01 March 2016

Sonic Chronicle - The Beatles.

I recently started reading another book (I know. I know. I read too many at once.) on my Kindle with the breathtakingly lengthy full title, The Beatles Lyrics: The Stories Behind the Music, Including the Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs. It’s been a pleasure to read thus far, and I’ll admit I started at Help! and went from there since I absolutely adore the post-1965 era Beatles albums while their early works do nothing for me.

I’m far too young to have experienced Beatlemania, but the more I read about the Fab Four’s lyrical work, the more enamored I become with the band. Granted, I’ve always loved the Beatles (I can thank my mom for that), but this takes my adoration to a whole new level. The stories behind many of the songs’ lyrics are as interesting to read about as they are to listen to. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about which Beatles songs I’ve grown to thoroughly enjoy over the years, so I figure I’ll rattle off a quick list of my favorite Beatles songs from my favorite albums just for the record:

Help!: “Yesterday,” “Help!” – Believe it or not, this was actually the hardest Beatles album to get into for me. “Yesterday” is, of course, the mega-hit deluxe at the end of the record, and if for some reason you don’t like it, don’t fret because there is probably a version out there you will like. It’s the most covered song in the history of songs, I think. The title track is also instantly catchy. After all, that’s what happens when you lead off with the chorus hook. Lyrically, it was even penned at a time when John Lennon was actually pleading for help to get his life to slow down just so he could find his way. There are plenty of other great tunes on here too.

Rubber Soul: “Nowhere Man,” “In My Life” – A friend of mine gave me a CD copy of Rubber Soul for my birthday many years ago, and I still give it a spin fairly routinely even today. Almost every song on it is excellent too. My personal favorite song on the album (and probably my favorite Beatles song, period) has to be “Nowhere Man” with its downright depressing yet somehow charming outlook on life and the way this Nowhere Man sounds like he’s trying hard to make sense of everything he has done in life and what goes on around him. Isn’t he a bit like you and me?

Revolver: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” – Revolver, it can be argued, is one of the birthplaces of what we now know as heavy metal. Bear with me. It starts with “Taxman,” which is a pretty heavy tune, but it also features dueling twin lead guitars in “And Your Bird Can Sing” as almost a prototype of what Iron Maiden and Judas Priest would perfect in the next decade.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: “A Day in the Life” – Probably the weirdest album in their discography, I’ve never really thought of Sgt. Pepper as something I’d willfully replay time and time again, but it is filled with ideas that are interesting and groundbreaking for the time.

Magical Mystery Tour: “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “All You Need Is Love” – I really like the good tunes on this one, and I couldn’t possibly care less about the bad ones. It’s pop that is ripe for the consumption, and I dig it.

The Beatles: “Dear Prudence,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Helter Skelter” – The infamous “white album” is undoubtedly my favorite Beatles record. Twice the discs, twice the awesome, right? It even holds a glimpse of primordial heavy metal with “Helter Skelter.” I love it not because it’s full of great tunes. It is. I love it because it’s the sound of a band falling apart at the seams, splintering into numerous musical directions without regard for their relationships with one another. All four members do their own thing on this album and the disregard and even disdain for each other is palpably apparent on almost every track. “Rocky Raccoon,” as dumb as it is, still remains probably my favorite tune on the album just because it starts with 30 seconds of indifferent garbage before some bizarre metamorphosis changes it into a brilliantly glorious folk song that tells a seemingly vapid, stupid old western story that you somehow cannot simply ignore. I’ve also found it interesting that in the booklet, there is not a single photo of two or more band members together. Very telling.

Abbey Road: “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “The End,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Something,” “Oh! Darling” – This was the point in the Beatles’ careers when the writing was already on the wall, but genius is genius and cannot be subdued. There are what seems like sheer filler tracks that you find yourself listening to over and over (“Octopus’s Garden,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”), and there are plenty of songs that beautifully demonstrate the Fab Four’s facility when it comes to penning pure musical art.

Let It Be: “Let It Be,” “Across the Universe,” “The Long and Winding Road,” Two of Us” – This is what I consider to be sort of the posthumous Beatles album since it was released a month after the band’s split. Even the cover art featuring four clearly separated and independent photos of the members tells a clear story of its own. While the white album was a sonic expedition into the collective psyche of a band that hated each other, listening to this record now almost sounds as if you’re listening to a memoir of the good times before the egos, power trips, and attitudes, a chronicle of adventures down the long and winding road of life that, while nostalgic and fun, will never truly come back again. We hold on to what we have and what we’ve experienced, but in the end, we’re better off to, for lack of a more poignant term, let it be.

So that’s the Beatles. Come back later to see what I have to say about some other band we all know and love.