Tag Archives: The Beatles

9th Favorite Beatles Album: Let It Be

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Let It Be
1970, Apple Records. Producer: Phil Spector.
Purchased CD, Approx. 1992.

IN A NUTSHELL: Let It Be is a collection of fantastic songs, many of them unfamiliar to the casual listener. The songs and performances by the band are wonderful, but the producer overlaid them with orchestras and choirs that very often muffle the music and at times completely obscure the band’s efforts. But there are a number of Lennon-McCartney songs that find the pair harmonizing like the old days, and the entire band performs brilliantly.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

~ ~ ~

I’ve written many times about growing up in my little town in Pennsylvania, being raised in a culture that was rather closed and homogenous, where there was an aversion to anything new and different. But there’s an aspect of my 70s rural PA childhood that I don’t think I’ve touched on yet. And that is the expectation, deeply held there among the people, that everyone should just “deal with it.” Whatever “it” may be. The solution is to “deal.”

Did you get the wrong order at a restaurant? “Deal with it.” Did the kid who cheated get a better grade than you? “Deal with it.” Did you get mercilessly teased and beaten because you’re gay or chubby or not white or a woman or bad at sports or too poor for cool clothes or part of a different religion? “Deal with it.”

Of course, one way to deal with a wrong order is to send it back; a good way to deal with cheaters is to let someone know; a way to deal with abusive systemic power structures is to work to change them. But this is NOT what the term “Deal with it” meant. What “Deal with it” meant is “keep your mouth shut and don’t upset anyone.”

(Somehow, though, to many of these steely, set-jaw, denizens of my region, if the “problem” was changing demographics and an influx of Spanish-speaking people, then “deal with it” apparently meant to yell insults and threats, and to urge for English-speaking standards, despite the fact that in generations past in this community nobody spoke English, and everyone spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. But I digress …)

This “deal with it” attitude was a hindrance to my development as a happy human being, and it’s something I continue to work on (with great success, I believe) so as to NOT pass it onto my children. But it can be difficult for me to advocate for myself.

For example, let’s say I helped make an album with a band I was in, and none of us really liked the final product, and there were bad feelings around the recording experience and lots of tension among my bandmates and me, and so everyone just left the record sit on a shelf for months. And let’s say that after a few months some folks went, essentially, behind my back to hire a famous producer to make changes to the album, and that when it was released I thought it sounded horrible and stunk to high-heaven, especially the songs that I’d written, and that I was – frankly – embarrassed by the record, no matter how commercially successful it eventually became. Imagine me in that situation, and I’ll tell you I probably NEVER would have thought to remix the entire thing and re-release it. But that’s what Paul McCartney did with Let It Be.

In 2003, McCartney oversaw the remix and re-release of the 1970 Beatles album Let It Be, my 9th-favorite Beatles album. He called it Let It Be… Naked, a reflection of the stripped-down content of the songs.

Of course it was Dr. Dave who first introduced me to the original Let It Be. Our band, JB and The So-Called Cells, played lots of Beatles songs, and Let It Be has a bunch of songs that are fun to play – several of which are rather obscure to the casual music fan. Most people know “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Hey Jude,” but how many people really know where you can syndicate any boat you row? I dove into the album, and I loved it, and I never really considered how much extra stuff, like choirs and orchestras, had been added.

Now that I’m older, I still think it’s a great album, one of my favorites. But I like Let It Be… Naked so much more. It sounds like it’s a direct expression of the band, whereas the original seems like an interpretation. If I want to listen to the songs on Let It Be, I’ll listen to Let It Be… Naked. I’m rating the original release, because I’m following my rules, and it lands at #9. However, Let It Be… Naked would be higher.

But as I said: Let It Be is great!! It starts out with one of the coolest Lennon-McCartney pieces I know, the acoustic ode to friendship, “Two of Us.”

I like to imagine it’s about Lennon and McCartney’s friendship, but in fact Paul wrote the song and lyrics about his new (at the time) girlfriend, Linda. Paul plays a nifty, simple riff to start each line, then he and John strum acoustic guitars, while Harrison picks out a bass line on an electric guitar. The instrumentation gives the song a folksy, campfire feel that enhances the chummy lyrics, as does the whistling, by John, to end the song. The … Naked version of the song isn’t much different, although it leaves out the funny spoken intro by John.

Next up is a song that is SO MUCH FUN TO PLAY on guitar and bass that it’s hard for me to give an assessment of the sound. All I think about is how much I love to play it! It’s the nonsensical, John Lennon-penned “Dig a Pony,” and it’s a staple of any JB and The So-Called Cells performance.

After an aborted intro (Ringo didn’t have his drumsticks ready and stops things after one note) the entire band plays the waltzing main riff, which is an astounding four bars long, ranges nearly two octaves and sounds unlike any other riff in rock. Lennon’s lyrics are bizarre, but Paul’s harmonies are terrific, and Harrison’s guitar playing is among his best. And let’s not forget – it’s a difficult song to drum, but Ringo, as always, is up to the challenge. The … Naked version removes the false start (one of the few changes on the album that I dislike) and cleans up a couple mistakes. It’s a cool, weird song, and most non-Beatle fans are unfamiliar with it.

Across the Universe” is up next, and as much as I love John Lennon (he’s probably my favorite Beatle), this is a song that’s never done much for me. The lyrics have some nice stuff (“pools of sorrow/waves of joy”), but they’re mostly just self-affirmations. The orchestration is quite over the top, and the … Naked version strips all that away. The next song is full of too much orchestra, as well: Harrison’s “I Me Mine.”

Harrison’s guitar really makes this song, both the electric and the acoustic. I like dual lead guitar at the beginning, over Paul’s organ, and the little squawks he throws in. It’s another waltz, a beat Ringo excels at, until the “I Me Me Mine” chorus, where the band rocks out a bit, and Harrison gets to blaze away on electric. When the orchestra is removed on … Naked, you can really hear Ringo’s terrific drumming as the pre-chorus builds (1:12 – 1:20). The orchestra also obscures Harrison’s guitar work from 1:48 – 2:03. “I Me Mine” is a song I like on Let It Be, but that I LOVE on Let It Be… Naked.

The latter album also removes “Dig It,” one of 2 songs ever credited to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey, the other being “Flying,” from Magical Mystery Tour. It’s a 50-second goofball song with nonsense lyrics, the kind of song I find interesting because I love the Beatles, but about which I expect most people scratch their heads. However, it does lead into one of the greats, “Let It Be.”

There’s not much to be written about a song as well-known and popular as this song. I like Billy Preston’s organ throughout, and I really like Harrison’s solo, about 1:58, and all his subsequent electric guitar riffs he plays. Also not to be overlooked are Paul’s bass guitar, starting at 1:06, and Ringo’s drums, which were augmented on the original release by Spector, but are clearer on … Naked. The lyrics are inspirational to many, and it’s one of the band’s most popular songs. I think it’s a great song, certainly better than “Maggie Mae,” 40 seconds of an old Liverpudlian street song the band recorded in jest, that was left off … Naked. And certainly not nearly as good as one of my favorite all-time songs, “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

As with “Two of Us,” I love this song partly because it supports my idealized version of the Lennon-McCartney partnership, in which they’re lifelong pals and companions, a songwriting sum that is greater than its parts, driving each other to produce the best possible songs. This version of the pair was probably finished by 1966, but “I’ve Got a Feeling” rejuvenates the idea. It’s actually two different song parts contributed by both and they fit together perfectly, not unlike “A Day in the Life.” So much is happening that it takes multiple listens to truly appreciate. Paul starts off with the main melody, supported by Harrison’s mighty guitar. After his “Oh no,” at 0:29, when the band kicks in, the feeling and sound are heavenly. I love Harrison’s ascending guitar run throughout (example at 0:33), and Lennon’s harmonies on the second verse. Paul and Ringo are locked in, and at 1:15, when Paul really lets lose, the intensity is bumped up a notch, ending with Harrison’s terrific 2-bar wail, at 1:27, which lets the air out.

Next is Lennon’s half, and it’s the perfect complement to Paul’s. The song has a terrific ending. It’s a perfect Lennon/McCartney song, and even … Naked couldn’t improve it much. The band follows it up with another gem the pair wrote together, one of the first songs they’d ever written, but one that hadn’t been previously released. It’s the 50’s Rock and Roll of “One After 909.”

The band actually recorded it in 1963, but didn’t release it, and the Let It Be version is much better than the original. It’s a fun number with Lennon on lead vocals and McCartney on harmony singing about arriving at the wrong track to pick up a girlfriend. Billy Preston, the “fifth Beatle,” who George tried to bring into the band to ease tensions in 1969, plays a great electric piano, and Harrison does his amazing guitar work throughout. The song was, as heard on Let It Be, recorded live during the band’s famous “rooftop concert” in 1969 (as were “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Dig a Pony.”) The … Naked version is simply remixed from the original.

The songs recorded on the rooftop show what the band was capable as a live act, even after 3 years away from touring. “The Long and Winding Road” shows what too much orchestration and choral accompaniment can do to a decent song. The … Naked version shows it’s not a bad song, a little lyrically schmaltzy, perhaps, but breakups can elicit the schmaltz, so that’s okay. But nowadays I find the original Let It Be version almost unlistenable.

For You Blue” is a bluesy love song from George that the band jams on, with Lennon on lap steel guitar and Paul on the piano. The band is clearly having fun, trading solos, including a cool, simple, descending scale on piano, by Paul. The … Naked version isn’t much different. The album ends on the cool-rockin’, slow-burning groove of “Get Back,” a song that’s been played a lot but that never sounds old.

The band once again sounds like they’re having fun, with McCartney and Lennon harmonizing on lyrics about traveling. The lead guitar throughout really carries things, and it’s actually played by Lennon this time, relegating Harrison to rhythm guitar. His solo at 1:00 is pure fun. Billy Preston plays an electric piano solo next, at 1:33, then around 2:20 Lennon repeats his solo. It’s a fun song, which includes band banter throughout. The … Naked version leaves off the banter.

One other item about Let It Be … Naked: it includes “Don’t Let Me Down,” a song that should have been on the original album. The Beatles played it on the rooftop, and I think it’s one of their best songs ever. It was released as the B-side to the “Get Back” single. McCartney’s bass is great, Harrison’s guitar is great, Starr’s drums are great, Lennon’s vocals are great … I guess what I’m saying is “The Beatles are great!!” Their music stands out, even when it’s partially obscured by extraneous orchestral and choral arrangements. But I’m glad Paul showed an example of how to “deal with” a situation: he made a change!

TRACK LISTING:
“Two Of Us”
“Dig a Pony”
“Across the Universe”
“I Me Mine”
“Dig It”
“Let It Be”
“Maggie Mae”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“One After 909”
“The Long and Winding Road”
“For You Blue”
“Get Back”

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10th Favorite Beatles Album: Beatles For Sale

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Beatles For Sale.
1964, Parlophone. Producer: George Martin.
Purchased CD, Approx. 1992.

IN A NUTSHELL: Beatles For Sale is a record that has the band sounding a bit more tired, and a bit less sunny, than on their previous records. It’s full of covers, once again, but George Harrison’s guitar brings many of them up to Beatle greatness. The original Lennon/McCartney songs are generally darker than previous songs, but they retain that magic the partnership always delivered.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

~ ~ ~

This isn’t my dad, but this looks like the kind of stuff he did in a career spanning the late 50s to early 00s.

I remember hearing about my dad’s reaction when he learned some details of the salaried position my older sister had recently taken at a local college. This was in the early 90s, and by then my dad had been working for hourly wages as a tool and die maker in machine shops for over thirty years. He worked with his hands, standing behind big machines all day. He didn’t sit much, and the closest he came to having a desk was either his workbench, where he kept his tools, or the drafting table he’d stand behind while designing his work.

He was blue-collar through and through, and he seemed to love his work. He rarely complained about it, or about what others were doing. He was a “shop guy,” and true, he’d sometimes make some comments about the office guys, folks in management who were often derisively called “pencil pushers” by some blue collar workers. But he wasn’t mean toward them, and didn’t seem to be waging battles against them. He simply seemed to be uncertain what it is a guy sitting in a chair could really do all day. My dad took big hunks of metal and through precision-measured cuts (usually without the help of computers, by the way – it was all analog micrometers and calipers until well into his career) he formed all sorts of moldings and dies and tools and parts, small enough that he could bring them home and show them to us kids. What did office guys take home to show their kids?

So flash forward a few years to my now-young-adult eldest sister, who had recently acquired a salaried position. I don’t remember the details, only the generalities, but during a conversation with my parents about planning some sort of a family event, she mentioned that she could leave work early. My dad, aghast, implored her NOT to take any time off! She should earn all the money she could! Then she explained that she’d get paid even if she left because she didn’t get paid by the hour. As I recall from her retelling, it took him a little while to comprehend that you could get paid for NOT working. Once he understood it, I’m not sure he ever got comfortable with the idea.

We all have a unique perspective on work and what it means. Everyone knows the intricacies of their own job, the details and operations hidden from others that make it challenging and interesting. Everyone else’s jobs seem kind of easy in comparison. If you have a desk job with a lot of responsibilities, driving a forklift seems like a comparative relief. If you’re planting trees in the hot sun all day, sitting in air-conditioning calling customers seems easy. And if you have any “normal” job, being a Beatle seems like perfection!!

But from everything I’ve read, it wasn’t easy being a Beatle. First of all, you had to be a world-class musician and/or songwriter. Then there were the years spent playing in Hamburg, Germany, where the band played twenty-eight shows a week for less than 3 pounds a day, while living next to toilets. Even after they started to succeed, their schedule was crazy and the demands on them intense. In 1964, they toured the UK, the US, and the world, recorded two albums, shot a movie, and appeared on TV around the world. It was exhausting. Sure, they weren’t standing behind a hot, oily machine 8 hours a day, but I’ll bet my dad wouldn’t have traded his job for theirs.

The album they released at the end of 1964, Beatles For Sale, sounds like it was made by a group of tired musicians. Don’t get me wrong – it sounds great! But between all the cover songs (similar to With the Beatles, this album is almost 50% non-Lennon/McCartney or Harrison songs) and some originals that aren’t up to the band’s usual caliber, one can almost hear the weariness of criss-crossing the globe. Even the album cover, the band’s four stoic faces evidencing the stress of the grind, sends the message that the carefree mop-tops have reached their limits of smiles and amiability.

But there is so much good stuff here, and it starts right off the top with one of their most familiar hits, “No Reply.” I love a song – and an album – that opens cold with vocals …

Ringo sets down a nice bossa nova beat during the verses, and transitions smoothly to a rock beat in the choruses. Lennon’s lyrics about a girl who’s no longer interested were praised by the band’s music publisher, Dick James, as being the first in the band’s career with a story, something Lennon was proud of. The band’s harmonies, particularly in the bridge (“If I were you/ I’d realize …”), are great, as usual. Even the Beatles’ songs I’ve heard a million times, like this one, still hold up. Side note: since the record contains many covers, I decided to feature other artists covering Beatles’ songs. But I couldn’t find any for “No Reply.”

Up next is one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, “I’m a Loser.”

The vocal-harmony opening is terrific, and the Paul’s walking bass line, with Ringo’s shuffle beat and George’s twangy guitar fills, give the song – like “I Feel Fine,” which was released as a single around the time of this album – a country rock feel. John’s voice goes deep, and his lyrics are personal and moving. He also gets to throw in some harmonica, an instrument he and the band mostly abandoned around this time. (For a cover, here’s 60s folkie Marianne Faithfull’s version of “I’m a Loser.”)

Baby’s In Black” is a sort of sad waltz, which sounds a bit like a drinking song about a girl hung up on her old boyfriend. It opens with a cool George riff, then gets right to the harmony vocals, which are outstanding. At 1:06, George plays a weird solo that’s really great. I also like Ringo’s insistent kick-drum at 1:35. (The bluegrass outfit Trampled by Turtles has a nice bluegrass version of this song.)

Up next on Beatles For Sale is one of their best all-time covers, in my opinion, Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music.”

The song’s a rave-up, a salute to the heat and energy of rock and roll. John’s voice has been fantastic on the entire album so far – whether singing harmonies or taking the lead on a ballad – and he really nails this one. Interestingly, there aren’t any harmony vocals in the whole song. The band sounds like they’re having fun. It’s a song they’d performed for years by the time of the recording, and their love for the song shows. Producer George Martin plays piano, according to Mark Lewisohn, although the album’s original liner notes credited Martin, Lennon and McCartney on piano.

The boys often follow up a rocker with a softer song, and up next on Beatles For Sale is McCartney’s sweet “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

For a purportedly romantic song, the song’s lyrics are actually kind of harsh, as Paul says – basically – hey, look, things are great between us, so I’m leaving before they have a chance to sour. But it’s a lovely song, with (as usual) great harmonies and a nice, simple guitar solo from George. And Ringo plays his lap instead of his drum kit, which is pretty cool. (Chet Atkins did an amazing cover of this song.)

So, I’m not gonna bullshit you guys. The next couple songs I really don’t like. “Mr. Moonlight” and “Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey.” “Mr. Moonlight” sounds like the kind of song they had to play at respectable clubs in the late 50s and early 60s, but by this point they’ve outgrown the schmaltzy stuff, and could have picked a better cover. “KCHHH” is okay, but really just a less satisfying version of Chuck Berry, which they already did. Paul’s vocal is fantastic, but between the two songs there’s not much I find appealing, besides the fact that they lead into the fabulous “Eight Days a Week.”

One of the band’s most famous tracks, starting off with a then-new-sounding fade-in played by George on his 12-string, it’s a catchy singalong song co-written by Lennon and McCartney that became the band’s 7th U.S. number one song in a year. After the personal lyrics of “I’m a Loser” and “I’ll Follow the Sun,” this song reverts to the happy-mop-top-in-love genre that kicked off Beatlemania in the first place. Paul’s bass is great, and the band’s harmonies are perfect. It’s classic Beatle stuff. (Here’s soul superstar and “5th Beatle” Billy Preston’s cover of the song.)

“Eight Days a Week” opens the second side of Beatles For Sale, although it’s been 30 years since anyone really cared much about album sides. And the second side has some of my favorite covers that the band ever did, all of which feature Harrison’s guitar work. First up is the charming Buddy Holly original “Words of Love.” George’s guitar is what really makes this song excellent! His intricate playing was double-tracked, and it really adds some beef to a song that is soft enough for Ringo to have played a box instead of drums. “Honey Don’t” is the first of two Carl Perkins tunes on the record, this one sung by Ringo. It’s a standard blues tune with an extra measure in the middle that keeps it interesting. George (“The King,” according to Dr. Dave) takes lead vocals on the second Perkins tune “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby.”

All those covers have a rockabilly twang, a sound the group was into at the time. Though not on Beatles For Sale, the single “I Feel Fine” b/w “She’s a Woman” was also recorded around this time. One original in this vein that did make the record was “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party.”

As with most of these style songs, George’s guitar takes center stage – there’s a nifty solo at 1:24. Also notable is John singing the lead with Paul taking a lower harmony – he’s typically on top. Paul takes the lead on the chorus, with George on harmony. It’s a fun, quick song with a return to the more personal lyrics, about running into an old flame. (Roseanne Cash did a nice country version of this song.) Not all of the songs on side two are country. “What You’re Doing” is a very British-Invasion-sounding song, with a cool guitar riff and a shout-out vocal. I didn’t find a cover of this song.

I would have closed Beatles For Sale with the terrific “Every Little Thing.”

It’s a wonderful love song from Paul, sung by John, that borders on schmaltzy but is saved from it by George’s guitar and Ringo’s crashing timpani. The lyrics are lovey-dovey, but the melody is rather sad, creating a nice counter-balance. And did I mention anywhere that the Beatles do great harmonies? Because they do. (Prog rockers Yes, who I love, did a version of this song, believe it or not.)

My dad worked really hard, and he ended up with a lot to show for it. A happy family, many friends and a terrific reputation. He made something good out of all that hard work. The Beatles did too, obviously. They were exhausted, but they put it into their music and made a great record in Beatles For Sale.

TRACK LISTING:
“No Reply”
“I’m a Loser”
“Baby’s In Black”
“Rock and Roll Music”
“I’ll Follow the Sun”
“Mr. Moonlight”
“Kansas City/Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey”
“Eight Days a Week”
“Words of Love”
“Honey Don’t”
“Every Little Thing”
“I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”
“What You’re Doing”
“Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”

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12th Favorite Beatles Album: With The Beatles

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With The Beatles.
1963, EMI. Producer: George Martin.
Purchased CD, Approx. 1996.

IN A NUTSHELL: With The Beatles is The Beatles’ second album, written and recorded in a hurry to capitalize on Beatlemania. It’s a testament to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team that they could write so many excellent songs so quickly! And a testament to the entire band that they could execute so well these songs, and a slew of their favorite covers, and make a record that remains one of the best in the past 60 years.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.

~ ~ ~

Way back in 2006, I released my first stand-up comedy CD, It’s Weird, Man. You’ll notice I said “first comedy CD.”

This is because when I recorded my album, I was hoping there would be more. I’d been doing stand-up for about 12 years by 2006, doing it in earnest for about 7, and I thought it was time to get some of my jokes on record. Rick Jenkins, owner of the best comedy club in the world, The Comedy Studio, in Cambridge, MA, gave me two nights to record in front of terrific weekend crowds. The excellent comedian Tim McIntire recorded my sets, and helped select and sequence tracks.

Then I called some old friends. I got in touch with an old acquaintance from my days in The April Skies, Larry Geiger, and he did all the amazing CD design and packaging work. I called Jake Crawford, still doing great work (then, as now) in The April Skies, and worked it out so the CD could be on his WiaB Records label. Then, oblivious to the changes that were already afoot in the delivery and consumption of recorded material by 2006, I went about having CDs manufactured.

The CD company said I could manufacture 300 CDs, or 1000, or 5000 or even more. I was sure that 5000 was the number I’d need, given the hilarious nature of my jokes. However, that was expensive, so I settled on 300, knowing that I could use the proceeds from selling those first 300 to finance a second batch of pressings, which I was quite certain would be 5000. Or more.

As of November, 2019, I’m still the proud owner of 237 copies of my CD, all of which are stored lovingly in a few moldy old cardboard boxes in the basement. My album is on all the streaming services, and approximately once every 18 months, I’ll get a check, out of the blue, for $9 or so. But despite all that loot, I don’t think that it was digital streaming that cut into CD sales, preventing me from reaching that second pressing. I think that reality simply didn’t live up to my grandiose expectations.

But what if it had? What if reality had actually EXCEEDED my expectations? What if I’d sold those first 300 discs, then the next 5000, then had orders for thousands more? What if some entertainment conglomerate had signed me to a contract, and the world was eager, yearning, even demanding more product from me? What would I have done? I didn’t have enough jokes for another record!

The Beatles, 1960, Hamburg. (l to r) Lennon, Harrison, Pete Best, McCartney, Stu Sutcliffe.

One thing I definitely could not do would be to “cover” other peoples’ jokes. I couldn’t decide to fill out my next album by recording Jim Gaffigan’s classic “Hot Pockets” bit, and throw in a bunch of old Joan Rivers jokes. Comedy doesn’t work that way. (Rather, it’s not supposed to.) However, music does! And lucky for The Beatles! When the album Please Please Me shot them to the top of the charts in the UK in 1963, and they needed more music on the market, they had a backlog of hundreds of songs from other artists that they’d been performing for years. They recorded some of those songs first, while Lennon/McCartney wrote a few more new songs, then recorded the new ones, and next thing you know, With The Beatles hit the stores.

Of course, the band’s first album, Please Please Me, was also nearly half cover songs, so this arrangement wasn’t unusual. The Beatles were great musicians, and they had logged hundreds of hours of live performances, so their cover songs were particularly strong. But Please Please Me included originals that had (mostly) been around for years. And as With the Beatles shows, even the songs dashed off by Lennon/McCartney are better than most of the stuff by other bands. Take, for example, the phenomenal lead track, “It Won’t Be Long.”

What a great opening track! Lennon’s double-tracked voice opens the album with an urgent message to all those Beatlemaniacs: it won’t be long! It’s got all the hallmarks of a terrific Beatle song: great melody, George’s cool, descending guitar riff (first heard at 0:13), Ringo’s sloshy drumming, and the catchy backing vocals – shouting “yeah” back and forth with John, and the “you left me” countermelody in the bridge, at 0:42. I guess it’s the bridge – it’s played twice, which is unusual in a bridge. I’ll call it the bridge just to point out that the song has an unusual structure – chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus. Whatever you call it, I absolutely love when McCartney hits a higher note on the 5th “yeah” the second time through the bridge. It’s stuff like that that makes me love this band. The simple stuff.

Up next is a quiet piece, a slow dance after that frantic opening, Lennon’s “All I’ve Got to Do.” It’s got a bit of a Motown feel to it, and John’s lead vocal is really strong. McCartney plays chords on the bass through the verse, which sounds cool, but I mainly like this song because it leads into a classic: “All My Loving.”

It’s another song that opens with vocals, Paul’s this time. What stands out immediately is the triplet-strumming rhythm guitar by John Lennon. It’s really impressive, and Ringo makes it swing with his syncopated backbeat. The harmony “Oooo”s are classic Beatle, and I can’t forget to mention Paul’s walking bass line. Also – Paul harmonizes with himself on the third verse. This is one of the songs the band played on their first Ed Sullivan Show performance in the USA, in February 1964, and since Paul can’t harmonize with himself live, George sang the melody and Paul took the high harmony.

On With the Beatles, George gets his first composition on a Beatles album with “Don’t Bother Me,” sort of a dour song with an upbeat rhythm. It’s a decent song, and has really cool guitar throughout, and a nice surf/country guitar solo at 1:18, but I think it’s safe to say George will do much better on future records. Then again, not every Lennon/McCartney song was incredible – as “Little Child” shows. I mean, it has great vocals (particularly “I’m so sad and lonely”), and is a rocker, and Lennon shows off his harmonica chops … but it doesn’t do a lot for me.

The cover songs begin in earnest next, with the band covering my parents’ favorite song, “Till There Was You.” They were fans of the original from the Broadway musical The Music Man, which I prefer as well. George plays a nice solo, and McCartney can really sing, but … it sounds like filler. Even the next song, “Please Mr. Postman,” a Motown cover, sounds – to me – like filler. The harmonies are great, Ringo is terrific, but the 1961 original by the Marvelettes was so excellent that it makes me wonder why the band put this on With the Beatles.

This isn’t to say The Beatles cover songs couldn’t be excellent. Next up is a cover of the Chuck Berry classic “Roll Over Beethoven,” and it’s terrific.

I’m a Chuck Berry fan, and I love his stompin’ original version, but I like what the band does with it, as well. It’s less rockin’, but has a bit more swing, thanks to Ringo. He plays a heartbeat beat, and on my CD of With the Beatles (not so much on YouTube) I can clearly hear him accenting the “one,” really driving the song. Harrison’s guitar is really cool, and as usual Paul takes the opportunity to make the simple blues bass line more interesting than you’d expect.

The next song is one that both Paul and John later dismissed, rather coldly, and which many people – even Beatles fans – seem to dislike. But I really like it a lot: “Hold Me Tight.” Sure, Paul’s out of tune at certain points, but his voice matches the urgency of the handclaps, the insistent riff and Ringo’s drumming. And the three-part harmony, always a strength of the band, sounds great on the “You” choruses.

One of my favorite cover songs on With the Beatles is “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” an old Smoky Robinson & the Miracles song.

This is a case of the band, and producer George Martin (who plays piano on the recording), selecting a great song. It also shows off Harrison’s knack for singing those difficult close harmonies. On most Beatles’ songs sung by Lennon, McCartney usually sang the high harmonies, and Harrison was usually the third part – often close to the melody and much subtler. Here it works (as in the original) as the main harmony. Lennon’s lead vocal is strong and soulful, and Ringo plays nice, odd fills in the bridge.

Ringo gets to show off his pipes on the next number, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Ringo (and George, to a lesser extent) tends to be overlooked, or even scorned, by many folks – both for his drumming and his singing. His crime seems to be that he is not John Lennon or Paul McCartney – just like everyone else who’s ever lived since the dawn of humanity. He’s actually an excellent drummer, and a fun singer, and “I Wanna Be Your Man” shows off both. It starts with a little guitar, and features a nice George solo, later. John and Paul wrote the song but neither loved it very much so they gave it to Ringo to sing. They also gave it to the Rolling Stones, who had a UK hit with it by dirtying it up a bit.

Next the boys are back to their cover-song ways with an obscure song by a group called The Donays, “Devil In Her Heart.” It’s a fine song, and George really does a great job on the lead vocal. Ringo’s fills are nice, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Similarly, John’s composition “Not a Second Time” is a fine song, but isn’t one I turn to very often. The melody is strangely complicated and meandering for a Beatles’ song. McCartney’s bass is great, but I wonder why they chose a piano solo instead of a guitar?

But leave it to The Beatles to finish With the Beatles off with a bang, even if it is a cover song. It became one of their signature songs, even though it had already been a hit for R&B singer Barrett Strong.

I do love the original, but The Beatles do a great job here. Ringo’s eight-beat bass drum gives the song an urgency, and the boys’ harmonies are terrific. It’s a great number that they really made a classic. John’s screams are cool, Paul’s bass notes leading to the chorus are sweet, and it’s simply a classic.

I’m not saying cover songs are bad, or that they should be avoided. In fact, With the Beatles shows that the band can truly play any style – from Broadway to R&B to rock ‘n roll – and make it work. I prefer the band’s albums with more Lennon/McCartney and Harrison songs, but With The Beatles is wonderful, no matter who wrote the songs! And it certainly sold more than the 63 CDs I managed.

TRACK LISTING:
“It Won’t Be Long”
“All I’ve Got to Do”
“All My Loving”
“Don’t Bother Me”
“Little Child”
“Till There Was You”
“Please Mr. Postman”
“Roll Over Beethoven”
“Hold Me Tight”
“You Really Got a Hold On Me”
“I Wanna Be Your Man”
“Devil In Her Heart”
“Not a Second Time”
“Money (That’s What I Want)”

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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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