Potpourri: The Beatles in Retrospect: Personal
Re-mastered albums and Rock Band have put the Beatles atop Amazon.com almost 40 years after their demise. From this college disc jockey and amateur band member who watched the era unfold, reminiscences for those who experienced the Beatles then and the many who like them now:
Early 1960’s. They seem no big deal at first. Cute, odd clothes, strange haircuts, energetic, but still basic rock and lyrics. Slight sound shifts however. Uncommon (for rock) minor, major 7th and 9th chords inserted here and there. Check the first chord of Hard Day’s Night. They’re also mixing instruments. George’s on electric guitar while John’s playing acoustic. Unusual. The riff on And I Love Her comes from a classical guitar.
They begin changing. I don’t like it. Why can’t they keep their hit groove like other bands? The Beatles’ don’t seem to care. Rubber Soul strikes us as weird at our radio station. Too acoustic. Too folk-like. Where’s the hard rock? Lyrics more complicated… “There are places I’ll remember all my life though some have changed. Some forever not for better, some have gone and some remain.” After multiple listenings, maybe Rubber Soul’s not so bad.
How can they release so many original songs so rapidly? (I later learn that thousands of hours playing nightly in a Germany club honed their performances and writing.)
I host a one hour radio show each week called The Beatle Hour. This is 1965, only a couple years after their breakout success in England and America and yet there’s a wealth of musical choices.
During a U.S. tour, they do an extremely brief set at JFK stadium in Philly. John points his guitar at the sky and seems to blame weather for the brevity. Can hardly hear through the screams. Still, they’re in person.
What’s that sound? Revolver has tracks played backwards. Drug influence creeping in. “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream…” Who ARE these guys?
Sgt. Pepper. Everybody’s talking about it and playing a kind of Trivial Pursuit identifying faces on the cover. There’s a theme throughout. The Beatles make concept albums cool. They convert the studio into an instrument. A full orchestra crescendos into a hammered piano chord that lingers like a monastery bell in Day in the Life. Local bands can’t emulate this. The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bandhave left us all behind. With Strawberry Fields and I Am the Walrus they become ethereal.
Amidst the album progression comes a 7-minute single that breaks barriers for song length on pop radio. Hey Jude plays often overseas while I’m in the military. I miss home. I miss my wife. The band’s now recording my generation’s soundtrack.
A double white album. Clever: especially after the smorgasbord on Pepper’s cover. You can tell who wrote which songs. John’s edgy. Paul’s slick. It’s eclectic, fragmented, somewhat harsh. Are they having fun or is this catharsis?
Abbey Road. That’s more like it. Studio-smooth and inventive. Yet the end is near.
Let it Be brings Beatle breakup. John’s shooting, 10 years later, blows away reunion. Now they ARE gone.
“All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall, some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all” – In my Life, Rubber Soul.