taking all of popular music in a new direction. From the recording, the approach to songwriting, the lyrics and lyrical subject matter, to the music itself, there hadn’t really been anything like this before)

Influence: 5 (The 60s exploded with this album as a host of new ideas and possibilities were made available to younger artists. The musical world all stepped up a notch after this one was released and even now musicians will look back to this for inspiration)

Musical Ability: 5 (The band continue to grow and stand out as masters of their individual crafts, but with this album they employ a variety of new instruments and players into their sound)

Lyrics: 5 (A massive shift in the lyrics, with all of the previous satire coming to the fore, with the band now tackling a diverse range of subjects with all of their trademark wit and skill. A brief glance at the opening trio sees a diatribe against the taxman, a forlorn telling of a lonesome life, and an honest depiction of an existence in the spotlight).

Melody: 5 (It’s another album filled with hooks and melodies which once heard will never be forgotten)

Emotion: 3 (With a more expansive and experimental sound, the emotional content takes a back seat, with songs focusing more on a sound or an idea rather than feeling, and a number of the songs lyrical content are drug-addled or humourous)

Lastibility: 5 (Although the band is now taking on some sounds which are known for having that distinct 60s sound, it’s one which nevertheless still sounds fresh today and can be listened to by seasoned fans or newcomers and still have the same impact)

Vocals: 4 (With some of the songs, the vocals take on a smaller role and are filtered through numerous effects, a few of the performances are deliberately drowsy or plain, but even Ringo has a stellar performance and other lads are awesome on most of the tracks)

Coherence: 4 (Even though many of the songs have a distinct sound, there is an overall pyschedelic rock feel and the melding of East, West, old, and new is clear throughout)

Mood: 4 (There is less consistency in the mood throughout, though individually, songs such as I’m Only Sleeping and Taxman convey tiredness and anger accurately, while And Your Bird Can Sing is an unusual mixture of joy and angst with John writing such a sunny song about rejection)

Production: 5 (Great work, still sounds stunning)

Effort: 5 (Impressive writing and creativity to make something new)

Relationship: 4 (It’s another album which most listeners should be able to relate to – even though there is less focus on the universal subjects of love and loss which the band had been known for, here they branch out to some more of the things we all feel and talk about but hadn’t necessarily heard in songs before. Then there are those other songs which it appears you may only relate too if you’ve popped a pill or two)

Genre Relation: 4 (It was a new frontier being ploughed and quite a few of the tracks didn’t sound like anything else which anyone else was doing, but the rest of the world would catch up soon)

Authenticity: 5 (The band sound entirely dedicated to branching out and making something new)

Personal: 5 (One of my favourite albums by the band, and it’s hard to argue against this being their best.

Miscellaneous: 4 (I’ve always found the artwork for this one a little stilted compared to others, while many of the stories of the recording and writing process are highly entertaining as usual)

Total: 92/100

The Beatles: Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul is the stepping stone album from The Beatles marking the shift from the pop perfection of Help to the experimentalism of Revolver and beyond. A mix of both worlds it shows the band pushing all the known boundaries of pop and rock music, changing both genres forever. Things were being done both lyrically and musically that had never been thought of before, new styles were being borrowed and adapted, new production techniques, new song writing skills, new instruments all employed to propel the band forwards. Even today it sounds new and challenging and very few first time listeners should find it dated. Of course there are still one or two songs that people won’t enjoy and they hadn’t yet reached the heights of Revolver and Pepper. There is a new sophistication with the themes and lyrics, gone are the bland outbursts of love and school boy cynicism, replaced with a more developed, poetic, and intelligent style. Nothing in simple anymore and everything in the music and lyrics is conveyed with ambiguity.

`Drive My Car’ starts the album and instantly shows the lyrically progression the band has taken. It is the first song to truly feature strong original lyrics, moving on from the variations on love from before. With it’s euphemism for sex and themes about fame and doing anything to achieve it, it displays both the dark side and comedic spark of the band. Obviously this sort of thing was happening in the band at the time and in many other bands, it’s both an in-joke about groupies and a celebration of them. With it’s catchy chorus and memorable `beep beep’ moments it was destined to become a staple for car adverts through the decades. The guitars are much more blues influenced than anything that had gone before, and the percussion and piano has a distinct jazzy feel.

`Norwegian Wood’ is a Lennon ballad showcasing the band’s change of perspective to writing songs about the darker side of love, and themes which recur through the album such as deceit, jealousy, misogyny, possession, revenge etc. The first thing to notice is the Eastern influence which would be greater on subsequent albums. The new instruments fit in seamlessly with the traditional guitar use and vocal harmonies. Dealing with an affair, paranoia, and revenge the lyrics are a massive step up from anything else the band had written. Poetic, ironic, and with a story telling feel it marks the new Beatles era.

`You Won’t See Me’ has a nice melodic intro after a percussive start building up to typically sweet harmonic intro. Again the bridge switches to minor chords for added melancholy. The lyrics speak of a breaking relationship, depression, and not being able to carry on when the one you love keeps turning you away.

`Nowhere Man’ can both be taken as an introspective Lennon number, and a song decrying any number of generations- his parents for being tightly conformist, later one for being passive and irresponsible. It is notable for being the first Beatles song which doesn’t deal with love in any way. Lyrically it is quite clever and biting, though musically it is simple and uninspired. I see it and the next song as a rallying call to the kids to start making a change in the world rather than sitting back and watching- something which would become Lennon’s quest for the rest of his life.

`Think For Yourself’ is a Harrison penned track dealing with individuality and not trusting and blindly accepting other people’s and groups’ views. You can always rely on Harrison making a unique tune which is set apart from the other songs on any album and the same is true here. The unusual guitar sound makes the song memorable, the lyrics are as strong as anything Lennon was writing at the time, and the melodies are unlike most other tracks.

`The Word’ is a pseudo- political song by Lennon covering his attitudes with the metaphor of love, as if he was testing the water or breaking in the fans gently before the more overt messages of later work. The song itself is fairly repetitive, standing out by the use of the Harmonium towards the end.

`Michelle’ mysteriously won the Grammy for song of the year in 67, a rather doleful ballad by McCartney notable for its French lyrics and feel. This is one I usually skip- still a good song, it just bores me for some reason.

`What Goes On’ is a very country feeling song with good guitar from Harrison, and Ringo sings it very well accompanied by some high pitched harmonies. It is quite a simple love song with darker lyrics about confusion and mistrust. A fast paced song it helps to lift the middle part of the album.

`Girl’ is quite a melancholy love song, with lyrics speaking about being in love with someone but not being sure why. It is memorable for the sighing melodies, strong lyrics, and added beats towards the middle part and end.

`I’m Looking Through You’ is an up tempo down beat McCartney song about how people and love can fade and change over time in a relationship. Melodic and with good lead guitar it sounds quite angry yet happy at the same time.

`In My Life’ is the stand out song on the album and the best Beatles ballad. Full of powerful lyrics, regret and misty eyed nostalgia, yet it has eternal hope for the future. The melodies are beautiful, the interesting middle part giving a Renaissance twist and the recurring riff is soft and sweet but free of soppy sentiment.

`Wait’ is an unusual almost off key song that further shows the group’s experimentation. The lyrics speak of coming back to a loved one after being apart, something the group were feeling after many tours. There is irony in the `I’ve been good- as good as I can be’ considering the affairs of the band members.

`If I Needed Someone’ is a Harrison penned song marked by a catchy lead guitar line. Again the song employs minor chords for the chorus to suggest that not everything is as perfect as it should be. The lyrics are not exactly bitter, but neither are they the sort of words you would expect a pop band of the time to be singing, the narrator saying if they have nothing better to do then they may find a moment to squeeze in the subject.

`Run For Your Life’ is a much derided song amongst fans, and later by Lennon himself who wrote it. Accused of misogyny but perfectly apt considering the feelings one has can have the lyrics speak of jealousy of other men, possession over a loved one and including a famously dark line borrowed from an Elvis song. These feelings would be developed and return on Jealous Guy but here they are less subtle and more angry and accusing. The music rattles along quickly and has a blues/country feel to it. A strange end to the album.

Rubber Soul has plenty of flashes of brilliance but being a stepping stone album it doesn’t have the quality of the albums which bookend it. It is still classic Beatles and features some of their best songs, but it is inconsistent. Naturally this is subjective and some of the songs I am not overly fond of her will be another’s favourites. What we can agree on is that it clearly shows the moving towards greater artistry, creativity, and experimentation which would herald the next two albums as two of the best albums ever.