Tag Archives: Abbey Road

Here Come The Beatles!

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So, now that I’ve spent a good five or six years of my life on this blog, having listened to all my CDs, and ranked them, and counted down my Favorite 100, what should I do with all my free time?

Please Please Me

I got some advice from a variety of people who – bless them – were concerned with either my mental health or the functionality of my ears based on the list of Favorite Albums I finally generated. Much of the advice involved, frankly, impossible tasks relating to places to shove albums or keyboards, or techniques involving sharp objects and my ears which did not really appeal to me.

With The Beatles

A few people thought I should count down other favorite things: TV shows, books, movies, podcasts … Such lists don’t interest me as much as counting down albums. This is because I grew up in an era when Albums Mattered. The books and TV shows and movies a person likes – well, these things have always been interesting to discuss. But among my cohort – I’m going to throw out some numbers and say folks born between 1962 and 1975 – one’s taste in music and albums was important and defining, and often ascribed a listener to a tribe, of sorts.

A Hard Day’s Night

I wrote about this some in my write up of The Who’s Who’s Next album (#37 on my list). For many folks in my cohort, it mattered whether you listened to 60s Rock or Hard Rock or Top Forty or R&B or Metal or Hip-Hop or Punk or College Rock. It was shorthand, it was a marker, it told everyone else who you were.

Beatles For Sale

And like all stereotypes and labels it was pure bullshit. There is perhaps nothing more ridiculous and pathetic in my past than being a 15 year old white boy in rural PA in 1983 loving Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” or Yaz’s “Situation,” or Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” or The English Beat’s “Save It for Later” – waiting for the radio or MTV to play them, dancing and enthusing along to them whenever I heard them, learning the lyrics to sing along, even secretly buying the cassettes – but then going to high school and mocking those songs and their listeners while trying to build an oral argument for the genius of, say, Quiet Riot.

Help!

The music you loved back then mattered, and it mattered, frankly, too much. And yet, that residue sticks to me. My musical tastes have grown more diverse, and I no longer make a value judgement against fans of any type of music. But the feeling that the music I like is important remains. I’m 52 now, and I don’t mind saying I like a little-known Buffalo Tom record more than any Rolling Stones record. Or that a record by my buddy’s band, The April Skies, means more to me than a Led Zeppelin album. These considerations define me.

Rubber Soul

And perhaps no tribe defines me more than The Beatles Tribe. I’ve resisted adding them to my rankings because I know I can’t compare them to other artists’ records. I’ve written before that they’d simply be the top of my list, then everyone would come after, so it seemed pointless to include them.

But now I don’t know what to do with myself, so I’m going to go ahead and rank them.

Revolver

I’ve decided that the albums I’ll rank will be UK versions. I’m only going to include records released while the band was active, so compilations, remixes, bonus tracks, etc, will not be included. So here’s what will be included, in chronological order:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Please Please Me (1963), With The Beatles (1963), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Beatles For Sale (1964), Help! (1965), Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Magical Mystery Tour (1967), The Beatles (aka ‘The White Album’) (1968), Yellow Submarine (1969), Abbey Road (1969), and Let It Be (1970).

Magical Mystery Tour

US releases will not be included. This means the following titles are not included: Introducing … The Beatles (1964), Meet The Beatles (1964), The Beatles’ Second Album (1964), Something New (1964), Beatles ’65 (1964), Beatles VI (1965) and Yesterday … And Today (1966). Additionally, the American versions of the records listed in the previous paragraph will not be part of the ratings.

The Beatles

I’ve already begun re-listening to all these records, and what I am most struck by is this: The Beatles are fucking amazing. They’re not overrated in the least. They are collectively more impressive than any other band I know, with a higher percentage of good, great and excellent songs on their albums than any other band I can think of. And they sustained that percentage over the course of 13 records in eight years!

Yellow Submarine

I’m not saying all their songs are great, or even good. They had some clunkers, and there are definitely some songs of theirs that I could skip. But the number of misses is surprisingly low.

Another thing I’m noticing in revisiting all these albums and listening closely is this: each of the four Beatles, individually, is an excellent musician and performer.

Abbey Road

I’ll start with Ringo Starr, as he is often the most-maligned of the group. Because he’s not a drummer in the powerful, intricate and bombastic style of, say, John Bonham/Neil Peart/Keith Moon, Ringo is thought of by many non-musicians as a dud. However, go ask any drummer and they’ll tell you about Ringo’s brilliance. Better yet, listen to the drums in, say, “Here Comes the Sun,” or “Rain,” or “I Feel Fine,” or “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Let It Be

And George Harrison is an overlooked guitarist and songwriter. His rockabilly/Carl Perkins style set the tone for the band early on, and he always played something interesting, whether during a solo or as a background guitar. Paul and John are outstanding singers, and writers – obviously – and Paul’s lead guitar on songs such as “Good Morning, Good Morning,” and “Taxman” and “Ticket to Ride” is terrific.

So I can understand why I like these guys so much. They’re really good! And I’m going to have a blast listening closely to each of these 13 records. Deciding which ones I like best is not going to be easy, but for you, dear reader, I will do my best. Look for something new in a week or two! And thanks again for reading.

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“In my life I love you more” -The Beatles

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In my attempt to create the definitive list of my 100 favorite CDs, I have been listening daily to almost all of the records in my collection for the past 11 months. I am currently listening to #281, In Your Honor, by Foo Fighters.

I continue to enjoy this project, but it hasn’t been accomplished without some stress.

See, the entire time I’ve worked on it I have been living with a sense of dread. There has been an inevitable, difficult truth awaiting me since the beginning – a fact more troubling than anything I’ve revealed so far in this blog, including my ignorance of celebrated desserts; my realization that I displayed anti-semitic actions and didn’t even remember it; and (perhaps most embarrassing) my love of Seals and Croft. I’ve put off facing this difficult problem for as long as I could. But the time has come for me to meet it head-on. It’s time for me to see if I can handle The Truth.
you cant handle the truth

Here’s how I’ve dealt with The Truth so far: I’ve avoided it. You may have noticed, on my List of Albums Under Consideration, that I have been listening to my CDs (generally) starting from the “Z” end of the alphabet, working back towards “A.” (I store them alphabetically.) In this way, I have listened to CDs for almost a year and I STILL have not listened to any albums by my problem: The Beatles.

For you see, I am a Beatles fan.

beatles fan

beatles 1

beatles 2

A big Beatles fan.

beatles 4

A big big Beatles fan.

beatles fan 2

Okay, maybe not that big, but big. And I am aware of this bias, and I recognize that my love of them will overshadow any objectivity I may try to bring to this project. And I really don’t want to bullshit both of my readers (sorry for swearing, mom and dad) by pretending I can be objective.

So I’ve been avoiding listening to them.

not listening

(Incidentally, this is the same reaction I have when most Bob Dylan songs come on the radio!)

I already know – and I knew when I started this project – that my top ten albums will be (in no particular order) Let It Be, Revolver, Rubber Soul, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beatles For Sale, Magical Mystery Tour, Help!, and A Hard Day’s Night. My top 30 would also include Please Please Me, and With The Beatles, I’m sure. (Yellow Submarine might make top 50, but wouldn’t be higher because I always skip the orchestral stuff.)

This prescience would render all my efforts pointless. Why listen to all my CDs to determine the Top 100 when I already know the top 10? To paraphrase Larry Bird, “Who’s coming in 11th?

I’ve viewed The Beatles as a problem ever since I started the project. I want to give all the CDs I hear a fair listen, but I know I won’t be fair when it comes to the Fab Four.

beatles 3

My Beatles fascination started pretty early. When I was a kid, whenever I was asked what my favorite song was, I’d reply “Strawberry Fields Forever.” My oldest sister had The Beatles’ “Blue Album,” a Greatest Hits collection from the years 1967 – 1970, and I used to love to hear her play it. For some reason, in 1977 – 78, while other kids were getting into Andy Gibb or Kiss or Anne Murray, I was getting into psychedelic pop from ten years earlier.

I also loved the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with the sounds of an audience behind the guitars and drums, and the added orchestral parts. I really thought that The Beatles a) played all those horns and strings and b) did so in front of a live audience; and at the parts where the audience is heard chuckling (40 – 50 seconds in) I always tried to imagine what it was they were doing onstage to make everyone laugh. Were they dancing silly? Doing a pantomime? I can still remember imaginings of long-haired Hippies (my general impression of who The Beatles were) leaping around a stage in Shakespearean dress (for some reason) while playing French horns and electric guitars, causing a staid, rather elderly, British audience in formal attire to laugh uproariously despite themselves.

ren faire audince

Through Middle School, and into High School, I still enjoyed hearing my sister’s Beatles album, and I became very familiar with all the songs, big hits like “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Lady Madonna,” and “Penny Lane,” (which over time came to rival “Strawberry Fields Forever” for top spot on my list.) But I also started to get more enthusiastic about current acts like Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Rush and U2.

Then things slowly started to change. In high school I was friends with Rick, who introduced me to a lot of music. (In fact, he and I – along with his younger brother Steve – formed the first band I was ever in, a short-lived (very short-lived) punk band whose rude (I’m sure) name I can’t remember, but with tuneless songs like “Drop Out, Kill Your Teacher,” and [I’m not proud of this one, but the point of the band was to piss people off …] “Fat Chicks Suck.” I played bass, Rick played guitar, and Steve drummed on the tape recorder with pencils and sang/screamed.) Rick’s favorite band was The Beatles, and since I respected him greatly, I decided I should listen to them more. I have a distinct memory of watching the old USA Network program “Night Flight” with Rick and Steve, and seeing both the Beatles documentary The Compleat Beatles

compleat beatles

magical mys

and the weird Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour at their house. I soon purchased Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on cassette.

In college, my Beatles fervor grew. I was now into a serious obsession with “Prog Rock,” – bands like Yes, ELP and early Genesis, but I had met a new friend who was slowly, surely, steering my musical ship toward the wondrous waters of Beatles.

Dave M. Dr. Dave. Phucken Dave. Dave Dude.

“Dr. Dave,” because he is now a Doctor of Pharmacy, one of the smartest people I know, rattling off pharmacological modes of action as easy as song titles from Revolver; “Phucken Dave,” because he is from PHiladelphia, and his language can – at times – be what my mom might describe as “salty” (but only at times – my mom would actually be surprised by this revelation, as I’m sure she’s never heard that “salt”); “Dave Dude” because he is not Taurus, The Black Giant.

When I met Dr. Dave he scared me. It was my first few days of college, I was a small town hick new to the city of Philadelphia, and this young man in the Joe Walsh t-shirt looked and sounded to me like some kind of big-city tough-guy. Before I got to know him, he reminded me of D’Annunzio from Caddyshack.

I was different from most of the folks he knew, as well. Here is a scene from the 80s movie that he thought I stepped out of:

But he turned out to be the friendliest, warmest person I met at college. Dave was/is an excellent guitar player, and he knew The Beatles deeply. He’d make offhanded remarks like, “It’s kinda like the solo George plays in “Honey, Don’t”” or “Ringo plays that ‘Ndah-Ndah!’ organ part on “I’m Looking Through You”” or “Matt Busby! Dig it!” and expected me to understand what he was talking about. I asked questions, the young student at the feet of the Beatle master.

grasshopper 2

And over time, my knowledge and understanding grew. I listened to the records relentlessly over the next few years. I can remember buying each album: Abbey Road the summer after my freshman year of college; The White Album, junior year (a gift, actually, from my sister); Let It Be later in my junior year; Revolver (UK version) in my senior year (at which time I played “Dr. Robert,” “She Said, She Said,” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” over and over, annoying my roommates, but learning the bass lines for the cover band (JB and the So-Called Cells) that Dr. Dave, his brother and I had formed); Rubber Soul just after graduation; Beatles For Sale, Help!, A Hard Day’s Night and Magical Mystery Tour when I lived in that cottage in Mt. Gretna.

And all through this time I was conversing with Dr. Dave, questioning him, seeking guidance, knowledge, fulfillment. He was my guru, my Beatles-sattva. Also, JB and the So-Called Cells learned a ton of Beatles songs, and played them out. Hits like “Taxman” and “Get Back.” Obscure stuff, too. “Yer Blues.” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey.” “Oh! Darling.” “I’ve Got a Feeling.” “I Dig a Pony.” We played other artists, too, but there was something special about playing songs like “She Said, She Said,” and playing them right and doing it well.

Here’s a photo of JB & The So-Called Cells from January, 1991, onstage at Zachary’s, in Hershey, PA. I’m far right, next to Dr. Dave.

JB cells

(I don’t really have a mullet in this picture; it just looks that way due to how my hair is cut.)

Anyway, I guess the point to all this is that I spent a whole lot of time listening to, playing songs by, and reading and thinking about The Beatles. They’ve been a sort of hobby of mine. I react differently to them than I do to other bands, even those other bands that I adore. They mean more to me, for reasons I can’t explain.

What I like about them is that they were extremely creative and interesting, but they still always wrote killer melodies (well, almost always…)

Their songs were also deceptively simple. I remember hearing Harry Connick, Jr., (who – granted – has more musical knowledge in his pinkie toenail than I’ll ever have) say that the Beatles music was too simple, and therefore didn’t interest him. This led Dr. Dave to state, “Obviously he’s never tried to play lead guitar on “I’ve Got a Feeling”!” Almost every time I listen to a Beatles song, I hear something I didn’t notice before – a high-hat in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy);” Paul’s voice cracking in “If I Fell;” the fact that Ringo’s vocal for “What Goes On” is in the left speaker, and George’s strange guitar bursts are in the right speaker. A previously unheard breath here, an extra guitar track there, a nifty bass fill there. (Why, just three days ago, Dr. Dave texted me to ask if I ever noticed the three bass notes that begin “Penny Lane”!)

I think by now, summer 2013, peoples’ opinions of The Beatles are probably set. If you like them, you understand. If you don’t like them, I can’t change your mind. And I’m not going to try. I’m just trying to make a decent list of 100 albums without having to use up 10 – 13% of the spots on one artist due to my irrational emotional ties to it.

So I have decided to exclude Beatles albums from my top 100.

I will listen to them all, and I will rank them, but they will be in their own separate Beatles list. It just doesn’t seem fair to the other bands who’ve worked so hard to be pushed out of the top ten just because I have acute Beatlemania.

beatles fan e

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