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.
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.
A big Beatles fan.
A big big Beatles fan.
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.
(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.
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.
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
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.
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.
(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.