music

Carry That Weight

The Beatles at Abbey Road recording, er, Sgt Pepper

The Beatles at Abbey Road recording, er, Sgt Pepper

I was going to write about Noah and the Whale’s new record today, but that’s going to have to wait. Inspired by the season of BBC programmes on The Beatles (most notably The Beatles on Record), I’ve instead been listening to records made 40 years ago. It’s not that those programmes really told me anything I didn’t already know – it’s that it’s been so long since I actually listened to a Beatles LP that I’d forgotten how really, truly, honestly good they are.

I mean, I always knew. An over-sized poster from the Beatles for Sale photography sessions has sat on my wall for years, and large parts of my GCSE Music course were take up sitting the music room listening to the blue album. But in the way of these things, you start taking The Beatles for granted. There’s a scene in Sliding Doors, the 90s romcom starring Gwyneth Paltrow and unlikely heartthrob John Hannah, in which Hannah declares that The Bealtes – so thoroughly are they part of our cultural heritage – should more rightly be called The Foetals, their work carried into our half-formed brains in the amniotic fluid. In Julian Barnes’s England England, a sequence set in the future of a culturally bankrupt England still has a brass band playing Yellow Submarine, as if it’s a simple of folk tune, wriggled free of its original composers and contexts in a way few songs manage.

So it’s only when you sit and listen to The Beatles’ albums again that you realize they do in fact deserve the hype, and richly so. Not only are all popular genres contained within their work, not only were they revolutionary studio techicians; it is not enough that their harmonies were luminous and their tunes the most sophisticated of ear-worms; they were simply musicians and stylists of the highest order. Even Ringo, so often maligned as the luckiest amateur drummer in history, emerges from a song like “Tomorrow Never Knows” as a sort of Titan. Yes, partly it is simply that, uncannily, they matched each other and their time – “All You Need Is Love” would be banal and simplistic in any other hands and in any other era. But it isn’t just that, and listening to these records shows why: “All You Need Is Love” is not simply of its moment, and a product of four men in the right place at the right time: with its cross-currents and ambivalent vocals it is styled and structured to perfection.

I’ve particularly been listening to Abbey Road, which vies with Rubber Soul, and occassionally Revolver and the White Album, as my personal favourite. The second side, of course, is majestic (yes, it was McCartney’s idea – but aren’t we all a bit bored now of pretending he’s fey and rubbish?) , but even the triumph of tastelessness which is that ode to the humourous side of serial killing, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, is so beautifully performed – and quirkily written – that you are charmed by it despite yourself. In this playful company, “Octopus’s Garden” is actually enjoyable. (And on relisten, “Get Back”, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” are more brilliant than your cultural memory can possibly recall.) How did they do it?

Anyway, such evangelism is surely unecessary when it comes to this group, so expect a post soon about how glorious Love is.

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7 thoughts on “Carry That Weight

  1. byfuselage says:

    Woo! Beatles talk!!

    I too am in an all Beatles all the time phase. Bought a couple of the recent re-masters (Please please me and Beatles for sale) to fill a few gaps in my collection. They sound amazing and make me long for the full box set.

    McCartney’s overall awesomeness and Ringo’s drumming are two of my biggest obessions when talking about the Beatles. Macca’s contributions should be beyond reproach, I just don’t understand the bad press he so often receives. Some of my favourite Beatles songs are his, and his instrumental prowess was the toppermost of the poppermost within the group. As for Ringo’s drumming, I HATE people who think he wasn’t up to scratch. Tomorrow never knows is a good example of his fine drumming, but there are so many more (Rain perhaps being the best). Just because he was a laid back jokey presence doesn’t mean he wasn’t pulling his weight.

    Oh and just for the record, I love Maxwell’s silver hammer…no sarcasm 🙂

  2. byfuselage says:

    Oh and I usually say my fav is the White Album, but yeh, Abbey Road’s up there. Also, the early stuff never ever gets enough credit. Often the only Beatles album I’m actually in the mood for is With the Beatles – they were amazingly good when trying to be an American R & B band.

  3. danhartland says:

    Know what you mean about the early stuff – often neglected (in the post above, for one!) in favour of the more obviously experimental stuff of 66 onwards, but you’re absolutely right that sometimes only songs like ‘All My Loving’ can hit the spot. Help is a phenomenal album, too. (And Beatles for Sale has ‘Eight Days A Week’, so ’nuff said.)

    On the McCartney front, it’d be fair to say that between John’s finest moments – whether vocally or in terms of songwriting – and Paul’s, I’ll usually go for John. But then I think of ‘Hey Jude’, or the bass on ‘I Want You’, and really to choose is just silly. And for two chaps who like the White Album, there’s surely only one word that needs saying: ‘Blackbird’. (Though I have a soft spot for ‘Honey Pie’, too.) And the important boxset question: mono or stereo?

    I will not refer to my envy that you have Beatles Rock Band.

  4. byfuselage says:

    Help is amazing and often overlooked in light of the breakthroughs made on Rubber Soul. I love Beatles for Sale too, it’s such a moody album (Baby’s in Black is amongst my fav Beatles songs full stop), from the cover art on down. To be honest, I understand why some people don’t have time for the early stuff though, and I certainly don’t think it’s better than the more experimental post-66 stuff. It’s just worthy of more praise than it’s given 🙂

    As for the John/Paul debate. I also think it’s silly to have to choose. I spent a whole evening this week listening to various takes of Strawberry Fields Forever on youtube, so I’m certainly no Lennon naysayer. However I really don’t think McCartney ever gets enough credit. I’m currently enjoying his bass on Don’t Let me down (and on all of Let it be actually), his funky electric piano on Come Together, the ridiculously good Taxman guitar solo…I could go on. Blackbird and I will are my two fav tracks on the White Album lol.

    As for the box set, if I was allowed to buy it (and I think Beatles Rock Band has pretty much scuppered that ;)) I’d love to have the luxury of going mono, as more attention was paid to those mixes. But the later albums aren’t in that box and it’s more pricey – madness.

    P.s. When we’ve finally sorted out somewhere to live you’re more than welcome to come round for Beatles Rock Band. I’m currently loving the drumming – it’s pretty much exact, or as far as it can be with four pads and a kick pedal. Very difficult, but great fun 🙂

  5. danhartland says:

    I don’t know if I’d say I understand why people have no time for the early stuff – since it’s clearly brilliant – but, yes, the post-66 stuff obviously has more going on. (Though I still can’t find it in my truly to love Sgt Pepper – I admire it.) John/Paul meanwhile is simply a taste thing – all the anti-Macca stuff is nonsense, yes. Even if, like me, you tend to prefer John at his best, that has nothing to do with Paul being rubbish – clearly ‘Get Back’ and ‘Hey Jude’ speak for themselves. (Having said that, I’d go for ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ over ‘I Will’. 😉 )

    You have made the correct boxset choice! Though I too as baffled by the absence of the later albums – I assume this is a result of the later records, Let It Be and Abbey Road in particular, having more attention paid to the stereo mixes. But it still seems odd.

    And, dude. I am in ur home playin ur Beatles. Yes!

  6. Bonnie says:

    Count me as one of those souless wrongheads who think the Beatles, while Important in the grand scheme of things, were hardly the Best Thing Ever.

    Yeah, they had some good singles but I seriously believe they benefited from being in the Right Place at the Right Time and had the Right Record Company spending money to promote them. And don’t forget, this was still the age of payola.

    They couldn’t have become THE BEATLES (insert-scream-here) without the marketing prowess that accompanied them. If they kept the leather jackets and slicked back hair instead of morphing in to the suits and Arthur haircuts, they’d have stayed in the clubs.

  7. Pingback: “Love” and The Beatles « @Number 71

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