Please Please Me (1963)
Please Please Me (1963)
Album Score: 12
The Beatles spoil other rock bands for me. No matter what band I ever decide to listen to, there is a zero percent chance they will be better than The Beatles. There are very few absolutes in the universe, and that happens to be one of them. I mean, some physicist could come along in the future and disprove gravity. But no one shall ever disprove that The Beatles are the greatest rock band of all time. There it is. From my warped, sci-fi brain to yours.
I had to write that above paragraph just in case there was any doubt about my position on The Beatles! In fact, I'm going to elaborate even more! I love listening to their music, and I'm unafraid of making sweeping, romantic generalizations about them. (I do this all the time in my reviews, if you haven't noticed. It's very much fun!) More importantly, I don't subscribe to any of this namby-pampy Beatles-bashing nonsense that so many of you cynical hipsters like to engage in nowadays. I know why they even bother, because it won't help them get laid! Naturally, The Beatles were just a rock 'n' roll band, and John, Paul, George and Ringo were all imperfect beings privy to mistakes. You don't need a metaphorical microscope to notice that there are plenty of mistakes and imperfections all throughout this debut album! And there's more to come in their discography! But somehow, through some sort of unexplainable and possibly extraterrestrial magic, everything these boys touched seemed to turn into gold.
The story behind that legendary and incredibly raw vocal performance on “Twist and Shout” stems from a terrible cold that Lennon had. Just think—if he remembered to wash his hands after using the toilet on that magical night, he might never have sung like that. Even the diseases they contracted turned into gold! Oh, but let's not talk about the covers. Let's talk about the originals. Scanning the track listing, even the non-seasoned music listener would notice that there's a distinct lack of the most well-known of the well-known Beatles originals present here. That's because this is their first album, and they're young and inexperienced! But holy crap, look at the songs this album does have! “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Misery,” Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do,” “There's a Place” ... if you are anything like me, you should be salivating at the mouth!
“I Saw Her Standing There” is that raucous opener. Whoever thought The Beatles were wimpy instrumentalists need to get that notion out of their heads immediately! ... Sure, The Rolling Stones were better, but they didn't start releasing albums until 1964. For now, you're just going to have to accept that Ringo's toe tapping drumming kicks your backside, that riff is rough and infectious, and even George's very rusty guitar solo comes off as awesome! None of that mentions that the song is just about the catchiest thing ever, but that goes without mentioning! That's followed up with “Misery,” a very happy ballad. Even though the composition is incredibly simple, it has the uncanny ability to just leap out of the speakers. That's their magic at work right at this early stage!
“Please Please Me” is one of the surefire standouts, and everybody in the world knows that! Everything from that happy-go-lucky beat, that simple and immediately recognizable harmonica line and that remarkably catchy melody. I mean, it is so much fun and unpretentious, and it's even great to dance to! “Love Me Do” is another one of those songs that everybody knows by heart whether they like it or not. It's such a simple ditty! But listening to it, it's impossible to write it off. Not that I would even want to.
Naturally, Please Please Me has it's insubstantial original compositions. It wouldn't be the first Beatles album if it didn't! Lennon's “Ask Me Why” tends to sound a bit flat and McCartney's “P.S. I Love You” doesn't quite have that spark the other songs had. George Harrison takes over the lead vocals in the Lennon/McCartney “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and shows his lack of vocal prowess right at this early stage. Heck, Ringo even sounded better than George, who took the lead vocals in one of the covers, “Boys!”
Speaking of the covers, most of them are quite good. Though the particular lowlight of this bunch, in my view, is “A Taste of Honey,” which wasn't even a rock song in its original incarnation. I don't want to do the original composer a disservice by suggesting it's crap, because that's a fine composition if you ask me. It's just that it's the least affecting song here. Burt Bacharach's composition is similarly shrug-worthy, although I do enjoy The Beatles rendition of it. It just goes to show that everyone would improve by the end of the '60s! Even a somewhat meh-worthy Carole King and Simon Goffin composition, “Chains” appears in its relatively unexciting glory.
It is commonly agreed-upon that this is the worst Beatles album (as long as we're not counting Yellow Submarine). However, the factions are reportedly divided against this one and The Beatles For Sale, but I haven't met anyone who actually thinks that about The Beatles For Sale. Anyway, the fact that everyone needs to hear their relatively inciting material goes to prove how awesome they were! Nothing else can be said about that.
Read the track reviews:
With The Beatles (1963)
Album Score: 13
It was four months since their last one was released, and look how far they've come! By god, it's absolutely staggering! Naturally, I've known this for years, but just coming off of reviewing Please Please Me, it still get a chill coming down my neck. Their sound is much, much cleaner. (Obviously, they had a little more time in the studio to record this. Please Please Me was more rushed.) Their singing is much better, and incredibly soulful at times. The originals songwriting is better! The covers are better! EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!! ... If they were able to make these leaps and bounds of improvements from an album that was pretty darn good to begin with, they might just go places!
The album opens with a song more unique and original than anything in that debut. “It Won't Be Long” not only has that insanely catchy melody, but it has that call-and-response style singing. It won't be the last time they'll do that of course, but they combine it with this incredibly interesting rhythm and it becomes something the world has never quite heard before. If you had any doubts about The Beatles uncanny abilities to innovate, all you need to do is listen to that song. (And remember we're only talking about early Beatles albums. Later on, the innovation gets crazy.)
That's followed up with a pleasant love ballad “All I've Got to Do.” Apart from the evolving rhythms (thanks to Ringo), this one tends to be slightly more derivative than the others. “All My Loving” is one of the Beatles' early hallmarks, and it's completely rules ... Paul always had that gift to write these beautiful, happy songs that make you want to keep them fondly lingering on in your mind ... and of course, this is one of his better ones. The melody is infectious, of course! Those ultra clean guitars lend it that crisp feeling, which was of course incredibly important to that immortal Beatles sound. The penultimate “Not a Second Time” is John's composition, and there's something bizarre about it. On the outside, it's another tuneful Beatles pop song. But there's some sort of darker undertone to it. Most of that is thanks to the chord progression! But also, Ringo finds a heart-pounding drum beat to play. And I must also mention that George Martin took up piano duties, and he's pounding away in these dark registers! Likewise, “I Wanna Be Your Man” is a surprisingly menacing rocker. When you note that it was written with The Rolling Stones in mind, you will see why it sounds like that!
George writes a song! It's called “Don't Bother Me” whose title hilariously foreshadows George's eventual reputation with the band and in life in general. It's surprisingly a little darker than you might expect! My only complaint about it is it seems to repeat a lot, which is an impression I very rarely get from listening to Beatles songs. Well, George should've been proud of himself, because I do prefer it over a number of the Lennon/McCartney songs. Of course, he wasn't proud of himself for it, but that's because he was George!
Yeah, there are covers and amazingly, all four of The Beatles have a chance to shine on at least one of them. And all of them deliver truly first-rate performances. Paul's highlight vocal performance is a beautiful rendition of a show tune, of all things! “Till There Was You,” from The Music Man. Paul is helped along by these wonderful acoustic guitars, and of course, the source material was pretty great to begin with. George's chance to shine is that rollicking rendition of “Roll Over Beethoven,” which had been a favorite of this band for years. George's electric guitar is, naturally, reminiscent of Chuck Berry, but his take on it manages to still sound surprisingly fresh and vibrant. John's vocals in “Please Mr. Postman” could not have possibly been better. He soars through that song as though nothing else was important in the world! ... And yup , Ringo's party-time vocals do their worst (that is to say their *best*) in that rollicking and insanely toe-tapping rendition of “Little Child.” So yeah... Everybody in the world would rather hear the Beatles write and perform their own songs, but as long as they were doing covers, you couldn't have asked for much better than these.
Naturally, this is not a perfect album... Paul's “Hold Me Tight” doesn't quite make the cake when you compare it to these other originals! It's sounds uncharacteristically flat for a Beatles composition. “Devil in Her Heart” is a George-sung cover, and it's also relatively lifeless. (Of course, both of those songs earned B+'s, so I wasn't exactly hurt by them.) So, even the lowlights are worth listening to. How many albums do I ever say that about?
Read the track reviews:
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
Album Score: 13
Another album and yet another turning point for the band. This is their first album with all original material, and it proved to be their strongest album yet! Paul McCartney might have dominated the songwriting in the earlier albums, but John Lennon ended up writing most of the material for this album. (As always, the two shared credits!) Just to show how legendary this is, the first second of this album has been more hotly talked-out and analyzed than the entire 40-album discography of The Legendary Pink Dots. Yes, I'm talking about the opening chord. (Just look at their respective Wikipedia pages... Right now, the section that discusses the opening chord is much longer than the Pink Dots' entire page....... if you discount the discography list.) I'm not qualified to actually comment on this chord, and it seems that even the Beatles themselves weren't quite sure about it. They were more interested in just writing good music and not about music theory!
And there is more to “A Hard Day's Night” than the opening chord, of course. You guys know it. That catchy ditty that goes “It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog / It's been a hard day's night; I should be sleeping like a log.” Not the most interesting lyrics in the world, but The Beatles haven't entered that phase yet! It's difficult to imagine a song that's catchier and more toe-tapping than that one. In a big way, it seems to sum-up these guys early, happy-go-lucky period in a nutshell. Not that you would want to!
And there is more to this album than “A Hard Day's Night!” The follow-up is surprisingly nearly as good. A much slower song that gives you that charming desire to make you want to bob your head pleasantly back and forth with that beat! That wobbly harmonica was a very fun idea for it, and even shows how far that instrument has come ever since those earlier albums ... released just a year earlier. “If I Fell” is more of a love ballad, and that's another song with a melody that'll surely linger with your for a long while.
This might have been more of John's album, but Paul delivers two of the the early Beatles' signature tunes. They're “Can't Buy Me Love” and “And I Love Her,” of course! “And I Love Her” turns out to be one of The Beatles best love ballads ever with a melody so sweet that it couldn't possibly be topped. The instrumentation is relatively simple... With strummed and scaling acoustic guitars, and Ringo's simple bongos. It might have been one of their more commercial songs, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a flash of brilliance. As you know already, “Can't Buy Me Love” is one the album's more upbeat rockers that'll surely get you to the dance floor for sure. It's so difficult reviewing these Beatles albums, because I'm perfectly aware that everybody knows these songs by heart... and especially that song. (And that's not because Patrick Dempsey once starred in an '80s movie with that title!) George comes up with a wonderful guitar solo in the middle, which is nearly as joyous as the melody itself.
I enjoyed George's composition in With The Beatles, but he didn't get to write anything for this album unfortunately. (Eh, his compositional abilities were very much in their formative stages.) He did give the lead vocals for “I'm Happy Just to Dance With You.” As another critic points out, he comes off a bit like a dork! But that's OK, because I like dorks. And the melody is catchy, anyway. (According to my sources, Wikipedia, the only reason Paul and John let George sing it was because they both thought the song was so formulaic that they didn't want to........ holy cow.) His guitar is a little off kilter, which lends it a texture that makes it much more vibrant than a simple formulaic love song!
The only possible thing I can say against this album is that it does tend to get weaker in the second half. The Beatles manage to get a little bit sloppy, even, with “When I Get Home.” John's vocals are a little too boisterous, and the melody isn't nearly as infectious as these other songs. George's guitars consists of short stabs, which doesn't seem to do much for me creating a texture that piques my interest. And those cries of “Who-o-o-ah IIIIIIIII” ... it was fine once or twice, but they do it a bit too much.
By all means, “You Can't Do That” is a wholly more excellent composition with an interesting song structure. I love that ending! It basically consists of that three-note guitar loop that seems to wear-out. It's simple, it's succinct and it interests me. Much more interesting than a fade-out that the majority of pop stars would've done. My only complaint about that song is George's electric guitar solo in the middle, which has an unfortunate clashing effect. Anything “bad” about the last half is effectively negated by the closing number. It's a mid-tempo rocker with a minor chord sequence and unexpectedly heartbreaking lyrics. And despite that all, you'll get the infectious urge to tap your toes, and the melody is so wonderful that most listeners have probably kept it in their hearts for their entire lives. A good song, that!
So, that concludes another Beatles album review! Sorry that they're so incredibly useless, since this is the most famous albums ever in the history of mankind, and everybody knows them by heart. I dwell on each of these songs only to find out I don't have anything remotely original to say about them. But they are enjoyable for me to review! So there you go. I enjoyed writing this review more than you did reading it!
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Beatles For Sale (1964)
Album Score: 12
This is often considered a step back from the earlier Beatles albums. At the time, it must have seemed to be a sign that they had already hit their peak with A Hard Day's Night, and they were starting their ascension ... which as everyone knew was a fate that would eventually plagues every rock band. As we've all come to know since then, that was hardly the case, and in fact The Beatles For Sale marked yet another leap forward for them. This time, John started to write songs of a deeper caliber. He had that famed meeting with Bob Dylan, which according to legend, sent him down that path. (Also, something about smoking pot.)
In fact, the sound is considerably different from their other albums. A lot more subtle folk and country influences than the earlier, straight pop-rock songs they've been known for. It's interesting that there is only one original song that wouldn't have seemed out-of-place in A Hard Day's Night, and that is their happy-go-lucky “Eight Days a Week.” While that's a fantastically catchy song and one that I'm sure provided much joy at '60s dance parties, its presence here seems surprisingly passe around these other originals.
The album opens with “No Reply.” John's catchy composition with some very serious undertones. Those dramatic exclamations they scream out has an incredible emotional effect, which already points toward some of their later work! The song title of “I'm a Loser” alone makes it seem like a new Beatles was on the horizon. It also proves that they didn't have much of an ego... I mean, the first thing people are going to notice about that song is the title, right? The lyrical matter shows the Dylan influence, obviously. They paint a beautiful picture of a lost love, and it's done in a folk-rock vein. (I gotta wonder if Dylan was counter-influenced by that... Remember, it wasn't until 1965 when he released his first folk-rock album.) Anyway, that's another emotional song with a fantastically catchy melody! Would you expect anything less?
Anyone discussing “Baby's in Black” usually brings up the 6/8 time signature, which is something that sets it aside from earlier Beatles songs. There is also a notably folky quality to it. George comes in with quite a number of excellent guitar lines there that provides some excellent counterpoints to that somewhat uneventful vocal melody. Another point where George does this is that surprisingly innovative cover of Buddy Holly's “Words of Love.” You can say anything you want about The Beatles, but nobody will ever deny that George was cool. And to further solidify my claims that this album had some subtle country influences, Rosanne Cash would later have a huge country hit with a cover of “I Don't Want to Spoil the Party.” I haven't heard this version, but I'd imagine she didn't have to do anything to change its essence.
Just like it was with A Hard Day's Night, Paul's major contributions to the album seemed to be overshadowed by John's. Although he had his fair share of gems. Of course, “Eight Days a Week” was his, but he also provided that unusual and wholesome “What You're Doing.” The song structure is interesting—it starts with a drum loop and George comes in occasionally with a catchy guitar riff. As Wikipedia points out, it doesn't have a chorus as such... the song is a little bit rambly in a way... and there's a hook at every bend. A very odd instrumental interlude features a slightly crazed guitar solo from George, and some rumbly piano from George Martin. And all of it seemed to work. That's more evidence that the guys were starting to experiment!
One reason this album is a step back from A Hard Day's Night is there is a considerable amount of covers here. A Hard Day's Night was 100 percent original!! Of course, The Beatles were always good at covers, so you an expect more of the same here. “Rock and Roll Music” with a passionate performance from John threatens to blow all the other covers they've ever done out of the water. And, I already mentioned the interesting rendition of “Words of Love.” However, the other covers are starting to seem a little less exciting... Though I do still have a fondness for them. Ringo takes the vocals for an enjoyable rendition of “Honey Don't.” George gives a fine vocals in the album closer, “Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby,” which also effectively served as a tribute to Carl Perkins to whom he was a great fan. Paul tries to one-up John Lennon's boisterous performance in “Kansas City / Hey Hey Hey” and does admirably. Probably the worst song in the whole album is “Mr. Moonlight.” John's vocals overdo it, and it doesn't seem to give me that Beatles-fix, which I've gotten to crave so much!
It's not a perfect Beatles album, but it's still a Beatles album, which automatically means it's great. The originals have definitely gotten more interesting compositionally and emotionally since A Hard Day's Night, which is the most solid counterargument to anyone claiming this would have been the beginning of the end for The Beatles. However, compared to A Hard Day's Night, I do think a little bit less of this album simply because of those covers. Some of them seem uncharacteristically tired. Wikipedia mentioned that the Fab Four were feeling a little “war weary” at this point, which could explain that. Remember, they were still doing tours at this point, which must have been an utterly tiring experience... trying to dodge all those underpants the screaming girls were throwing at them. Perhaps they would have released another all-originals album if they were given more time! (Naturally, they're not going to spend as much energy with the covers than the originals...) Anyway, Beatles For Sale remains another great album in their discography, and you should get it immediately.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 13
Another Beatles album and another masterpiece. This probably isn't as much of a stylistic jump forward as Beatles For Sale or Rubber Soul will be. However, Help! manages to strengthen their artistic integrity. There's not only more of Lennon's Dylan-posturing, but just a little bit more innovation. As if you'd expect anything less from them!
John dominates this record again with the contribution of three A+ scoring songs, but Paul stays strong in the running with two A+ scoring songs of his own! George contributes two ditties, but again his songwriting still seems to be in the formative stages (although he is still a lot better than most songwriters from the era). John's “Help!” starts things off in a remarkably energetic way. It's a fast-paced rocker with some excellent chord progressions and two melody-lines going at once. And, as expected, the thing is catchy as hell. The Beatles were feeling very overextended at this point of their careers, and you can guess that he wrote this to vent some of that frustration. As a result of that, I have thought about it to vent my frustrations from time to time!
“You've Got to Hide Your Love Away” is another one of John's A+ contributions. It's one of his Dylan-inspired acoustic folk numbers, and it has a melody that's immediately lovable. Lack of creative melodies is a common criticism I have of folk music in general, but John knew exactly how to fix that! “Ticket to Ride” has been so well incorporated in our culture that we probably don't realize how unusual it was for the time. Those loud, thundering drums and that droning guitar tone has been compared to heavy metal, and that comparison isn't unjustified. (Of course, it's not heavy metal... but it begins to approach that style!)
Paul wrote “Yesterday,” of course, and it's one of the first rock songs to incorporate a string quartet. (Though the string quartet idea was George Martin's.) Classical music snobs like to point out that such an arrangement wouldn't have gotten anywhere if it was introduced in the classical realm, and they're absolutely right! However, the idea was certainly bracing, and it points its way toward progressive rock. Furthermore, it works perfectly with Paul's sweet, folksy melody. Paul's other A+ contribution was “I've Just Seen a Face,” which is certainly an unusual take on folk-rock. The acoustic guitar is strummed like mad, and Paul's melody is sweet and breezy!
George contributes two songs here, and the last time he had written something was in With The Beatles. Surely, he's not as good as his brethren yet, but he's developing an interesting voice of his own. “I Need You” has a very interesting blocky guitar tone amidst a trotting rhythm! That's a very odd texture, and this goes to show George's experimental edge. It also makes up for the melody, which is quite a bit less inspired than those Lennon/McCartney ditties. George's second song, “You Like Me Too Much” is arguably the worst song on here... The melody would have fit better on With The Beatles, and I don't care much for Martin's piano, which seems clumsy. But that song title is vintage George, right?
Ringo got a chance to sing for the cover of “Act Naturally,” a very cute country song that managed to perfectly showcase Ringo's playful personality. That tuneful rhythm guitar and drum rhythm are just as playful as the vocals, which is a feat very difficult to accomplish!
Paul's “Another Girl” would have been a perfectly catchy song, but Paul played this wobbly guitar throughout. It's not enough these guys can pull out these catchy melodies like nobody's business, but they have to go and create these innovative textures! John's “You're Gonna Lose That Girl” is like a typical Motown song except with a really interesting harmonic twist. Arguably the worst Lennon/McCartney original is “Tell Me What You See,” which has been described by these guys as throwaway... and it probably was. ...It never ceases to amaze me that even this throwaway stuff is completely worth hearing! The Beatles were beautiful freaks!!
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Rubber Soul (1965)
Album Score: 14
Ever since they started pressing albums, The Beatles have proved time and time again that they were a great rock band. Had they stopped recording after Help!, I have no difficulty imagining that they would still be one of the most famous rock bands ever. They already made their very distinct mark in the universe. But of course, they weren't even close to giving up! What they did do, however, was realized that they were so famous that they could get away with doing whatever they wanted, so they decided to experiment a little bit more. So, they came up with Rubber Soul, the album that marked their transition from a great band into *the* great band. Naturally, the transition would not have been complete without Revolver, but there would not have been Revolver without Rubber Soul, and so this album is phenomenally important.
It's phenomenally good, too! Just going off the song quality, this is easily the best album they had released to this point. (If I was a music fan in the '60s, I'm sure it would've blown my mind! I don't think anyone imaged The Beatles releasing anything better than A Hard Day's Night!) And yet, here it is. The melodies are stronger. The instrumentation is more unique and skilled. Every song but one received a B+ in the track reviews. There are six A+ scoring songs---one of which was written by George, who shows an incredible improvement over his relatively routine contributions from Help! released earlier the same year. This album is freaking amazing!
No discussion of Rubber Soul can exist without talking about that fateful day when George discovered the sitar. (He's like the Christopher Columbus of rock, but he found the real India.) He liked the sound! On nothing more than a whim, he decided to play it through one of John's Dylan-inspired folk songs, and the result was like nothing like we've ever heard before! Surely, it would have been great without it, but that addition gave it that unique sound that everyone remembers most about it. A similar characteristic effect was granted to one of George's compositions courtesy of Paul. That fuzz guitar he plays in “Think For Yourself” is more memorable than the already-catchy vocal melody!
If you've only been listening to George's songs previously in the discography, you might be surprised that he came up with something that original sounding. You'll be shocked to learn that he managed to top even that with “If I Needed Someone.” Not only does it have a catchy melody, but that wandering chord progression is something that Paul and John would never do. George's lyrics were always a little “isolationist,” but he's turning into an independent musical force, too.
As you'd expect, John's position as the lyrical, philosophical guy was further cemented with this release. His most famous contribution is “Nowhere Man,” which is popularly touted as the first Beatles song to not be about love. Naturally, the song is better for it! And despite it all, he doesn't fail to give us an utterly addictive melody. Paul's position as the sweet, melodic guy is also further cemented. As far as I can tell, “Michelle” is one of the best love ballads ever written. It was inspired by French ballads (a style that The Kinks would later extrapolate upon) and the melody is so famous that people who've never sat down and actually listened to the album probably know it already.
The obligatory Ringo song is the country-tinged “What Goes On.” That's a Lennon/McCartney composition, but Ringo also got a songwriting credit for it. He allegedly only contributed about five words to the lyrics, but I'm sure they were good ones! It's a fine song to be sure, but that's the only one that I gave a B+ to. It would have been great in virtually any other context, but it seems uncharacteristically sloppy for the album. The instrumentation is too clunky, which proves to be a distraction from Ringo's typically enjoyable vocal performance.
There are so many great songs that I run out of room to talk about them all! I haven't yet mentioned “In My Life,” which is another remarkably tuneful contribution from John. “Drive My Car” sort of fulfills the unwritten rule that the opening track has to be very upbeat. You can hear Ringo playing a cowbell, so you know it had to have succeeded! “The Word” was apparently John's attempt at writing a political anthem, but even that one is very upbeat and lovable. These guys knew how to do nothing else! “Girl” is characterized by that funny breathing noise that's purportedly marijuana inhaling... oh, how The Beatles corrupted our youth!! “Wait” was actually intended to be on Help!. That's a fantastic song of course, but you can really tell how far these guys have come ever since that album ... which amazingly was only released about five or six months previously. Holy cow, The Beatles were on fire!!!
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Album Score: 15
Anyone who didn't think The Beatles were able to top that breakthrough album, Rubber Soul, were probably so stunned at Revolver that their hairpieces flipped. Rubber Soul is an amazing album, but Revolver is an amazing, amazing, amazing album! It's weird, but they apparently had room for improvement in their already-amazing songwriting skills, and they expanded their penchant for experimentation. As always, the album is chock-full of their classic charm and wit. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all, despite the experimentation, this is just as accessible as A Hard Day's Night. Is this the best rock album ever made? It's impossible to answer that question, but Revolver is definitely close. It has 14 songs, and they all rule mercilessly. They're 100 percent tuneful, the instrumentation is virtually flawless, and it's diverse as hell.
This also marked another stage in the band members' rift. Paul is continuing to write the most tuneful songs and John concentrated on the more psychological and experimental. I'm going to say that Paul's songs on Revolver are the best overall (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “For No One,” “Here, There and Everywhere”), even though it's more fun to discuss John's! John does something interesting with “I'm Only Sleeping.” It's a fairly normal rock song, but the guitar is played backwards. It was catchy and interesting, in the first place, but that new sound gives it an added psychological effect. Expanding on that idea, John wrote the phenomenal album closer, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” That is something of a sound effects collage. There are all sorts of bizarre sound effects, sped up tapes, backwards tapes ... all set to a thunderous Ringo drum beat, and a surprisingly catchy melody. It's the weirdest thing that The Beatles have done yet, and it's startlingly accessible! Revolver certainly isn't the most experimental album ever made, but this is about as accessible as that genre of music is going to get. Lastly, I have to mention John's “She Said She Said,” which was inspired by an LSD trip he had. Of course, the lyrics make no sense, but that's why I like them! I've talked to a few people who said they don't like songs if the lyrics don't make sense. Well, I say they make no sense!
George Harrison's status as a songwriter has improved so immensely that they agreed to open it with one of his. And that's “Taxman,” of course! It's a tongue-in-cheek tribute to evil tax collectors who were taking so much of his royalties! Apart from the lyrics, there's nothing particularly special about the song other than the fact that it's freaking catchy. George was also allowed to contribute two other songs. He goes knee-deep into those Indian styling that he hinted at in Rubber Soul with “Love to You.” While that's certainly an unusual sound for a pop song, Harrison does an excellent job making it ear-catching and enjoyable. And you wouldn't expect anything less from him! His other song is “I Want to Tell You,” which has a droning quality that will be very characteristic of Harrison's solo career.
Paul McCartney's “Eleanor Rigby” is a very dark song about loneliness, and it's one of the centerpieces of the album. It has a string quartet arrangement, which improved upon the idea pioneered by “Yesterday.” The string arrangements are wonderful. I know that many anti-rock snobs will point out that it's a very primitive classical arrangement. But it's perfect for a pop song. The string textures evolve throughout, which supports his utterly gorgeous melody perfectly. “Here, There and Everywhere” is another beautiful McCartney ditty. This one has a bittersweet aura and another melody that proves he was one of the best composers from the 20th Century. “For No One” is a very morose composition with some interesting ties to British classical music (there's a clavichord and a french horn!) “Good Day Sunshine” was perhaps Paul's attempt to bring some happiness to the proceedings. It was inspired by The Lovin' Spoonful, and so it's very upbeat with good lyrics that fit the mood.
Ringo gets a chance to sing on “Yellow Submarine.” He didn't write it, but it's one of his trademark songs, and that's for good reason! However, it's easily the least impressive composition of the bunch. The melody and chord progressions resemble a British drinking song. But of course that isn't a British drinking song at all... it's a kid's song with all sorts of goofy sound effects inserted throughout. So, it ended up working brilliantly, anyway. It's an entertaining mix!
If you scan the track reviews, I awarded four of the songs an A rating, and all the rest received an A+. Naturally, this makes Revolver one of my favorite albums of all time. I'm pretty sure it's among the first five or six rock albums I ever bought, and I used to listen to it very frequently. Naturally, I listened to it *a lot* since I didn't have a lot of money to buy other albums to listen to. It's been awhile since I had this on heavy rotation, and I certainly had a blast revisiting it!
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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Album Score: 15
This is another one of those perfect albums that I couldn't find a flaw with even if I tried. To state the obvious, this is the most famous rock album of all time. And along with that fame, there has been a serious backlash. I've read the reviews from these critics, but most of them sound like they're trying to gain admittance into some sort of underground society of sneering hipsters. Either that, or they have mistakenly picked up a copy of the 1978 Bee Gees soundtrack album. ... Don't believe anything these critics write, for they know not what they type! Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a complete triumph. It was the biggest thing to hit the music scene back in 1967, and it's still going strong all these years later. It might not be the greatest album ever made (though it's certainly close no matter how you measure it), but this is going to be remembered forever. Viva Sgt. Pepper!
The reason this album is brilliant is because the songs are brilliant. Can it get any simpler than that? They open the album with the title track, the one that was supposed to introduce a sort of alternate reality in which each member of The Beatles took on a new character. Ringo's character was called Billy Shears, but I'm not sure who the rest were supposed to be. Eh, it's pretty well documented that this concept sort of fell off the map half-way through the project, but I don't hold that against it. What matters is these freaking fantastic SONGS! The second track is the Ringo-led “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which earns its status as one of the album's best tracks... It's the cream of the cream, so to speak. The melody, which I'm sure you all know, could not have been catchier, and Ringo's delivery is likable as always. There's a real warmness to it, expressed very well in the lyrics. (I wonder what some critics have against these lyrics?)
John's “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is a trip, of course. It's a surreal masterpiece with dreary, atmospheric lyrics and a chorus that manages to get me teary-eyed every time I hear it. “Getting Better” is an optimistic number sung by Paul (with some sinister “remarks” echoed by Lennon). Those bouncy, high-pitched electric guitar stabs used to rub me the wrong way, but they're mixed well (therefore not grating to the ears) and they give the whole experience a nice texture. Plus, the melody is catchy as all hell.
Today, I have called “Fixing a Hole” the worst song on Sgt. Pepper's, but that's a distinction I'm always changing my mind about! In reality, that song is near-perfect, so there is no *worst* song. That's an interesting composition with another catchy melody and excellent song arrangements. It's a little more straitlaced than some of the others, but it was done excellently, and I'm positive there's nothing they could have done to improve it. I'm convinced that the bittersweet “She's Leaving Home” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It's not really a rock song, which is an aspect that interests me even more greatly in it! (Some critics of this album have accused it of not being a rock album ... but that's only really true about this song and “When I'm Sixty-Four.”) The string arrangements revisit “Eleanor Rigby” except there's a more cinematic and melodramatic quality about them. Most amazingly, these arrangements aren't schmaltzy at all. Rather, they perfectly capture the mood set in the melody and the lyrics.
John was of course responsible for all the psychedelic songs, and “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is the freakiest of them all! That whole twisted circus theme is something that has always bugged me, and here John is being the ringleader in the psycho circus of my mind... I love the song, though, because it's so catchy and accessible! Besides, these arrangements are brilliant. Again. George's one and only contribution to the album is “Within You Without You.” I used to have a beef with it, but I really love it now... especially that mystical instrumental interlude. That's pure vintage George for you there... and he couldn't get any better with this Indian stuff.
“When I'm Sixty-Four” is often considered the tritest composition of the album, and it probably is. But isn't that the point of it? This is an instance where George Martin really came and worked his magic. Those bouncy, jazz-ridden woodwind arrangements kept the song light but never, ever approaching schmaltzy territory even though the melody and lyrics threatened to turn it into that! I'm also in love with “Lovely Rita,” which has another one of Paul's great pop melodies and an amazing, reverb-ridden production job. “Good Morning Good Morning” isn't one of my favorites, but it's still greatness of course! It's characterized by those crunchy horn sounds and a very fun melody. The album's final song is “A Day in the Life.” That's a particularly amazing composition just in the way it's structured. Really, that's two songs in one... John has the main bit, and Paul comes in the middle with a new melody of his own. Of course, those weird orchestral crescendos come up to separate these sections! It's probably the first time many people heard something like that before, and it's not too much of a stretch to guess that it provided inspiration to plenty of the progressive rock bands who were just starting out!
I spent this entire review basically summarizing the track reviews, so you probably don't have to go through them! (Eh, I know most of you don't read them anyway!) That's exactly the sort of album this is ... Every single one of these songs is so notable that I can't bear to neglect mentioning one! Needless to say, this is also one of my favorite albums. I also like this slightly better than Revolver, but that's just a matter of personal preference... Really, I'll take any of these Beatles albums any time of the day! Ready for them, I am always! (Oops... it seems I turned into Yoda for a second... OK, I'm better now.)
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Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Album Score: 15
Every one of the 1966-1969 Beatles albums are practically perfect, and you can imagine how difficult it is to buckle down and actually pick a favorite. Well, I have spent many years contemplating that, and I've come to a very solid conclusion that Magical Mystery Tour wins that personal distinction. Of course, I realize this is an oddball choice for a plethora of reasons... the most important one being that George's songwriting contribution in this album is probably the least significant of all these classic Beatles albums. And everybody knows how much I love George! (Also, this album has the reputation of being Sgt. Pepper's little brother, as it was in fact composed partly of leftovers from that album.) But I'm throwing all caution to the wind. THE BEST BEATLES ALBUM OF THEM ALL IS MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR! HOO-AH!
If nothing else, this is another great art-rock album from these guys. Just like Sgt. Pepper, you can thumb through these songs all you want, and you won't find a song that isn't great. Even that goofy instrumental jam track called “Flying” has its incredible charm. It most likely was the result of a jam session (it's the first time that a Beatles song was credited to all four of them), and it's a blast! A weird, groovy pace and those funny mock operatic “ahhs” at the end create an entirely memorable atmosphere. It proves to me that they still had the Beatles still had their weird, goofy charm intact. And that was the worst song of the album.
The second worst song is arguably either George Harrison's “Blue Jay Way” or Paul McCartney's “Hello, Goodbye.” “Blue Jay Way” has remarkable instrumentation. It comes up against some pretty stiff competition, but that might just have the most creative instrumentation on the whole disc. Well, it's either that or “I Am the Walrus.” There are instrumentally distorted sounds all throughout that track, which creates a sort of maniacal pace, and it's just incredible to listen to! Amazingly it never comes close to falling apart despite the odds... That was part of The Beatles magic! The only area where that song falls short is the melody, which never captivated me, and frankly it's a little boring. “Hello, Goodbye” isn't lacking in the melody department whatsoever (I mean, it's a McCartney melody, for pete's sake)! But it does seem a slight step back... it's just a regular pop-rock song with nothing particularly notable about the instrumentation.
OK, those were the “lowlights,” which are all still great classics. But the rest are so good that it'll BLOW YOUR MIND!!! Naturally, most of these songs are psychedelic, but I don't even think you have to be a particular fan of the psychedelic era to appreciate them. The melodies are just too catchy! The title song is an upbeat pop-rocker that puts us in the right mood for the album. The development is wild and unpredictable while never once sacrificing its smooth-as-clay flow. “The Fool on the Hill” features some of the most imaginative lyrics that Paul ever wrote, and it's coupled by another one of his top-notch melodies. Those flutes and horns throughout the song is another brilliant touch... so many other bands tried their hardest to emulate those, but very few ever approached it. In fact, flutes normally sound too dang fruity in other pop-rock contexts! But here they provide the perfect atmosphere. I'm also fond of Paul's old-timey song “Your Mother Should Know.” It's along the same lines as “When I'm Sixty-Four,” but the melody is better and the instrumentation is thicker. And that's yet another McCartney composition that'll get stuck in your head forever...
It was John Lennon who provided this album's grandest masterpieces, of course. I only need to name three songs, and you'll know what I mean. “I Am the Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “All You Need is Love.” They are all so great they make me wet my pants! Well, not literally, but it feels like I should be. “I Am the Walrus” has those famously nonsense lyrics and quite possibly the strangest instrumentation in any Beatles song. Lennon was very fond of using tape effects in his songs, and he really went to town there. He thinks of all sorts of weird things to put in that song, and amazingly none of this weirdness detracted from that utterly catchy melody and its driving flow. I listened to that song about a billion times, and I still don't believe it. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is another unforgettable hippie classic. The instrumentation isn't quite as amazing as “I Am the Walrus,” but it's still unpredictable and seems fresh no matter how much you hear it. And, man! The melody! OH THE MELODY! “All You Need is Love” is probably the grandest love anthem ever written. It's melodically simple, but it's still catchy and memorable! I love that it starts with that stodgy British horn theme and ends into a sort of anarchic love fest... That aspect, especially, delights me every time I hear it. What a fantastic song! It's the sort of thing that I could go off on a fan rant forever, but I don't because I'm restraining myself.
I can't forget about Paul's “Penny Lane,” which is worthy of its reputation of one of the greatest (if not *the* greatest) Brit-pop songs ever recorded. This melody, above all other Paul melodies, is one of his best. That's really saying something. The instrumentation isn't nearly as experimental as John's contributions, but these are still wonderful and contribute to that nostalgic feeling that he was going for. “Baby You're a Rich Man” is probably the album's lost “gem,” so to speak. It gets a bit lost in the shuffle. It has a melody to die for and certain creative touches with the instrumentation. Need I say more?
Really, these Beatles albums are so good that I can't imagine what I would do, in life, without them... It's possible I might never have even gotten into rock music without them. THEY CHANGED MY LIFE!!!!!!!
Read the track reviews:
The Beatles (1968)
Album Score: 15
This was the first rock album I ever bought, and it spoiled me greatly. (Yeah, I'm not terribly old or anything. I bought it in 2001 after spending the entirety of middle school and high school avoiding rock music like the plague.) Well, I fell in love with it immediately, and the rest is history. The melodies were the first thing that attracted me to it. There weren't actually a whole lot of songs that I was previously very familiar with, but this was an incredibly rich cesspool of memorable melodies. The other thing that attracted me about it was its extreme diversity. It has pretty much everything. There are serious ballads, goofy ballads, novelty numbers, harder rocking songs, old timey ditties, blues, a sound collage.... and all of pretty much equal quality. I listened to this album many, many times in 2001 (partly due to the fact that I had nothing else to listen to at the time), and that led me to believe that there were other rock albums around that were this great or perhaps even greater! Well, there aren't too many other albums that fit that bill, but I appreciate the journey this album sent me on.
The Beatles, more commonly called the White Album, marked the transition away from the two psychedelic albums they released immediately prior. As always, their fan-base followed them every step of the way! They weren't really embarking into new territory with this (other than the sheer novelty of its diverseness). Most of this stuff was already well-covered in the Beatles discography, except for the one instance of hard rock. The Beatles is really just a massive hodgepodge consisting of songs that they just happened to want to record at the time. It is well-documented that this wasn't even a collective effort from these guys... There are instances of Paul recording some of these songs without the other guys' knowledge!
Well, there are 30 tracks, and I talked about each one of them in the track reviews. I will just point out some of the highlights. ........That is, some of the highlights of the highlights. All of these songs are so good that they would have been considered “highlights” in any other context! But I do have a favorite song in this, and that is George Harrison's sensational classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It's clearly one of the album's more serious tunes, and it shows George at the heights of his songwriting career. Finally, the man was in a position to not only match his peers, but outshine them. I get the feeling that this song is so great compared to the others because George only ever gets limited space on Beatles albums, and he spent more time with it. But whatever. It's a masterpiece. He even brought in his friend Eric Clapton to deliver that incredible, “weeping” guitar solo!
It was “Back in the U.S.S.R.” that opened this album, a sort of upbeat Beach Boys parody. It establishes the scene early on that this isn't going to be another ultra-serious album like they've been known to make, and it's incredibly fun to listen to! And the intense diversity is established early on with “Dear Prudence,” a haunting ballad that only John Lennon could have made. I'll admit that when I was first listening to this album, the first song that really stuck out at me was “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” It reminded me of something on Doctor Demento. (Despite never owning a rock album, I did scan the radio waves occasionally... and Doctor Demento was about the only thing that interested me.) That's a really bizarre song with an interesting chord progression in the verses, and a more conventional chorus. It sort of metamorphoses into a chorus of sarcastic whistling and clapping. Despite that song usually being singled out as a “filler” track, it really is rather fantastic. That goes to show the nature of The Beatles, I guess.
“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Dah” is sometimes singled out as a bad song by magazines that release lists. Trust me, this is not a bad song. Perhaps the hooks are a little too obvious, but that still doesn't change the fact that this thing is CATCHY. Those goofy sound effects and horn sections they threw into the mix is also incredibly alluring. It's inconsequential, maybe, but it's about as far from “bad” as possible. “Birthday” is another especially popular track, probably because it's good to play at birthdays! It's more of a traditional rock 'n' roll song though it's still goofy enough to make it fit in with the others. That also marks one of the few times that Lennon and McCartney seemed to musically cooperate in this stage of The Beatles' careers. (They had equal share in the singing ... and songwriting, too, I'm led to believe.)
While there are some strange songs here, I'd say the only song that actually surprised anyone at the time was “Helter Skelter” on the second disc. That's a legitimate hard rock song. More surprisingly, it was written exclusively by Paul McCartney, who said he wanted to make the dirtiest song that he could possibly do..... and it worked! He gives an incredibly snarling vocal performance too, but I get the feeling that his voice was a little too pretty. At any rate, Paul proves that he *could* have wrote hard-rocking anthems instead of all those prissy ballads in his solo career ... he just chose not to. Good decision, I say!
“Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey” is a somewhat traditional harder rocking tune that happens to also be one of the most danceable songs of the album. Many listeners single that track out as one of the White Album's highlights, and it's easy to see why. It's CATCHY! Also on the second side, George Harrison strikes again with his highly catchy and amusing “Savoy Truffle,” a song about desserts that seemed designed after '60s striptease music. That's not inappropriate imagery for people who can *really* lust after sugary foods.
Inarguably, the most distinctive song of the album is the sound collage called “Revolution 9.” That's really the only song that I ever get tired of in this album, but I guess that's just the nature of sound collages. It's also eight-minutes long, which makes it the longest song here BY FAR. A brief song called “Goodnight,” a heavily orchestrated song fashioned after cheesy show tunes, closes the album... While you can sense the sarcasm there, I guess it was actually meant as a serious song that John wrote to his young son.
I just went through this review without bringing up such iconic numbers as “Mother Nature's Son,” “Revolution 1,” “Blackbird,” “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” “Sexy Sadie” and many others. Even Ringo wrote a tune. All of that is in the track reviews. Go there, and you'll see.
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Yellow Submarine (1969)
Album Score: 11
This is officially considered a member of The Beatles discography, but it's the only one that isn't essential for your collection. The reason for that, simply, is because this is a film soundtrack, and there are only four Beatles songs here that you can't get anywhere else. What's more, most of them were originally recorded for other albums, but didn't quite make the cut when they compiled Magical Mystery Tour (which was a “leftovers” album by itself). So, it's safe to say that these four new songs aren't exactly the best The Beatles ever had to offer.
Well, there's one massive exception to that. It's “Hey Bulldog,” a composition from John Lennon, which is just about as good as anything he ever does. It's a rocker with a heavy piano riff, and it features some of his more enjoyable psychedelic lyrics! That's the only song on the album that I would go out of my way to hear. Although George Harrison's “It's All Too Much” is certainly worth hearing if you have the time, particularly if you're a Harrison fan. The overlong six-minute running length becomes a bit of a problem (which is a bit unusual for a Beatles song ... most of them are very succinct), but it has a very cool, stiff guitar riff and the soundscape and odd percussive textures is certainly interesting to hear.
George also contributed “Only a Northern Song,” which was a psychedelic piece that was originally intended for Sgt. Peppers. You can note how quickly the musical trends evolved in the '60s, because this sort of thing was already considered a bit passe by 1969! The melody isn't anything special for George ... in fact, this sounds a lot like “If I Needed Someone.” But those really unusual “waves” of sound effects that get played throughout give it an interesting texture. “All Together Now” is an incredibly simplistic chant that was designed as a children's song. It's the sort of simple thing that people like to sing at sporting events (though mostly just the British ones). Definitely not as good as their other children's song, “Yellow Submarine,” but it's still likable. It's certainly better than most of the children's songs I grew up listening to.
The two songs that appeared on previous Beatles releases were the title track and also “All You Need is Love.” Yup. These are good 'uns, but it's sort of a waste of money to have to buy the same songs twice just to be able to hear “Hey Bulldog!”
I won't spend much time talking about the last half of the album just because it's not rock music, and it was designed to go along with scenes from the cartoon. Furthermore, they weren't even composed by The Beatles, but George Martin the producer! Well, that guy has some accomplished skills. These moody instrumentals are very British, and they're reminiscent of the sort of music that you'd find in Frederick Delius pieces. They're surprisingly fairly good, though, and you could do a lot worse with a film soundtrack. Only judging them without the context of the film, “Sea of Holes” stands alone pretty good on its own feet... I'm not a classical music expert, but I wouldn't have been so surprised to find out if that one was written by some old master. Although, I found “Pepperland” to be a bit cheesy for my tastes and “Pepperland Laid Waste” to be a little boring. But again, they were intended to orchestrate a film, so it's difficult to give a fair assessment of those ... especially since it's been awhile since I saw it.
Once again, this is the least essential Beatles album in their discography, and you probably don't need it. But if you do find yourself owning it, you might discover that you'll like some of the songs ........ and George Martin's instrumental side isn't as bad as you might think. But, just a warning, all you'll probably do with it is make a mix CD featuring “Hey Bulldog” somewhere on it.
Read the track reviews:
Abbey Road (1969)
Album Score: 15
I know how everyone hated the fact that The Beatles had to break up, but in all honestly that was probably the best thing they could have done. Had they gone on together through the '70s, there's no freaking way they would have continued to write music at the same level. No way. They quit while they were ahead,and now everybody regards them as immortal gods, which they were! But really, The Beatles, as a collective unit, had basically quit after Sgt. Pepper. They weren't functioning as a band anymore. Lennon and McCartney were constantly at each other's throats. Harrison and Starr quit the group for brief periods of time. An album they were working on had fallen apart (Get Back, to be released later as Let it Be). Things were not happy in Beatles-land. So, the break-up had to happen if they were going to write music anymore. And, as I've said before, the best thing to come out of The Beatles breaking up was ex-Beatle solo albums!
As the legend goes, The Beatles knew they were going to call it quits, and they wanted to exit the stage with a massive bang. They worked extra-hard to come up with an album that they wanted people to remember them by! Well, The Beatles were working damn hard as it was....... and all I can say is their efforts paid off. Abbey Road is every bit as good (if not better) than anything they released. A lot of people dub it to be their favorite, and it's easy to see why. (But my heart still lies with Magical Mystery Tour.)
Now, let's talk about these fabulous songs! The first one is the iconic, Lennon anthem “Come Together.” When I first started listening to this album, I thought it was a little too heavy-hitting for my tastes, but that's sort of the point of it. It's one of the most menacing things these guys have ever done, and of course the melody is brilliant. We all know it by heart, don't we? Everybody's already made up their minds about it, and it's usually positive. The second song is “Something,” indeed. It had very tough competition, but “Something” manages to gain distinction as my favorite song of Abbey Road. George Harrison wrote that one, of course, and it's a complete pleasure to see that guy finally come out and shine just as brightly as his colleagues. He not only does that once, but twice with the equally-gorgeous “Here Comes the Sun.” What attracts me to those two songs in particular is the intense spirituality that he expresses. Harrison would continue doing that profoundly in his solo career, but he hardly ever topped these two efforts.
Though the star of this show was undoubtedly McCartney who, if nothing else, wrote more of the songs. “Maxwell's Silver Hammer” is sometimes used as an example of McCartney's off-putting fruitiness! But considering I like his solo career, it probably doesn't come as a surprise that I love that song to pieces! The irrelevant and almost surprisingly violent lyrics are fun to sing along with. Though McCartney's masterpiece in this album is probably “You Never Give Me Your Money.” You can listen to that song from beginning to end, and watch it genre-hop flawlessly at least four times. Plus, it has one of the catchiest melodies that were ever conceived.
Just to prove how magical this album was, even Ringo wrote a tune that holds up well with the other songs. (That's right.... RINGO!!!) That song is the incredibly pleasant and lighthearted “Octopus's Garden.” An old-fashioned sort of children's song that I think helps us take the seriousness out of some of the other songs. Lennon had an epic, psychologically dark song in here that lasts nearly eight minutes called “I Want You (She's So Heavy).” At first, I didn't like that song at all, but I eventually warmed up to its severe psychotics. It's possibly the most mentally affecting song The Beatles ever did. That song is also partly notable for that sudden ending. I can't say why, but that just seems like a perfect idea for it. That's how a lot of psychotic episodes end at least. (Yeah... I know about that...)
The last eight tracks of this album are a suite of brief pieces. All of them probably could have been turned into interesting five-minute songs of their own, but maybe they didn't want to commit to making a double album! ...Nah, the suite idea was a good one, and they express such a high density of melodic material that it's staggering. This part of the album culminates with a massive sort of fanfare in “The End.” It features a quasi-rock jam (featuring the one and only Ringo drum solo), and then a very theatrical ending music that might have worked well in a Broadway show. McCartney (who wrote it) apparently wanted to give the Beatles discography a little dramatic closure, and I think he did a good job. .... So yeah. The Beatles are over. What are we going to do now? AH MAN! I DON'T WANNA LISTEN TO NO CROSBY STILLS AND NASH!!!!!!!
Read the track reviews:
Let it Be (1970)
Album Score: 14
Sure, The Beatles still broke up after Abbey Road, but they had a whole other unfinished album that was waiting to be released. The original name of this album was Get Back, as it had a sort of “get back to basics” original theme. It had a title track, they resurrected an unpublished song they wrote in 1963 (“One After 909”), George wrote a couple of retro-ish tunes for it. And, as history has it, the whole production fell apart right in the middle. They obviously had time to record all the songs, but many of them were done live in their iconic “concert on the roof” probably because they were irritated at each other so much they wanted to get it over with. The result is an extremely raw album that's completely uncharacteristic of any of their previous work.
Had they not given up interest in it, it's not too unlikely to assume they would have polished it a bit more. They almost had to. But circumstances as they were, neither the Beatles nor George Martin had any interest in doing post-production work. So, Phil Spector, a reputable producer who was famous for his “wall of sound” production style, was brought into finish it. His work is often considered controversial among fans... especially for his rather thick orchestration of Paul's gorgeous ballad “Long and Winding Road.” Apart from this one exception, the only instance when I tend to agree with the anti-Spector crowd, I really don't understand what the whole fuss is about. I really enjoy hearing this album, and the man did just about the best he could with the material he had to work with. Spector's production of “Across the Universe” is also met with some ire among the crowds, but I don't think those canned vocal 'aahs' do anything to actually harm the tune. In fact, I almost kinda like them.
Another thing that Spector did to irk some fans was to insert little snippets of studio chatter here and there. For example, the first thing we hear before the opening song starts to play is Lennon saying: “I Dig a Pygmy, by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aides. Phase One in which Doris gets her oats!” That's a load of pure silliness that John was known to randomly belt out during recording sessions, and he didn't intend that to actually appear on an album! ... Well, I can understand that sentiment from the anti-Spector crowd, but I admit, I appreciate being able to hear some of Lennon's legendary goofiness. There's also a couple short tracks that were originally apart of warm-up sessions, and they also weren't intended to be released in an album. The first is “Dig it” in which Lennon rambles off a list of whatever comes to mind amidst a sort of detached groove.The other is a cover of an old British folk song called “Maggie Mae.” ... While they were probably inessential, it is interesting to hear these brief snippets just to gain another perspective of The Beatles. Were they mortal men, after all?
The album begins on a sort of optimistic note with Lennon and McCartney performing “Two of Us,” a pretty, tuneful duet. It gives Beatles fans a little bit of comfort that those two probably liked each other despite always seeming to be at each other's nerves. “Dig a Pony” is possibly the worst song on Let it Be just because it has a clunky development, and it's not that interesting. Though the album picks up major kudos for the major masterpiece “Across the Universe.” It's an incredible, tuneful ballad that you can easily find yourself getting lost in. It's one of Lennon's greatest tunes, in my opinion, and just about his final psychedelic anthem. So you can mourn that if you wish.
Equally as classic is McCartney's unbeatable ballad, “Let it Be.” That man came out with more unforgettable sentimental classics than you could ever shake a stick at, but that one really takes everything out. Yeah... I bet you could sing it with me by heart. Probably the best decision that Spector made concerning this album was to rename it after this song. It's a rather appropriate exit theme. George's two contributions, as I said earlier, were a little more old-fashioned than the others, but they hardly suffer from that. The bluesy “For You Blue” is a damn treat to listen to, and you can even hear Lennon supplying some of the most gorgeous slide guitar that could possibly ever be conceived. Harrison's “I Me Mine” is a good tune that begins as a sort of Italian folks song only to be interrupted by a more heavily rocking chorus.
Surely, this album isn't up to the same level of Abbey Road. I don't think many people try to take the contrary to that position unless they're allergic to studio intense production. It's another Beatles classic with more than its fair share of unbeatable tunes. Who's going to say 'no' to that?
Read the track reviews:
Past Masters Volume 1 (1988)
Album Score: 13
Back in the old days, British Beatles albums and American Beatles albums were very different. The British record industry didn't believe in releasing songs in albums that had already been released as singles ... but the American industry had no qualms with it. That's why everything up to Rubber Soul had different track listings depending on what side of the Atlantic you were on.
When it came time to release the Beatles albums on CD, the record company smartly decided to just release the British version of the albums everywhere. But then there was a problem about what to do with all the leftover singles? ... Well, usually they would put include them as bonus tracks in the CDs, but it was far more profitable for them to just release them all separately on its own disc. And thus was born the Past Masters series! This volume covers all their 1963-1965 singles and B-sides whereas the second volume covers the rest of their career. So, that makes this just about one of the most essential compilations that you could own. If you buy all the albums plus Past Masters, you'll have pretty much everything The Beatles released... that's important, anyway.
Without this album you won't have a copy of some of the Beatles' most well-known hits as “From Me to You,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Feel Fine.” But you'll also be missing out on many of the B-sides, some of which might prove to be very precious gems to you. “This Boy” is a gorgeous ballad that Lennon wrote who also delivers one of his most arresting vocal performances.
“Thank You Girl” is obviously a lesser tune in the compilation, but it still reeks of this early Beatles greatness from its head to its toes. “I'll Get You” is another such song, which also features an incredibly catchy melody, but for some reason I find it a little sluggish. “I'm Down” is definitely worth hearing. At first glance that sounds like it was a early cover, but Paul actually wrote it, and he also gives an incredibly rollicking vocal rendition with some Beach-Boys-esque vocal harmonies! Another song with an apparent Beach Boys connection was John Lennon's ballad “Yes It Is.” While I love those harmonies, and the melody is good, that's arguably the least memorable original in the compilation.
Speaking of early rock covers, this compilation is rife with those, too! While none of them can ever seem to come close to matching their take on “Twist and Shout,” there's a lot of wonderful material in here. We get treated to another furious McCartney vocal on “Long Tall Sally,” John Lennon turns in incredible vocal work for “Bad Boy” (that song in particular features great guitar work from George). Lennon and McCartney combine their vocal powers in “Slow Down,” which makes it even that much better! Ringo even gets a chance to flex his vocal chords with “Matchbox,” a Carl Perkins cover.
Overall, there's only three of these 18 tracks that are not entirely essential. First, there's “Love Me Do.” That's a fine song, of course, but we already had a slightly different version of it appear on Please Please Me. Also, there are German versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” I'm not going to complain about them though... this is a compilation after all, and reviewing compilations isn't the same thing as reviewing albums. The track listing for the Past Masters series is just the order that the songs were released, so there obviously wasn't an attempt to maintain a flow. So obviously these are non-issues. ...Hey, do you have this in your collection yet?
Read the track reviews:
Past Masters Volume 2 (1988)
Album Score: 14
This is the second half of the Past Masters series, which provides us with all the singles that weren't included in the Beatles' albums. And thus, that makes this another incredibly essential purchase for your Beatles collection. This one covers their late-era, which of course means that it's incredibly, unbeatably awesome. There are many, many, many incredible songs here that you cannot do without. Look at the track listing and see for yourself.
Once again, this compilation is in the order in which the songs were released. It starts out with the fabulous riff-rock “Day Tripper” that was released in between Rubber Soul and Revolver, basically during the transition from their early to later periods. There's really not much more to read into “Day Tripper” other than it's just a very fun, catchy song. “Paperback Writer” is also a riff-rock song except it's a little more furious and a little more memorable. Both are incredible pop-rock masterpieces, though.
“We Can Work it Out” is just an excellent ballad... It has one of McCartney's trademark incredibly catchy vocal melodies, but there's also a very inventive time-signature change in the chorus... when it shifts from 4/4 to 3/4 time flawlessly. Completely brilliant. “Rain” is even more inventive -- it's a ballad that's much more atmospheric than you'd expect something to be from 1966. Production-wise, they did a masterful job. The chorus is very unconventional, bending their vocals to sing “Raaaaaaa-aaaaaa-aaaaaa-in!” And that's not to mention the melody is incredibly catchy, as usual.
After those four songs from 1966, we immediately jump to 1968. Magical Mystery Tour is where you're going to find all the Pepper-era singles. “Lady Madonna,” another especially catchy McCartney tune, starts this section off with a bang. That signature, driving piano riff was originally meant to be a boogie-woogie, but I always thought that come off more as an old showtune from the jazz era. I'm completely wrong of course! Probably McCartney's biggest success with The Beatles in the late period was “Hey Jude,” the one song that everyone seems to know by heart whether or not you own any Beatles albums. Well, it's a masterpiece of course. If you don't believe me, then you are a dork not to mention completely wrong about it!
George Harrison has two songs in here, and both of them are the most unconventional of the bunch. “The Inner Light” is another one of his excursions into Indian music, and it's really good if you like that sort of thing. Harrison always understood that you can give a song any sort of orchestration that you want as long as you have a catchy melody. And it works! The song is gorgeous! Harrison's “Old Brown Shoe” doesn't really sound like a Beatles tune --- rather it resembles the style he would soon adopt in his solo career. Well, it's something of a lost gem, of course, as long as you don't mind how unusual it sounds compared to the Lennon/McCartney stuff. The melody isn't very linear and the drum beat is unusual ... and it's awesome for that. Plus, he finds time to bring in a few cool electric guitar licks, which is entertaining no matter who you are.
“Don't Let Me Down” is a hard hitting though touching song that was slated to appear on Get Back (later renamed as Let it Be). Spector kept it off that album for some reason, but at least we get to hear it now. That's yet another incredible song that shouldn't even be overlooked by casual Beatles fans. “Ballad of John and Yoko” is a pop-rocker that apparently chronicles John and Yoko's comical honeymoon. It also has one of Paul's catchiest bass-grooves!
A lot of these other tracks already appeared on Beatles albums but in different forms. “Revolution” appeared as “Revolution 1” in The Beatles, but this version has an incredibly dark and deep electric guitar shredding through it. Yup, this version has much more of an edge to it, and it made a really good single. “Across the Universe” is also incredibly different from the Let it Be version. This one starts out with bird noises and the song itself is more heavily produced. But all we really hear in the end is John's great melody and earnest presentation of his psychedelic lyrics! So both versions are equally as great. There are also versions of “Let it Be” and “Get Back,” but I don't see a huge difference... Still I welcome another opportunity to listen to those.
“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” is the last track of this compilation is one that had a lot of Beatles fans scratching their heads. It has gained distinction as the final Beatles song ever released, and it is a Monty-Python-esque parody of old show music. The lyrics consists only of the song title, and it shifts musical styles. It begins as a screaming, disjointed pop-rock tune and shifts to a lounge parody and then to a music hall parody ... and it closes with someone making gurgling noises. It's an incredibly funny bit of comedy rock (I especially enjoy McCartney's take on the overly-confident, talentless lounge singer). Too many people take it too seriously. Don't take it seriously.
But do take seriously the fact that no good collection of rock music can do without this fantastic compilation. Everybody deserves to have “Hey Jude” in their collection, no matter how many times you get to hear it for free. ... I mean, I like to listen to that song once a month, at least, and I don't feel like hanging around on the classic rock station........
Read the track reviews:
Let it Be... Naked (2003)
Album Score: 14
Phil Spector's 1970 production of The Beatles' then-unreleased album Let it Be famously got Paul McCartney's panties all up in a bunch. So, McCartney did the manly thing and waited more than 30 years to release this so-called “naked” version. Well, it's been no secret that I like Spector's version just fine. Nay, I love Spector's version! In fact, it is so ingrained within my being that when I listen to the “naked” version, much of these changes feel like violations of something sacred. I know, that's probably unfair and it has no real reflection of the actual quality of this new version. But then again, music reviews are nothing but a grouping of massively subjective paragraphs, aren't they?
What happened to George's guitar solo during “Let it Be?” It was replaced with something less electrifying. How come John is singing “Across the Universe” faster and in a higher pitch? Because it's a different version. Also in “Across the Universe,” how come I don't hear that brilliant rubbery guitar noodling around? Because Paul is being evil to me. Grr!
On the other hand, Paul finally gets to release his long-desired version of “Long and Winding Road” without Spector's admittedly tacky string arrangement that flooded everything out. Truth be told, that is the only track I prefer over the original. But on the other hand, I still think Spector was on the right track. While I like to be able to hear Paul's gorgeous piano playing for a change, I still think that song could've used a little bit more body. If not those overpowering string arrangements, then at least a moog or something. I know... I'm being difficult!
The one thing that basically destroys the entire concept of this release is that many of these songs seem more polished than the original versions. Notably, “I've Got a Feeling” is much more smooth around the edges, and we can hear the back-up vocals more clearly. True, the sonic quality is superior, but doesn't that completely go against the whole “nakedness” concept? Paul even reportedly went in and digitally fixed a bad note that John had sung. Yeah, the last thing rock 'n' roll needs is an equivalent of George Lucas...
Another huge change was the track listing. I suppose Paul really had a radically different order in mind. Well, this is yet another reason why I think Spector's version rules over this one. “Two of Us” plain sounds better at the beginning instead of in the middle. “Get Back” was always a great closing song that concluded the album on an unforgettably upbeat and quasi-ironic note. “Let it Be” works better as a centerpiece than the closing track.
McCartney also removed “Dig it” and “Maggie Mae” from the track-listing, both of which were improvised and taken from warm-up sessions. While I agree that they don't represent the pinnacle of The Beatles' musicianship, I always thought they made the album more colorful. More than that, those two tracks in effect had showed The Beatles at their most 'naked.' How exactly does covering up “blemishes” make something more naked? Answer me that, sir!
To make up for the lost time from removing those tracks, Paul brings in a version of “Don't Let Me Down,” a song that can also be heard on the Past Masters Series. Well, that's something new I guess, and I can appreciate it. There's also a 21-minute bonus disc called “Fly on the Wall” that's an edited compilation of all sorts of studio chatter. You can even hear them play some songs, including a few bits from their future solo careers! (Possibly the highlight of that is to hear several of the Beatles join in “All Things Must Pass.”) It's interesting to hear, but probably not more than once.
In the end, when I want to listen to Let it Be, it will always be Spector's version. If for no other reason, it's because that version has all of John Lennon's silly squeaky-voiced introductions. You know, “Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf Aides,” “And now we'd like to do 'Hark the Angels Come'” etc. Those were so funny! I'm frankly a little upset Paul took those out.
I do realize that I've taken a distinctly negative turn with this review... It's almost certainly the most negative-toned review I'll ever give a 14-scoring album! Despite my negative words, these are still great Beatles songs, and the only thing Paul could have done to actually ruin them would be to overdub farting noises all over everything. But even then, it would have been a weak 13, easy! For budding rock fans who don't own all the Beatles albums yet, I highly recommend just getting the original Spector version. It's the version billions of people grew up with, after all. Plus, I think it's better. Just my opinion.
Read the track reviews:
Help! (Movie Review)
Movie Score: B
Help! I need somebody. HELP! ...not just anybody... Oh, hello there. Remember when I reviewed the Beatles album Help!, and I said I never saw the movie that many of its songs were written for? Er... I never said that? Oh. Well, anyway, I finally fulfilled one of the greatest voids in my life, and I finally saw the movie. Here’s what I have to say about it.
It is completely and utterly silly! If you don’t like silly movies, then you’ll probably outright die if you watch this film. That’s how silly it is. The Beatles were British, and this film is British, so you can expect it to be silly in ways that Americans would probably call *stupid*. It’s not a stretch of the matter to guess that Monty Python came out of the same school of comedy, and it wouldn’t be too long before they started making their revolutionary television show. Making it worse is The Beatles’ thick northern accents, which Americans tend to have trouble with (that’s why the girls would always scream their lungs out in The Beatles’ presence ... they didn’t want hear how unintelligible they were).
The plot of the film is quite simple, though the execution of it is complicated. An evil cult wants to sacrifice someone, but this person has to be painted red and wearing the sacrificial ring. They have plenty of red paint, but somehow their sacrificial ring went missing. Can you guess who has the ring? Why, Ringo Starr has the ring! Some mysterious Eastern woman gave it to him. Ringo is the drummer of a rock band called The Beatles. The other members of the group are John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Deuuuuuuuuuuur!!!!!!
Anyway, the evil cult figures out that Ringo has the ring, and so they try to take it from him. They do all sorts of things... hide in mailboxes waiting for him to mail a letter, hide in his snack machine waiting for him to get a snack ... they even try to cut his finger off at some points. But the ring won’t come off! Ringo soon catches wind that this ring means trouble, and he tries to take it off himself. But it just won’t come off! He goes to a jeweler who tries to saw the ring off, but the metal is so tough that it makes all of his sawing equipment crumble. He goes to scientists who try to mess with the molecules, but that doesn’t work either. (This ring intrigues the scientists so much that they spend the rest of the movie chasing The Beatles trying to nab it from him.) When it becomes obvious that the ring won’t come off Ringo, they decide to sacrifice him instead. So, the cultists spend the rest of the movie trying to paint Ringo red and kidnap him. And a fun time was had by all.
More than the utterly silly plot, the movie is injected until its filling point with incredibly silly one-liners. I shall copy and paste some quotes from imdb.com for your amusement.
John: Stop dragging things down to your own level, it's immature son.
Ringo: Hey! Have you been messing about with me in my kip?
Ringo: There's more here than meets the eye!
John: What's this?
Ringo: They have to paint me red before they chop me. It's a different religion from ours. I think.
Alright, none of this is even remotely as witty as all that knee-slapping humor I remember from A Hard Day’s Night. That film also didn’t have a silly plot... instead, that film was just about The Beatles being The Beatles on the road, which of course made the characters much more endearing. Well, it’s not as though The Beatles were trying to be anyone else through this picture, but this sort of plot required them to act a little bit ... and these guys were not actors. In fact, they don’t even seem to try very hard ... I’d imagine all four of them just wanted to get it over with. And they were pretty heavily smoking pot at the time, which undoubtedly affected some of the scenes. Acting in movies wasn’t their calling, and they knew it.
Ringo was probably the only one with the most natural acting talent, which is probably why they let him actually star in the picture. (He’s the only one of the three that had any serious acting gigs after The Beatles broke up.) John does an OK job, just because he’s so charismatic. George just comes in with a few quips here and there, and he does fine. (I think George even did his own stunt, riding on top of a moving car that crashed into a tree... Either that or the stunt double was an uncanny lookalike.) And Paul doesn’t say much at all... Anyway, watching these guys act with the supporting characters, who are real actors, is quite a sight. Of course, these guys were playing basically cartoon villains and they were overacting. You can tell that the intense contrast between these two factors!
The only time when these guys didn’t seem out of their element was during the musical sequences, of course. And what excellent musical sequences they are! They play “Help!,” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Ticket to Ride,” “I Need You,” “She’s a Woman,” “The Night Before” and “Another Girl.” The musical sequences are the only real reason to watch the film ... but I’ll admit that it’s really funny watching the foursome try to act.
This isn’t the sort of film that you’re obviously going to take seriously. In fact, most American audiences will have a hard time interpreting their thick accents... and sometimes, as you might have noticed in the quotes above, The Beatles even use English slang terms that have no meaning in America. So, if you’re going to watch this movie, you’re only going to do it if you want to see The Beatles acting like total goofballs on the silver screen. The remastered edition has excellently restored color, and so it looked crystal clear on our high definition TV. Yes, Beatles fans will find Help! to be a treat, indeed.
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