Part One: Four Lads Who Shook The World
"Turn left at Greenland,"
answered John Lennon in response to the question of how they'd found America. I remember vividly, sitting in front of the TV on Sunday evening. Me and my brothers were watching four guys from Liverpool rocking American audiences on the Ed Sullivan Show. The history making performance changed the way I lived and thought forever. If the musical revolution and the onset of the British Invasion could so abruptly morph into such wonder, then anything in the world was possible. For the rest of my life, my love for The Beatles has remained as strong as ever, and, these four, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr remain my heroes.
The years passed with me growing older with The Beatles.
Not being a Beatles historian, I can't quote facts and dates to the letter. I can only express how much joy they brought into my life. Each song and each album was more exciting than the next. Their progressiveness made me eager in my own ambitions, making me want to be just like them. In my life, I wanted to succeed at whatever I tried.
For me, each Beatle was equally important, though George was my favorite. I liked his heavy eyebrows and serious expressions which to me, made him look tough. Still, each one had his own unique way of being a Beatle. They could do no wrong materialwise. Each album was a landmark acheivement-some more than others, and below are some of my favorites that I remember growing up with.
"Meet the Beatles"
"Meet The Beatles" had a profound effect on me simply for the raw energy of each song. It's my opinion that there's probably no other Beatles album of this quality and intensity. "The Beatles' Second Album" is a real close runner up, but displays a bit more polish which almost negates that "live" sound. Still, pound-for-British-pound, "The Second Album" is a screaming rocker.
This is the album that probably should have come first. However, "Meet the Beatles" has a rough deliberation about it; it's the absence of all the studio polish that comes from experience that makes it such an enduring sensation. From this LP, I'm filled with the sense that these four guys just wanted to explode. It was definitely an in-your-face gritty rocker.
With this record I get a glimpse into their poor, working class Liverpudlian world. The Beatles were no overnight sensation; they came from the bombed out remains of Liverpool. They were tempered and tested in Germany playing some of the toughest venues in the world where hurtling bottles and fist fights were an every evening event. With these tough experiences under their belts, The Beatles bounced right back home to to take on the world. This is where the story really begins.
"The Beatles' Second Album"
The Beatles' second album is pure and raw, with dynamic performances all around. This is a sensational entry for the time period, and the polish exudes, not only in the performances, but in the majesty of the songwriting. The Second Album has been a long-standing favorite of mine for years.
I feel that it pretty much created a template for future works. Unlike "Meet the Beatles", it has the feel of a more pre-meditated studio production. In comparison to the times, this album raised the bar for serious rock n' roll. The older generation of those 60's years saw them as a flash in the pan, but to our ears, we knew better. The Beatles had more gut-wrenching performance value than anybody else on the market, evidenced by this album.
"The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night"
This album was a landmark for me at age 8, and triggers some of the most heartfelt memories I have of this time period. "I Should Have Known Better", "And I Love Her", "If I Fell", and "Tell Me Why" will literally transport me back to the summer of 1964.
At age nine, I had no real knowledge of pop charts. I only knew that in my neighborhood, and school, and everywhere else I went, "The Beatles" were on the lips on everyone who had a radio. Our local rock n' roll station KISN played these songs profusely, and I remember keeping my ears glued to the dial position of 91 for my favorites.
"The Early Beatles"
This record is just an on-going hit machine! The lineup of tunes is amazing:
"Love Me Do"
"Twist and Shout"
"Anna (Go to Him)"
"Please Please Me"
"P.S. I Love You"
and "Do You Want to Know a Secret".
This is the album a true Beatles fan kept around for a rainy day. In their early days, The Beatles were knocking out hits faster than Sonny Liston, and this record just goes to prove it. Interestingly, 6 out of the 11 songs are not written by Lennon-McCartney.
"The Beatles' '65"
Around Christmas time of 1964, my mom managed the $2.97 to buy "Beatles '65" for us boys to listen to. It was truly amazing how a single album could contain so many dynamic tunes. "Beatles '65", for me, is just a hit machine plain and simple. The energy never lets up, and the songs are incredible. "No Reply", "I'll Be Back", "I'm a Loser", "She's a Woman", and "I Feel Fine" are all highly refined works. There was only one real answer to the phenomenon: Beatles were just getting better and better.
"The Beatles' Help!"
During the summer of 1965, the Beatles' "Help!" was probably the most important music ever to come from the fab four. The British Invasion was in full sway, and competition for the chart positions created some heavy traffic. The Beatles bounced back hard, seemingly competing against some seriously talented American bands as well as their fellow Brits. Songwriting style and emotional import made this a truly beautiful example of just what the Beatles could do when they got serious. George Harrison was never a slacker when it came to songwriting ability, and his "I Need You" was perhaps one of the best Beatle songs of all time, nearly overshadowing Lennon and McCartney's entire "Help" lineup of hits. "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", "Ticket To Ride", "The Night Before", and "Another Girl" were likewise incredible works as was the title track. Like "A Hard Day's Night", the only thing this album suffered from was being a soundtrack LP, with goofy, wasted instrumentals where real Beatle songs should have been.
"The Beatles' Yesterday and Today"
"Yesterday and Today" was another turning point LP for me; "And Your Bird Can Sing" was a tremendous piece of Harrison guitar style with genuine Lennon vocals. It also served as the theme song to their cartoon show. I bought the album because of "Day Tripper", a song that sank its hook deeper in me than any Beatle song. The only song that would top it would be "Hello, Goodbye". "Day Tripper's" riffwas incredible, and as magical as any guitar riff could be. "Yesterday and Today" was indeed a superb release, but I felt it did carry a few duds such as "Dr. Robert" and "I'm Only Sleeping". "Act Naturally" was great fun, but will never match the joy and authenticity done by its predecessors Buck Owens and The Buckaroos.
"The Beatles' Revolver"
Furtherances of the Beatles' mystique came with "Revolver". I got this album for Christmas of 1968 and remember vividly that my favorite song was "Tomorrow Never Knows." I never really focused on any one song more than I did this one. I wondered what had gotten into their heads to do such a wild, yet calming mantra as this one. My second favorite was "For No One" followed immediately by "Taxman". For me, "Yellow Submarine" was pitiful waste of time and talent, but became a humble sing-along for world listeners. The movie was just as bad, but I had to see it anyway. It was the Beatles after all. "Revolver" has a lot of good things going for it, and overall, it's a great listen from side one to side two.
"The Beatles' Rubber Soul"
There's a bit of mood in this record along with some wonderful songs. "I'm Looking Through You" takes me back to a transitional time in my life when the song highly impacted me. Hits like "Paperback Writer", "Michelle", and "You Won't See Me" proved once again, (as if we needed proof), that The Beatles were a driving force to be reckoned with. "Run for Your Life" was another great one. "Rubber Soul" seemed to hearken to every person's soul, and awake a certain creativity. This is definitely a record apart from The Beatles norm, but in an excellent way. "Rubber Soul" almost seemed like a postcard look into a Beatle future with very good things promised at the end of their rainbow. The LP was pure class, end of story.
"The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour"
For me, "Magical Mystery Tour" was probably one of the most important albums since "A Hard Day's Night". I bought this one in the spring of 1969 with the money I made mowing lawns. From here on out, the Beatles were something more than just idols. They were like gods on vinyl who could do anything they wanted. Each song got better and better. Their techniques were more sophisticated. This album and Steppenwolf's first were among the records that needed to be replaced because of too much play on the old cheap record player. My favorites on Mystery Tour were "Hello, Goodbye", "All You Need is Love", and of all things, "Flying". However, I will say that George's Indian influences were starting to severely depress me and bring me down even though I loved "Blue Jay Way". I tried as hard as I could to like his eastern-influenced works, but eventually, George became the most lost Beatle to me. I purchased "Wonderwall Music", and only liked a few pieces on it.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonleyhearts Club Band"
I picked up "Sgt. Pepper's Lonelyhearts Club Band" LP long after it had been considered a masterpiece. Highly critical, I never considered it to be such; it was far too polished and didn't have the spontaneity of their earlier works. I always felt that this one was their business card to Beatles Inc., and a natural pre-cursor to the Apple Kingdom. Though I played it a lot, it never saw too much wear. I won't deny that it's a great album. It's just that it was never one of my favorites. I suppose I just liked the raw energy and evident humbleness of straight musicianship as opposed to orchestral input and dynamic recording techniques.
Part Two: The White Album and The Beyond
It's hard for me to even describe this album without describing the impact it had on me. This amazing 2-record set was a culture unto itself; Picture me at 13 years of age coming to delightful terms with this mysterious LP. Though packaged in plain white, The White Album represented a dark side of the Beatles that even I, during the time, could not put into words. For me, they'd always been easy to understand. However, with the release of this abstract two-record set, they went from young guys with guitars to men with wives, individual attitudes, and quite possibly, secrets. This album was more like a club. In order to join this club, you had to have been faithful to the boys during the years.
It had to happen; a new Beatle album that would be more remarkable than Sgt. Pepper. I say remarkable, not better; The White Album was just different in just about every aspect possible. First of all, the album really had no title; it was simply called "The Beatles" humbly embossed in white, barely visible on a white cover. In its first pressings, a gray serial number was stamped at an angle. That was it, nothing more; a white gloss double-album cover with no design whatsoever.
Enter The Beatles' White Album.
My first introduction to this album was through piped in speakers in my best friend's basement room. There in the purple glow of black light, listening to "Back in the U.S.S.R.", for the zillionth time, I knew I had to have this album. The record wasn't easy to come by; it cost $7.95 at Fred Meyer, and that was the best price in town. There would be lawns to mow to get the money for it. As it turned out, I got a job maintaining a freshly seeded lawn for 3 days which gave me the money. Soon, I had that album in hand.
Exactly what was the White Album? Today it has been largely dissected with much speculation; some call it a series of solo projects, others refer to it as a large experimental project. An even larger consensus is that it is filled with anger, animosity, and personal turmoil within the band. All of this may be, but for me, it was the boldest statement they would ever make in their entire career. The White Album was their official bootleg. Beatle albums, no matter how experimental (as with the masterpiece "Sgt. Pepper"), all had real touches of Beatle polish. None of their albums felt raw and unleashed. The White Album was all of this. It lacked the formal "expected" polish, showing only the veneer of absolute freedom and creativity.
Beginning with John, I will list my favorite songs on this album. "Dear Prudence" features the most mesmerizing chord sequence I've heard from them or anybody in my entire life. The beauty of the song can be widely underestimated and misinterpreted as one John's greatest works of all time. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a moody, skillfully savvy piece of work from George. Obviously George was a very good songwriter; whether he was born with the talent, or it grew from a "watch and learn" perspective of being around John and Paul, I'll never know; I only know that his songwriting skills were outstanding. This was a great song! Of all the songs from Paul on the White Album, I narrow it down to "Mother Nature's Son. This simplistic, heartfelt melody almost feels as if it was written in a glade with the sun shining down. Finally, Ringo. I considered it highly apropos that he sing "Good night" with a whispery closing narrative, "Good night everybody" at the end.
"Revolution No. 9". Even I felt them run out of steam-and material-on this one. A few more George tunes would have sufficed rather than this drawn out piece of garbage. On the opposite side of the coin came "Helter Skelter a delirious, screaming, powerful piece of hard rock that showed true experimental mastery. The only thing wrong with it is the tragic history of the Manson Family that is so associated with it. The fact that they had to do a press interview to defend the song, was ludicrous.
This album took some decidedly left turns that tested my Beatle faith. If I hadn't been a faithful fan, I would have considered this to be a sad waste of money. Instead, I pivoted 180 degrees and thrived on The White Album. Like Steppenwolf, it got so worn out that it had to be replaced. Tucked away inside the bootleg interior were four 8 x 10 glossys and the cryptic poster of what, to me, felt like a secret photo album. Many of the photos were strange and revealing; John, naked in bed with Yoko, and another naked Beatle--probably Paul, hiding behind some kind of pole, or maybe even a printer's spliced-in white strip censoring. Either way, this strangeness lured me, pulled me in like a magnet, leaving me hungry for more. My favorite songs on this album are just too numerous to list. It would be easier to list the one I didn't like: "Revolution No.9".
In 1968, The Beatles introduced the world to Apple Records, a great beginning for an even greater new direction. This band was unstoppable, and having their own record label, for me, served as the brightest jewel in their crown. I remember being so enchanted with the Apple label; the artwork was perfect, being a photo of a green apple, and the B side was always a photo of an apple cut perfectly in half. The Beatles deserved to have their own re cord company. I only wished that the Apple Boutique had lasted longer, and that the great era of psychedelia would have been lovingly book marked by generations of Apple wear.
The Backward Principle
I never beleived a word of it, but bought the magazine because it featured Paul. Oddly enough, the White Album really did have the strange embeddings when played backwards on a turntable. "Turn me on dead man" is there. The others, I can't decipher what's actually being said, if anything. The whole "Paul is dead" theory was completely absurd. Even life magazine featured a cover story about it. The great hoax: The Beatles had a "Paul Double" who looked, sounded, and played just like him. Even I couldn't go for that.
To enhance this goofy "Paul is dead" chronicle, the "Abbey Road" cover plays an import role. The Volkswagen in the background parked on the street has a license plate: 28IF. That meant that Paul would be 28 IF he were still alive. His walking barefoot was supposed to be symbolic of a corpse. Even the Sgt. Pepper inside photo had him dead. He was wearing a patch on his sleeve with the initials "OPD". The press had that as: Officially Pronounced Dead. what it really meant was Ontario Police Department. The moronic rumors even had it that he was already dead, and they stood his corpse up against a background photo. (Never mind the natural sunlight illumination and shadows on the boys walking). The great hoax rose like a vagrant wind, then fell in its exit. Shame on Life magazine for doing something so stupid. Still, that wasn't enough.
The White Album had to go through even more suffering in the public eye. The song "Helter Skelter" would forever live in sick infamy as the driving force behind convicted murderer Charles Manson and the famous Tate-LaBianca murders in August of 1969.
The End of The Long and Winding Road
Everybody has a favorite memory, perhaps a flavor, scent, or feeling of something truly magical. "Abbey Road" was all of that for me. In my opinion, this is the most wonderul, and polished album ever, beating the literal daylights out of "Sgt. Pepper" any old day of the week. This is what the Beatles could really do when they got serious. It's really too bad that the "Let it Be" or "Hey Jude" albums ever got released because this one should have been their swan song. Abbey Road is probably the most technically precise albums that they ever released. Many might argue that "Sgt. Pepper" was the most technically pronounced of their entire catalog, but, for me, Abbey Road is the king of all Beatle albums. The purity of this disc is uncomparable to any of their previous works-including "Meet the Beatles".
With the excitement of this LP came the crashing thunder: beautifully written, produced, and performed songs that alluded to a catastrophic end of Beatle times. Again George Harrison pulled the songwriting rug out from under Lennon-McCartney with "Here Comes The Sun" and the indelible "Something". The song that really drew me in was the heavy-metalesque "I Want You (She's So Heavy) that cuts off like a knife at the end of side one. "Octopus's Garden" was more fun than the usual Ringo fare, and Paul shrieked his best since "Long Tall Sally" on "Oh Darling!" "Come Together" was an epic introduction with it's ruler-vibrating riff and edgy lyrics. George added the whipped cream with "Something", an incredible masterpiece which I'm sure has been, by the world, mentally re-titled as "Something in the Way She Moves." Side two opens again with George, giving us a magical piece in "Here Comes the Sun" with its catchy chords and a brief paean to The Beach Boys.
Side two was a beautiful departure, a masterpiece consisting of a dazzling array of run-together songs, complete with a reminiscent "Inna-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" drum solo. I saw this as a concert on vinyl, and side two was the last encore they would ever come out to do. Their grand finale came in the form of a long medley of unfinished pieces that fit together as if they were composed to be just such a medley. Much like a person with a terminal illness that decides not to share it with friends or loved ones, there comes a heart-rending jam session to wrap up side two. That was it; The Beatles said goodbye to us, and we didn't even know it.
To paraphrase John Lennon about the breakup of The Beatles: "It was just a band, nothing more, if you want to reminisce, you can always listen to the records."
"Let it Be"
I would never have believed that The Beatles could make a terrible record; enter the mistake album. "Let it Be" was the only Beatle album that I disliked tremendously and still do. Though, faithful as I was, I bought it, listened to it over and over again, and in my own way, cherished what I could from it. The record featured a few great tunes-some more legendary now than others-but the album just didn't hit the mark for me. But among the raw licks and the live jam session feel, there is a dread that hovers over this album like the mist of the grim reaper dancing in one's presence. This was the end of the Beatles, and it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand, or get this feeling from it.
Thinking Back on it All
Remembering the whole concept of Beatlemania, the hysteria, and the experience of being caught up in, and being alive to witness one of the most phenomenal world events ever, I feel very good. Thinking back to the album "Abbey Road", at age 13, I felt their end draw very near, and feared that I would lose my friends forever. In 1970 they made their song "The End" a reality.