Tag Archives: Let It Be

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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72nd Favorite: Let It Be, by The Replacements

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Let It Be. The Replacements
1984, Twin/Tone. Producer: Steve Fjelstad, Peter Jesperson, Paul Westerberg
Purchased: ca. 1992.

letitbe album

nutshellIN A NUTSHELL – Excellent rock songwriting, with terrific lyrics and strong performances. Leader Paul Westerberg is a treasure, and the band plays in a ragged style, almost as if trying to hide their talent beneath a layer of punk patina. The album has some of my favorite songs from the last 40 years. But for a few so-so songs, this would be top 20, easy.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
kendrickAs 2016 begins, my son is nearing 17 years old and is quite a music fan. He likes a lot of different musical styles, but his favorite is hip hop, which – given my advanced age – all sounds
kind of the same to me.

steviewOur tastes do cross paths at a few places. He loves the “Stevie Wonder Channel” he made on Pandora, and since I’ve played “Oldies” in the car ever since he was a baby, he has a fondness for 60s and 70s classic rock and pop.

Because he knows I’m a music fan, he is always on the lookout for new songs that I might like. He’ll often play a song for me and say, “Dad, I think you’ll like this one …” Typically he picks songs that have a strong bass line and a discernible melody in the chorus. When I do like a song, it makes him happy. If I don’t like it he’ll argue a bit, then tell me I have no taste.

80snerdThe other discussion he enjoys having with me regarding new music is the “What would people think …?” discussion. As in, “Dad, what would people think of this song when you were in high school? Would it just be totally crazy?”

The answer varies. For the hip hop songs, I think the answer is almost always “Yes, it would sound crazy,” because when I was in high school the only “hip hop” we knew was “Rapper’s Delight,” and a little Run-DMC, which sound quite different from anything by, say, Future. But some non-hip-hop songs from 2015, for example “Uptown Funk,” would’ve fit in quite nicely at my school’s Friday night dances after basketball games.

A good example of what it looked like when the author “boogied” during 80s high school dances.

But my usual answer is “I don’t remember how crazy it would sound.” It’s not that grandpaadvancing age is calcifying the once robust, agile fluidity of my cortex … Okay, that’s partly it. But mainly the reason I can’t remember is because of the fact that as music evolves, sounds that once were unusual or “crazy” come to sound normal, like they’ve always been there. So I don’t recall what sounded crazy, and when.

There is music all around us – in stores, on TV, in our cars – and our ears and brain recognize it as Music. And of course we listen to music for pleasure – buying it on Spotify or iTunes, or even on old-fashioned CDs and previously-old-fashioned-but-now-new-fashioned vinyl and cassettes. And our ears and brains adapt to the changes in popular music rather readily.

ears musicSome may argue that the more music changes, the more it sounds the same. Recording technology has certainly improved, but while music professionals might notice profound taylor bandchanges in music recording technology, without the thoroughly trained, hypersensitive cochlear apparatuses of a professional, can one really distinguish the sonic improvements in, say, Taylor Swift’s latest record as compared to her first in 2006? I don’t think so. Improvements in technology don’t change the fact that Taylor Swift makes catchy ditties with typical song structure and recognizable musical sounds, just like hits from 2006 and 1986 and 1946. Even Benny Goodman could have played “Shake It Off,” but his version would have come with a full big-band complement of trumpets and saxophones. Good Time Charlies in 1938 would’ve swung their chicks right along to a snappy number like that.

awful musicBut consider a few words in that sentence a few lines up: “recognizable musical sounds.” How do we as listeners adapt to new musical sounds and incorporate them into our personal basket of “recognizable” musical sounds? When does a “crazy sound” stop sounding crazy?

When truly new-sounding music hits the masses, the tendency is for it to be rejected by a large segment of the music-appreciating public. But if the new sounds can gain a foothold with a critical mass of music appreciation pioneers, the sounds begin to be heard more often, rite springand the next thing you know you can’t tell why you ever thought the new sound was so cacophonous in the first place; it’s now quite mellifluous.

This initial mass rejection of new sounds before subsequent mass acceptance has a distinguished history Probably the most famous example is that of riots in 1913 Paris over a wild new ballet by Igor Stravinsky.

Around the same time, the American media was observing a new kind of popular music, and railing against this “Satan’s music,” called “ragtime.” joplinRagtime was the first American music to cause a “true upheaval which had moral and economic consequences, other than musical consequences, in American popular culture,” according to composer and historian Max Morath. troubleIt’s the kind of music that Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man called “shameless music/That’ll grab your son and your daughter/With the arms of a jungle animal instinct.”

Now that it’s 2016, and Ragtime music is over a century old, and we’ve all grown up with its old-timey sounds in our lives, it’s hard to imagine a time when this music could have sounded devilish and crazy. It’s difficult to conceive of what it was like to experience that change of sound. And since these changes were taking place at the very dawn of recorded music, it’s difficult to get a good idea of the popular music landscape into which this “shameless music” was thrust.

So let’s jump ahead to Rock and Roll, music from an era that started well after “The Charts” were firmly established, tracking America’s music listening and buying habits, thus providing a clearer window to peek through into the world of the listening public.

zenithImagine it’s 1955, and you’re listening to your favorite song on the family Zenith radio, Tony Bennett’s beautiful 1954 Number One Smash “Stranger in Paradise.” You’re thinking of your sweetie, and the fine times you’ve had together, the finer times you hope to have. Music, you think, can’t get any better than this … As the song ends, and your warm feelings are lingering, the DJ announces the next number, featuring a new sound coming out of Philadelphia, and heard in the new Glenn Ford film, Blackboard Jungle.

It’s Bill Haley and His Comets, performing “Rock Around the Clock!”

You nearly leap out of your chair with fright!!! “This isn’t music!!!” you scream. “Where are the violins? This guy can’t even sing – he, he, … he BARKS!! And what the hell is that sound at 44 seconds in??!! It sounds like a bumblebee caught in a tin can? cannibalAnd where are those drums coming from, some kind of voodoo ceremony, or cannibal dance? I mean, I like Big Band Swing okay, but I’ve never heard anything like THIS!!”

Watch that video, and check out the woman dancing at 50 seconds. Could you ever fathom pants that tight moving in that manner along to Tony Bennett or Mario Lanza? This new sound must have sounded downright insane.

You, the Tony Bennet lover, might think that that crazy music was just a fad when Doris Day sets things back to normal in 1956, but in 1957 Elvis Presley comes along, and the next year Chuck Berry is duck walking all over the airwaves with that electrified guitar, and he’s not even trying to sing in any way that you recognize as singing! elvis etcFolks like Little Richard aren’t even trying to sing words; they’re just making up gibberish, and by now that Bill Haley song from 4 years ago doesn’t sound too crazy at all. In fact, compared to Chuck Berry, it sounds downright QUAINT! And once Pat Boone comes along to rephrase these songs in a way a Tony Bennett fan can really appreciate, you’ve become very accustomed to the rock and roll sound. Maybe you’re not a fan, but it no longer sounds like something from an outer space jungle insane asylum.

This script for the introduction of “new sounds” to popular music is repeated often. The Beatles entered the American airwaves and sounded different from the usual fare and were immediately dismissed by many critics and other music fans. unionjackBut in another year “The British Invasion” is in full swing, clogging the airwaves with anything vaguely Beatle-esque, and by 1968, nobody can remember what sounded so crazy about the 1964 version of the band.

Likewise, punk rock sounded like screaming knackmaniacs tossing electric motors down a marble staircase when compared to popular hit songs of the era, and most people didn’t get it. But by 1979, the top song of the year is “My Sharona,” a nifty new wave song whose success couldn’t have happened without listeners’ collective ears getting broken in by that edgy, repetitive, stripped-down punk sound.

All those examples of listeners’ ears adapting are from either before I was born, or before I began paying attention closely to musicalnirvana sounds. However, I clearly recall an adaptation my ears made that, in retrospect, renders cute my ears’ first confused apprehension of a new sound. It occurred in the very early 90s, near the end of the dreaded scourge of Hair Metal. In an era of phony-baloney, pretend-loud, pseudo-aggressive music by bands like Warrant, Kurt Cobain’s indecipherable mumbling and screaming, over the band’s boom-boom crunch in Nirvana’s famous “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sounded gloriously unholy and new. However, listening to the song twenty-five years later, it’s hard to remember what sounded so wild about it.

The point is that peoples’ ears are ears2only ready for new sounds when they’re ready for new sounds. Some folks get onboard earlier than others; some folks can hear the music in the noise more clearly than others. Music only clicks with the listener when the listener is ready, either after priming by the sounds of an evolving genre, or because a listener is just out there searching for something new. And when I hear The Replacements today, it’s hard to imagine how crazy I thought they sounded at first.

Although, to be fair, I’d never actually HEARD them when I thought they sounded so crazy. I should have learned from Billy Joel: “there’s a new band in town/but you can’t get the sound/from a story in a magazine/aimed at your average teen.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 6.13.46 AMI have a recollection of being in high school and reading a little about The Replacements in an issue of Rolling Stone.

At the time, a friend had recently tried to get me into the mid-80s punk rock music by playing songs by a band called The Meatmen, from an album called (rather hilariously) We’re the Meatmen … And You Suck! In listening back to this song today, it’s hard to believe how crazy, unmusical and uninteresting it sounded to me in 1985. It sounded like guys who had picked up guitars and meatmenjust started whacking away on the necks and shrieking along. It was amusing in that way, amusing enough that a couple friends and I actually made up and recorded some songs for fun in which we did just that. And although the Rolling Stone article stated, quite accurately, “The Replacements mix country and blues with hard rock Rolling Stones-… style,” the description didn’t register. All I knew was that I’d already heard some of this new “punk rock,” and I thought it sucked and that the people who played it sucked. (Spoken like a true Rush fan!)

mats bandI heard about the band again over the next several years, read their name in articles, saw some records in record stores and all along thought they were lousy, screaming creeps banging unrelentingly on their instruments. And maybe they were. But I still wish I’d given them a chance back then.

I was finally forced to actually listen to the band when I joined a band myself, The April Skies, which featured a lead guitarist/songwriter, Jake, who had a Replacements obsession. Maybe obsession is too strong a word. Call it a fascination. Or a condition. Nah, it was obsession. He talked about them all the time, and at rehearsal he often played a simple riff over and over, a catchy little thing that went like this (7 seconds in):

When I finally heard the full song – during a long drive in a van on the way to a faraway gig – I was blown away. The catchy melody, the interplay of bass and drums, the singer’s expressive voice, the lyrics evoking a young person’s desire … it sounded like the perfect song. How could this be coming from a band I knew, just KNEW – from reading a short article and hearing a couple songs by a completely different band six years ago – to be a bunch of talentless losers??

“I Will Dare” features lead guitar from Peter Buck of R.E.M., who were traveling the same College Radio circuit as The Replacements in 1984. paul hairAlso, Replacements’ lead singer and main songwriter, Paul Westerberg, plays a catchy mandolin to end the song. I love everything about this song, from Chris Mars’s four-on-the-floor drumbeat at the beginning to Westerberg’s plea, “Come on!” before the second chorus, to guitarist Bob Stinson’s sort of out of tune run at 3:11. Westerberg has a distinctive rock voice that strains against years of cigarette soot to reach the correct notes, but reach them he always does. If I were writing about my top 100 songs of all time, I think “I Will Dare” would break the top ten. I remember being young and experiencing all the feelings this song expresses, the thrill of the danger in seeking reciprocated love, the desire for a call on Thursday – or Wednesday, better still! And no songwriter can turn a phrase better than Westerberg (“How young are you?/How old am I?/Let’s count the rings/Around my eyes”). More times than not, I’ll get chills listening to this song. It just has that effect.

paul singWesterberg has a talent for mining a deep vein of a particular form of 70s/80s suburban teen angst, from the days before the internet brought everything everywhere right to your fingertips. It’s a mixture of boredom (“There’s nothing to do in this town…”), doom (“… and I’ll never get out of here…”), doubt (“… and I’m such a loser, nobody will ever like me …”) that is spiked with deep pride (“… but all those folks from other places who think they’re better than me and my town can kiss my ass!”) A good example is the beautiful “Unsatisfied.”

There isn’t a whole lot to the lyrics, but put chrismarsto this tune, and sung in Westerberg’s moving style, they say so much more than their content. Westerberg adds a wonderful lap steel guitar to the song. I don’t know of another song that makes me feel so much like I did as a fifteen year old in rural Pennsylvania, even though I didn’t hear the song until I was in my twenties!

The topic of teenage angst is handled even more directly in the sweet “Sixteen Blue.”

It’s the third song I’ve written about, and still there’s nothing on the album that sounds like The Meatmen, mats concert 1nothing even reminiscent of the boast Westerberg made in that Rolling Stone piece: “A rock & roll band needs to be able to get under people’s skin … You should be able to clear the room at the drop of a hat.” These are great, straight-ahead rock songs. “Sixteen Blue” has some really nice lead guitar courtesy of Bob Stinson, mirroring the sadness of the lyrics.

But despite a yearning for something new, something to break up the monotony, The ‘Mats aren’t the types to go in for something new just to keep up with those around them.

In the song “Answering Machine,” our protagonist, the Unsatisfied, Blue Sixteen year-old, hoping that a special someone Will Dare with him, is thwarted by a newfangled object in 1984.

The song expresses a “What is wrong with these people?” mats band dresssentiment, an exasperation that no one else can see just how useless a useful machine can be to a human seeking connection. The song features just Westerberg and his guitar, and this arrangement enhances the song’s emotional and informational message.

mats tommy leapThe band also expresses their contempt for another 80s touchstone, Music Videos. The rousing, punky “Seen Your Video” was an attack on the MTV generation, on style over substance, and a poke at R.E.M. (or so I’ve read – either in All Over But the Shouting or Our Band Could Be Your Life, two books I HIGHLY recommend), friends of The Replacements who were just getting some attention on mainstream radio, and were starting to make videos for their songs.

It’s an instrumental (mostly) that’s catchy and aggressive, with nice guitar lines throughout. This is the first song I’ve mentioned here that even smacks a bit of punk rock. But there are others on the album.

“Favorite Thing” is a raucous ode …

a raucous ode to … something. Punk rock? Rock and roll? The way Westerberg sings it, I always thought it was to a person, but the lyrics seem to be about a lifestyle (“It’s really hip, with plenty of flash”), a desire (“Wanna be something/Wanna be anything”), perhaps even a future (“I think big once in a while”). Once again, it’s that 70s/80s small town adolescent, wishing for something but not sure what.

Another fine, funny punk song is about bass player Tommy Stinson’s health problems, “Tommy Gets his Tonsils Out.”

“He gets his tonsils out?” you may ask. “How old is he, twelve??!” tommyWell, actually, he was twelve when he joined the band in 1979, and he dropped out of school three years later to go on tour, after the band’s manager obtained legal guardianship of him so Tommy could legally enter the bars they played. He’s led a very Rock and Roll life. This song is plain fun, with witty lyrics gently teasing the young teen. It’s somewhat of a throwback to some of the band’s earlier, rougher, punkier tunes, but it’s a much tamer and mainstream sound than the early songs.

mats fingerAnother humorous song is the raunchily titled “Gary’s Got a Boner,” dealing with another teenage angst-filled topic, sex. “We’re Coming Out” is a barn-burner about … something. The band also covers the Kiss song, “Black Diamond,” which I generally skip over.

I prefer the less punky songs on the album, something that might annoy long-time, hardcore ‘Mats fans. But the album, and its famous album cover, definitely has a punk feel – especially the title. Giving an paul guitaralbum the same name as an album by the greatest band ever is a pretty “punk rock” thing to do. Also punk-rock is the embrace of the “other,” particularly in one striking case – the song “Androgynous.”

It’s a song that I used to mistake as a case AGAINST boyish girls and girlish boys, bob skirtbut a close reading of the lyrics reveals a sophisticated, sincere and broad-minded take on the issue of gender identity. “Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?” Westerberg asks, a prescient view of societal changes to come in the next thirty years after this recording. “Kewpie dolls and urine stalls/will be laughed at/the way you’re laughed at now,” he sings, and sure urinals still exist, and girls still play with dolls, but more and more “unisex” restrooms are found nowadays and toys are becoming much less rigidly gender-specific. The song’s become a bit of an anthem in the LGBTQ community, performed last summer by Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett and transgender singer Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, to raise funds for Cyrus’s “Happy Hippie Foundation” for homeless, LGBTQ and vulnerable youth.

As someone with close relationships with people whose gender and sexual identity has been a source of significant personal struggles, the fact that a song by a favorite band of mine has become such an anthem makes me very happy.

mats busIt’s hard to believe how radical an idea androgyny was in 1984 – the simple fact that a boy could want to look girlish and a girl look boyish (even if they’re a straight couple, as the song describes) was rather shocking back then. And it’s hard to believe how shocking 80s punk music sounded to me back then. When my son asks me if a song from today would’ve sounded crazy back then, all I can think is that so much sounded crazy back then – both in music and society – and it’s a damn shame we let that so-called craziness prevent us from trying to understand. I probably missed out on some damn fine music, and others probably missed out on a whole lot more.

TRACK LISTING
I Will Dare
Favorite Thing
We’re Comin’ Out
Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
Androgynous
Black Diamond
Unsatisfied
Seen Your Video
Gary’s Got a Boner
Sixteen Blue
Answering Machine

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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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