I grew up in a generation with no high level of love for Beatles music. Let me be clear, I was heavily into the band, and, there are others like me from my exact age group. However, the majority of my peers were not. In fact, there was a lot of resistance to The Beatles, as it was all seen as “yesterday” and of little interest to the current music acts of our “time”. I was born in January of ‘65, youngest of five kids. So, my three oldest siblings were of the exact ages where Beatlemania was in full-throttle. I had no escape from it, and as my family was highly musical, the Beatle records were constantly listened to, studied, talked about, etc. Then, I would go around my friends and peers. Most had parents a bit younger than mine, and most did not have older siblings born in ‘51, ‘54, ‘56. I was thought of as a bit weird because of my fascination with Beatles albums and other ‘60s music acts. When I was in grade school/high school the top rock acts were Boston, Styx, Kansas, Journey, Rush, Billy Squier, Ozzy Osborne, Cars, Police, Heart, Kiss, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Van Halen, and so on. The kids of that era, my friends and acquaintances, oftentimes had a dim view of The Beatles. I had to listen to their uninformed opinions about the Liverpool band ALL THE TIME. When John Lennon was shockingly assassinated in December of “80 I was nearly 16. I was, not only, saddened by the reality of his death, but, knew the historicity of it all. MOST OF MY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT BODY did not. That became apparent the next day and weeks to follow. When the drummer for Led Zeppelin died those students thought that was bigger importance. John Bonham was a great musician and it altered the history of that band, yes. But, it was not the social and historical significance of Lennon’s sudden murder. So, this group, I will call “C”, are the third installment of groupings who have a notable dislike of The Beatles. While many of my generation are intoxicated with Van Halen or Air Supply, they have mostly tuned out having Beatles music in their heads, unless forced to hear it. Though McCartney & Wings were HUGE all through the ‘70s I was the only person I knew in my community who saw him and his band as a major influence and as a favorite act from the period. Yes, the indifference/dislike of anything Beatle was high during my ‘70s, early ‘80s growing up years. Hey, Space Invaders = good, Beatles = very bad. My childhood brought the disco period, new wave, punk. Beatles albums were of olden times, though only a few years earlier. My first album to own for myself was Let It Be, and it was freshly on the charts when I got it (nearly 6 years of age).
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This is a continuation of #8 and regards dislike of the band. Earlier, I mentioned Camp A. These were folks growing up in an earlier period of rock & roll, and not ready for their musical heroes to be pushed aside. Especially, with ardent Elvis fans, The Beatles were an immediate dislike. The unprecedented fame and influence was offensive, as their king was taken off his throne. I could make a joke about August 16, 1977 here, but, will refrain. Camp B are Beatle fans themselves. The truth is that this group loves many things Beatle, yet, sure have some distinct dislikes. And, those dislikes are things other fans adore! The infighting of Beatle fans must seem comical to outsiders. The John vs. Paul arguing is very common. What is that all about? They were each a significant building block of the band. The word should be all caps: SIGNIFICANT. There is no Beatles without John or Paul. Why the disdain for one over the other? They were in the SAME BAND! They were close friends. They were artists working on the SAME projects together! The Lennon fan who dislikes McCartney is extremely commonplace. I have heard countless people (seriously, countless) argue that Paul’s music is of no interest to them, only John’s. I am referring to Beatles music here, not later solo works. How do you remove Paul from Come Together, A Day In The Life, Ticket To Ride, Norwegian Wood, etc., songs those folks usually love? His fingerprints are all over them! Are you stupid? Do you only hear John and no other Beatle? I have encountered many people to love the “early” Beatles music, but, not the “later”. In other words, once songs had more lyrical depth, as arrangements and recording approaches were more sophisticated , as a result of growth and getting older, then, the band “lost” those listeners. The enjoyment of straightforward rock songs (Twist and Shout, I Saw Her Standing There, She Loves You, etc.) or basic pop love songs (If I Fell, And I Love Her, This Boy, etc.) turned to dislike once themes became revolution, taxes, cantankerous old men sleeping in parks, girls breaking into houses, etc. These “late Beatle songs” required a little bit of thinking and there, apparently, can be none of that! My argument here is that those “earlier” straightforward rock and roll and pop love songs were never abandoned by The Beatles. That is all still being represented in the last several albums with Get Back, Oh Darling, Something, Two Of Us, Don’t Let Me Down, etc. However, there are many fans of the first few albums who completely turned off interest in the works of 1966-70. Eight Days A Week = very good/Strawberry Fields = very bad! Once George incorporates a sitar onto a song those folks ran screaming for Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Grass Roots, and Tom Jones. The opposite can be true, where some people are not interested in I Want To Hold Your Hand, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, etc., only willing to enjoy I Am The Walrus, Helter Skelter, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, etc. The “cutting edge” FM radio fare of the band entices them, but, not the mop top era with matching suits. Those folks love one Beatles, but loathe the other. Finally, there are the “Harrison was the only Beatle I really liked” crowd. Really? There can BE a Beatles where Lennon and/or McCartney has no interest to you, but, Harrison DOES? How do these folks chisel out all the presence of the latter two mentioned artists, only honing in on one George Harrison? And, still call it “Beatles”? Yes, the dislike of the band comes in many shapes and sizes and I will go down the road of discussing another camp (C) in my next commentary (#10).
Dislike of the group. Yeah, yeah, yeah, those folks are out there. We have all encountered their dislike. But, they come in variety, just as Beatle music comes in variety. If my last assessment is correct, and I know it is, a Beatle-hater is hating quite a lot of differing music. “Revolution” is nothing like “All My Loving”. “Yellow Submarine” has little in common with “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You”. “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey” has nothing in common with “Julia” and they are on the same album. In fact, “Monkey” seems to have more in common with “War and Peace”, something I was just thinking while typing out the title. But, there are, genuinely, people who hate EVERYTHING Beatle. And, they are from a few distinct camps. Camp “A” are those from a generation of adolescence JUST before Beatlemania. They are, maybe, a half-generation before. Let’s cut to the chase. THE ELVIS FANATICS. If there is anyone to have an agenda, to specifically hate the Beatles (while seemingly enjoying many Beatle contemporary acts)-these are the folks. The Fabs stole his crown. He had kicked down a door of becoming the biggest sensation in recorded pop music, far bigger than Sinatra and his “bobbiesoxer” crowds. No one likes to confess that that was hugely affected by technology and more records in homes. But, with Beatlemania, a much larger door was constructed, and the Liverpudlians blasted through it as if it was not there. The act was a sensation much bigger than “the Pelvis”. This gripes his fans. So, the hate is intense with many of them, and in their minds the British rock group cannot have a shred of integrity. It does not seem to matter that The Beatles loved Elvis! At least, until meeting him, but that is another discussion. Here is a reality that fans of the foursome will not come to grips with, in their own brand of fan pride: technology allowed the tremendous swell of phonograph players in common homes AT THE TIME THE BEATLES HIT. This pushed the newest sensation to obliterate the “Elvis” sensation. Kids were acquiring cheap phonograph players for their rooms, as opposed to having to use Mom and Dad’s sophisticated piece of furniture, a player in the den. A massive and expensive item that a child was not always allowed to touch! And, who controlled the music purchases in the home? Usually, Mom and Dad. And, it was, oftentimes, not Everlys or Duane Eddy or, you guessed it…Elvis Presley. It was “grown ups music”. The collision of these cheaper units that could serve as a babysitter, sitting in a teenager’s bedroom, while friends came over to share in little one-song (actually, two-song) 45 RPM records, with a phenomenon of The Beatles-KBOOM!!!! And, how irritating was that to older siblings or neighbors who were 19 or 23 at that time in history? Irritating enough to make a lifetime hater of the group. There are some, TO THIS DAY, with that disgust in their heart. Not fond of “Live And Let Die” being a Bond theme song by a 70s era McCartney & Wings? Not fond of Harrison and Starr joining Carl Perkins on an 80s Cinemax special? Not fond of LENNON STEALING ALL THAT NEWS BY GETTING SHOT? Shoot, these haters still have not gotten around to appreciating “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell”. They just cannot bring themselves to enjoy music from the ones who overtook Presley’s dominance over all other pop stars. It matters not that these artists wrote songs that are classics, while Elvis wrote NO SONGS. It matters not that these artists grew as artists in a way that kept reinventing the direction of pop music. It matters not that countless music acts in jazz, blues, country, bluegrass,folk, and more chose to record Beatle songs. It matters not that Elvis himself got around to performing a few Beatle songs. What matters is that his thunder was stolen by a band who appealed to millions and millions and more millions of human beings from an age group that was a bit younger than they were. Snobbery kills. Imagine missing out on “Imagine”. And, all because the world is rou…I mean, all because you are a “music snob”. I will continue on my look at Beatle dislike groupings in my next commentary. That will be, of course, number nine.
The “swan song”. All true Beatle followers know that the album LET IT BE came out last (‘70), but, ABBEY ROAD was made last, released in Autumn of ‘69. It was made by the band, knowing it would likely be the final LP, and doing a bit of damage control. The previously recorded LET IT BE was a fiasco. Aware that they had not put forth the best eight feet, the four artists made a concerted effort to make a great album. Almost all agree they did just that. I believe it. I will look at it, a bit, here. Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” gets the best treatment from his band mates than ever before on a song he wrote. True, the sample size is small, but, the treatment on “Don’t Pass Me By” in ‘68 was less. Here, the instruments are greatly in tune, the backing vocals are superb, the newly acquired Moog synthesizer is utilized well. Gee, you would have thought Paul or John wrote it by the efforts given. Harrison plays a nice string-bending solo on electric guitar. His intro is one all fans can sing out loud, too. Go ahead, fix it in your mind and sing it! I think Ringo’s drum kit is sonically great on the whole album, by the way. The record seems to hold up well against later recording eras. Harrison scores with two staple hits on this album (“Something”, “ Here Comes The Sun”). His two best Beatle tracks, arguably, are these two. What a way to launch a solo career that was right around the corner. Each remaining Beatle artist’s moments on this wonderful album are huge (meaning, John and Paul). “Come Together” could very well be the best track the band ever made, as far as the “cool” factor. The fact that the lyrics are confusing to most, and probably throw-away stuff, means nothing because of the SOUND OF THE TRACK. For some of us, we remember what it was like for side one of the vinyl record to come to an abrupt halt. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” has a mesmerizing groove, with pre-Heavy Metal guitar darkness, climaxing it’s menacing notes over a growing ‘noise’ (Moog synth, again). Then, like a brick upside your head, it shuts off. I mean, OFF! That was a new thing to experience, as a listener. These guys seemed to give us new things over and over again. But, the end of 1969 would guarantee that this band would no longer feed our hunger for it. Before closing, I should mention McCartney. His multi-themed “mini-opera” on side two, using his songs, along with John’s, is heralded as a high point in Beatle history. And, everone surely knows his screaming “ Oh Darling” from side A, as well as the snippet “Her Majesty” that ends this 33 1/3 LP experience. Funny, the Queen makes it onto this record twice, at least. The other time is on “Mean Mr. Mustard”. The biggest subject over the years, at times anyway, has to be the cover photo. Walking across the “zebra” crosswalk, John/Ringo/Paul/George stride together onto a rock Mount Rushmore. The reputation was left intact. The music was great, holding up to anything before or after. We are still aware of Maxwell, Rose & Valerie, Polythene Pam, The Sun King, spinal crackers, and all good children going to Heaven. Thank you, Beatles, for taking the time during your implosion, to give us this jewel, this “swan song”.
How about The Beatles and the Blues? At first glance, they seem strange bedfellows. At second glance, again, strange bedfellows. That is probably because there was a growing contingency of musicians in Britain who took to the Blues (a music form meaning here). And, those players were from the same generation as The Beatles, or a few short months/years younger, though, not as intoxicated on straight rock and pop music as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They chose to “pass themselves off” as “blues men”, while the Liverpudlian foursome saw the form with some interest while realizing the real Blues CAME FROM THE STATES. Most readers know the cast of characters I am referencing here. The Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc. I love them all. I love the renderings of Blues they put forth. However, it ain’t Muddy or Willie Dixon. It ain’t Hooker. It certainly ain’t Son House or Robert Johnson. The Beatles seemed to know they could not be that, no matter how much they might want it. The others? Well, they sometimes seemed to believe the press clippings certifying them as “Blues”. The twenty-year-old business schooler or art schooler from London just cannot be ‘The Blues”, really. Not unless we call the Mississippians or Chicago players something else. Having said all of that, no doubt a controversial sentiment for some to read, The Beatles were aware of Blues artists and liked them. When they landed in America a reporter asked if there was something they wished to see while in the USA. McCartney answered , “Muddy Waters”. The reporter asked, “Where is that?”. McCartney responded with “You don’t even know who your own celebrities are.” Let’s take a brief look at some moments of Blues and the Fabs. “Live at the BBC”, from ‘63 (released decades later in ‘94) shows McCartney singing “Clarabella” in a definite Blues voice. Lennon plays “cross-harp” style on the harmonica, an obvious Blues styling. He is not great at it, but, not bad. He does understand that he has to be playing in that said style. Through the years, McCartney would sing in very convincing Blues style many times. “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey” is a rock voice, as good as it gets. But, it can, just as easily, be considered Blues singing. In the 70s he would emerge on songs such as “Call Me Back Again”, a self-written Wings number, as a bonafide Blues vocalist. I remember he and Steve Miller creating a Blues duet in the ‘90s (I Used To Be Bad)and not being embarrassing at all. They “got it” in exorcising their Blues-men alter egos. Many times, in the Beatles days, the form was implied handsomely. There is “ Oh Darling”, “ Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”, “ Got To Get You Into My Life”, and others. Lennon would imply Blues on many songs such as “I’m So Tired”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Come Together”. He, too, had an understanding of singing Blues style, using it on later solo works, too. Listen to him on Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, from early Beatles period. He puts it in a genuine soulful Blues voice. Harrison would go so far as write a tongue-in-cheek Blues song “For You Blue” (Let It Be album), even referencing Elmore James in it. Lennon did so, too, with “Yer Blues” (“ White Album”). Both the Harrison and Lennon songs were written at the height of a Blues boom in the UK, late ‘60s. Harrison would immerse heavily into the form in ‘69 when he jumped onto a tour with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, while still a Beatle. Earlier, I said the group of the Fab Four and Blues were strange bedfellows. I stated that was the case at first AND second glance. At third glance you can see that it was part of the Beatle motif, an influence that was in the music. It just was not something they wore like a badge. In the same way, they delved into Music Hall, Folk, Country, etc. All of those forms contributed to making The Beatles, musically, who they were. That is why they were so diverse, and so interesting across the board. Other British (and American) bands with infatuation of Blues, would gladly describe themselves as Blues bands, though many “purists” laugh aloud at them saying that. Hey, I wonder how many bonafide Blues artists covered Beatle songs? I will bet the number is staggering. How many Blues artists covered Jagger/Richards tunes? Anyone got comparison numbers? That might be interesting.
Love You To, Love Me Do, You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, All You Need Is Love, Can’t Buy Me Love, All My Loving, And I Love Her, Lovely RIta, She Loves You, It’s Only Love. In a short few years these fellows used “love” in the titles of quite a few songs. There are so many more where love is said, but not included in the song title. For instance, If I Fell (in love with you…), Michelle (I love, I love you, I lo-o-ove you), and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make (The End), I Will (you know how much I love you), with love From Me To You, and on and on. Many people bring up how this band of artists brought love to the fore in their work. Not only did they become the biggest selling, most influential music act of that period, but they used the platform to sing about love. In fairness, they had bitter or dark moments of artistic works, too. Baby’s In Black is fairly…well…dark. You Never Give Me Your Money is a slam toward the new manager (Klein).Taxman attacks the British government’s system. Dr. Robert references a pill-prescribing medical professional. But, hey, they always come back with some warm sentiment in song, even when love is not the specific topic. We get Good Day Sunshine, Here Comes The Sun, Let It Be, and more. It is easy to remember The Beatles for so much. The haircuts, movies, TV appearances, innovation in pop music projects, Liverpudlian accent, their breakup, etc. But, it is impossible to disassociate them from using sunshine and love in their musical journey. They did sing “Love is all you need…”.
Ah, my choice for choosing only ONE Beatles track to introduce to someone who never heard them. I had to consider that the very earliest records defined the live-performing group in a great way, especially in a “raw 4-piece rock and roll combo” kind of way. But, it misleads the one who is my target in that it shows none of the maturing artists that emerged in their work a few years later. If I go with a fantastic record, such as “Something” or “Penny Lane”, it brings in elements of studio layering (which is great, but, not entirely representative of the actual “band”). It brings in additional musicians, such as a London Symphony player, or, brings in too strong a presence of engineers/producers. All of that is fair to include in a Beatle representation, as those things/persons WERE relevant to the Beatle story. However, Lennon was barely involved in “Something”, and Paul comes across as a particularly strong individual on “Penny Lane”. My personal tendency in this impossible task is to shoot for a pronounced involvement of the four band members. And, my feelings are that the maturing, creatively stretching period of the “lads” needs to be wrapped up in this one-off introduction of who the Beatles were. I cannot help but to feel the insanely powder keg moment of the Beatle-mania time period should be taken into account. So, a merger between the early euphoric rock band success and an “experimental” unfolding of some cleverness in a studio atmosphere seems to be my angle. It starts with feedback guitar. Lennon’s Gibson J-160E, with a pick-up installed (an acoustic guitar with electronics, hence the “E”) feeds back when in a certain position. That makes for a groundbreaking intro on a pop record. Already the top pop band in history at the time, the unique element of that intro shows a breaking down of barriers. The four-piece line-up of The Beatles is really what you hear when all are playing on this track. Furthermore, each one seems to be in his stereotypical roll often thought of in Beatle-lore. Harrison’s electric guitar mimics Lennon’s on the riff, though more precisely played. His solo is slightly edgy, a little more bluesy than many of his prime influences (Perkins, Moore). In fact, it smacks more of Beck, Jones, Richards, Clapton in this instance of the “quiet one”. This song showcases the perfect example of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team at its zenith. Ringo’s drums are a great sampling of his grooving and solidness behind the kit. A rock drummer he was, yet his playing here has a touch of jazz in it. The hard bashing drumming of “Twist and Shout” or “LongTall Sally” is tamed into more of an artiste touch on this one. Yes, the boys were making records, not just rehashing live rock performances. To listen to them in the context of their “creations” in the studio, albeit doing it with no outside help, is the key to my choice here. The three voices of John, Paul, and George are married on this song much of the time. John is on lead, but with lots of help from his friends. Yes, it is a sunshine-y sentiment in the lyrics, even. Yes, it is The Beatles. It is……………..you know…………….it is “ I Feel Fine”!
If you had to represent The Beatles to someone by choosing one, only one, recording (song) what would that be? I am talking about a hermit who missed it all, or an alien from another galaxy. Which track would be the one that has to define the band, given the chore of only selecting ONE? The obvious first problem is the difference between one Beatle “era” versus another. “Get Back” represents the band personnel quite nicely, but is toward the end of the existence of the group, and misses the Beatle-mania period. Also, Billy Preston is all over it. I would have to nix that one, though I love it. Another problem would be who gets to be the lead vocalist on the sole Beatle song that ET takes back to his home? Who would be the writer of that representative number? Harrison’s “Something” is a marvelous sample, but, again misses the heart of Beatle-mania. And, do we disallow Lennon-McCartney, the songwriting team, to stand up for the band’s definitive recording? Would we really give George that opportunity? Maybe, he deserves it. Should the early ‘64 time period be when Beatles music gets the mantle for this one-off thing? After all, that is when they exploded into being the most phenomenal pop act the industry had ever known. We can call it the “Beatle Big Bang”, though ET would not get the shockwave just yet. That is when they charted the top 5 singles AT THE SAME TIME! However, they had not quite grown into their groundbreaking studio work at that point. The “Strawberry Fields Forever“ and “Penny Lane” moments had not kicked in. This is all food for thought. We can all fall back into our think tanks and consider what one song would be the choice for demonstrating who The Beatles were, if given the job of introducing it to someone never to have heard of the group. It is kind of like the old “deserted island” discussion, being what is your one thing you would take with you. In this case, The Beatles will be defined by the single recorded track, and only that. I will give my choice in a later post.
Anyone who listens to the “Hamburg” live album recorded at the end of 1962 hears a raucous rock and roll band. Once the studio career is in place for the group, the EMI period, there is an evolving away from the strictly 4-piece electric guitar presentation. Well before the sophistication of Revolver/Pepper experimentation, there is an obvious foray into using acoustic guitars on the tracks. No doubt, these guys had cut their teeth on acoustic guitar playing, and used that instrument for writing purposes before. But, the inclusion of it on recorded tracks starts to emerge after a few raw, basic albums. To be fair, it is a significant part of the band’s identity once it is unleashed. Early on, I”ll Follow The Sun, And I Love Her, If I Fell, I”ll Be Back, even back to Love Me Do, acoustic guitar is very prevalent on the recordings. Then, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),Yesterday, I’ve Just Seen A Face, Michelle, Girl, and others feature it up front in the musical pieces. By the “White Album” time, and beyond, there are specific efforts to put forth a song in a “singer-songwriter” kind of fashion. These efforts expose the acoustic guitar to the point that it is either all alone, or clearly out front of any other sparse secondary instrumentation. Revisit Lennon’s Julia, or McCartney’s Blackbird. When we all heard Harrison’s song While My Guitar Gently Weeps, from the early demo version that was released as part of the 90s Anthology, it was a very stripped-down acoustic guitar-based track. And, beautiful. Harrison, along with Pete Ham, would render Here Comes The Sun as a purely acoustic piece on the Concert For Bangladesh live album. That song featured the instrument considerably on the Abbey Road album, but Ringo’s drums and other instruments (Moog Synthesizer, bass guitar, etc.) propelled it to a full-on pop-rock radio-friendly production. In any case, the acoustic guitar is the basis of it all. For You Blue, Two Of Us, Across The Universe, Rocky Raccoon-I could go on and on with the Beatle tracks where the acoustic guitar is the foundation. It was dearly loved by the group, that instrument. And, it is loved by any true Beatles fan. Try listening to I’m Only Sleeping and attempt to avoid hearing the strummed guitar, played by Lennon. You will not be able to put it out of mind. It is there and meant to be a valued part of the performance. One of my all-time favorite musical moments is anytime I hear Harrison’s 12-string acoustic guitar intro of My Sweet Lord. Then, his electric slide part in two-part harmony comes in and………well, that will have to be another discussion!
Love the Beatles? Love the music? Are the albums a delight? The songs? The choices of lyrics, chords, album covers, production? Do you love the romance of it all? Yeah? If the answers are yes (or, yeah yeah yeah) to these questions, then, why do you build these divisive “Beatle against Beatle” arguments? It seems far TOO MANY PEOPLE enjoy pointing out how Paul was “controlling” and, therefore, made it miserable for the other three. How dare he? Which song or album would you toss out of the Beatle canon due to Paul’s unfair schoolmasterly treatment? Is this common assessment even true? Did John bring in Yoko, and, therefore destroy the band? Really? Which song or album would you throw out of Beatle history because of John’s love for a woman? “Don’t Let Me Down”? “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”? Both of those were likely created DUE to her. How many times have I heard that “George was the best Beatle”? Really? HOW? Were his songs that we have never heard, the ones that Paul and John “kept off albums” through 1966, really better than “Ticket to Ride”, “Yesterday”, “If I Fell”, “I Saw Her Standing There”? If so, where are these songs? Is there a reason why there has to be a steep divide among Beatle fans IN REGARD to the Beatles? They gave us the most MAGICAL music years of any pop artist(s). Can’t we enjoy it all without deciding that one of them has to have derailed it all? Is there a reason to “complain” that “ Revolution #9” is on an album? That “Blue Jay Way” is not worthy? That Paul dared to play drums in Ringo’s absence? That John became an activist? Can’t we just enjoy the music? Isn’t it common knowledge that the Beatles were John, Paul, George, and Ringo? Not one or two of them, but, the foursome?