Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Top 7 Beatles Albums (Part 2)

4. The Beatles

The cover is not just white, it’s clean. Except for the band’s name in plain gray text on the lower right hand corner with a unique serial number (on original pressings). But apart from that, what else do you see? What does it remind you of? Blank space? Is it about using an eraser to start all over again? If that’s so, that’s a great idea for the follow up to Sgt. Pepper. To begin anew…

But if you are going to start over fresh, where do you go from there? Apparently, the Beatles’ answer to that question is everywhere I reckon. It is such an eclectic album with everything for everyone and even some songs reaching out to some who may have scoffed at them previously for mainly writing love songs. At a loud enough volume, “Helter Skelter,” becomes a head banging heavy metal song that was around before Black Sabbath, and quite shocking to hear in ‘68. “Revolution #9” is the longest Beatle track ever released, and when applied to your imagination, becomes a trip inside John Lennon’s mind. Perhaps this song is the musical equivalent of what an LSD-ridden mind is like. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is an evolutionary step up for Harrison, and even Ringo has a self-penned tune on here, “Don’t Pass Me By.”

The first quarter of the album finds the Beatles on relatively familiar ground, but like with any double album (especially one running 93 minutes), it isn’t without some studio experiment sounds that could have been trimmed or left out completely. For instance, I doubt “Wild Honey Pie” or “Savory Truffle” are keepers. Sorry. But among otherwise questionable tracks, we also get gifts in the form of “Julia,” “Blackbird,” “Revolution #1,” “Yer Blues,” “Long, Long, Long,” and one of my personal favorites, the orchestraic conclusion, “Good Night.” Ringo was whispering “Good night, everybody. Everybody, everywhere. Good night,” to the world in 1968, as one of the most hellish years in world history was also mirrored in the Beatles’ relationship with each other. I cannot begin to describe the conditions of 1968, nor could I ever do so accurately since I wasn’t born then, but to think, at the end of another day, at least these guys could put aside their differences, and come together to tuck the world into bed every night.

3. Rubber Soul

To think that Bob Dylan is going to be performing at our very own Parkview Field in less than a month is awe-worthy. I’m not sure if his voice has held up well over the years, but to have that very man who released music that got the Beatles worked-up into a frenzied obsession, should be lauded as a historic event for Fort Wayne. That, and having Dylan introduce pot to the Beatles was as monumentally influential. Point being, nothing and no one can guess what the Beatles music would have sounded like if history had not taken place, and Bob Dylan had not intervened. But I do know it would be a very different, possibly sadder world. Lennon perhaps had the biggest obsession with Dylan, as he even molded his voice to sound like a British Bob Dylan on, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).” He even had a cap and harmonica like Dylan’s too.

There is nothing but great music on this album, but I admit that I am annoyed by the U.S. version for two reasons: 1) the British hogged all 14 original tracks for themselves, even great rockers like “Drive My Car,” and 2) The U.S. version gets a leftover from Help!, “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Sure, it’s a great song and a great opener, but I don’t understand why Europe and U.S. versions have to be different.

Wait, what am I saying? Hell, I’m extremely grateful that I have a mom who was cool enough to give me her old Beatles albums, this one of which was included. To have this on the original pressing vinyl is quite special to me. I’m also incredibly thankful my U.S. version at least has, “Michele,” “In My Life,” Harrison’s “Think For Yourself,” and “Run For Your Life.”

2. Revolver

I have this idea in my head that somehow Rubber Soul and Revolver are twin albums. Whenever I listen to the two back to back, I am curious by how similar they are in structure. Only, Revolver definitely has one edge over Soul: a more adventurous feel that is made possible by fresher ideas for sound manipulation.

I cannot imagine the amount of dedication that was required from Harrison when he spent close to 9 hours in the studio just to record a brief guitar solo that was prompted by a mistake from engineer, Geoff Emerick. I am referring to “I’m Only Sleeping,” where that trippy solo we hear in the middle was inspired by Emerick’s accident when the tape ran backwards, creating a sound similar to what is on the record (with Paul saying, “My God, that’s fantastic! Can we do that for real?”). The notes for the original solo was then transcribed in reverse by Martin, and Harrison, as I mentioned earlier, spent 9 hours with headphones clamped on his head, as well as being hypnotized by his own concentration and desire to pull this fantastic stunt.

Back to my ‘twin’ theory, I invite you to listen to the two albums back to back. I think you’ll find that the folk rock we get on Rubber Soul is translated to a psychedelic feel with Revolver. It is also on this album where Harrison gains the coveted first track slot for “Taxman,” and Lennon closes the album with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” another malapropism inspired by Ringo, which sounds like the excitement one feels when undertaking something exciting, yet dangerous. We also receive gems like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Doctor Robert,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” and a kiddie favorite sung by Ringo, “Yellow Submarine.”

Likewise with Rubber Soul, I’m not sure why the U.S. and European versions have to be different, but again, I’m happy to have this one on original vinyl as well. To think that an album this radical was produced in 1966, is remarkable considering it knows what decade it belongs to, but still seems as fresh as when it was first being written.  

1. Abbey Road

This album is the reason why I insist on having all of the Beatles’ work on vinyl. In fact, this album is one of the reasons why I insist on having vinyl at all. This ranks among my favorite albums of all time because while there may be just one or two songs on the other Beatle albums I could probably skip over without much regret, here, I cannot afford myself the opportunity. This is their last hurrah before John decided he was fed up with Paul’s dominance over the group, and quit in 1969. Not Let it Be, which may have been released in 1970, but was recorded concurrently with The Beatles. No, this is the last official testament to the Beatles’ staggering legacy.

Given all the in-fighting and knowing that this was going to be the last album, there’s no way it should sound like the Beatles’ masterpiece album, but it is. Ironically, it is also on this album where each member realizes their full potential. George even puts out two of the best songs of his entire career with “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun.” Ringo’s best known song, “Octopus’ Garden,” is also on here. There’s also a medley, which has only been done once before on Beatles for Sale. Only, instead of using two songs from other artists, the Beatles use 8 of their own compositions in this grand finale.

Overall, I consider it their best work because of how the production of the album itself ended. The last song all four Beatles cut together was the opener, “Come Together,” and displays the embers of a once burning kinship between four wonderful musicians. Lennon invites us to come together as members of the human race, Paul provides a grooving low-end, Ringo provides the framework for said groove, and George delivers a faintly screaming guitar solo. Listening to the song end is bittersweet because while it merely introduces the album, the fact that the Beatles would never again gather in a studio to play, is undeniably sad. The album itself ends with the upbeat and triumphant, “The End,” where John, Paul and George play tag-team with guitar solos in one of their last displays of brotherhood.

Despite the already-crumbled relationships between the Beatles, it is unquestionably special that they managed to put out an album like this. Usually bad communication, bad tempers, and bad collaborations result in horrible albums. For me, this is the music equivalent of The Shawshank Redemption, where all four Beatles had to crawl through a half-mile pipeline of raw sewage, only to come out clean on the other side.

Just because I’m feeling especially generous, here are the remaining albums ranked:

13. Yellow Submarine
12. Help!
11. With the Beatles
10. Beatles for Sale
9. Let it Be
8. A Hard Day’s Night

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