A Hard Rate's Night: The Beatles Rate - #46: We Are Number One, HEY! | Page 3 | The Popjustice Forum

A Hard Rate's Night: The Beatles Rate - #46: We Are Number One, HEY!

Discussion in 'Charts, rates etc' started by Ironheade, May 10, 2021.

  1. I actually rather like in general, as John referred to it, "Paul's fucking granny shit". The fact that Paul's tastes were really grounded in the pre-rock era gave him a bad reputation as a square around the time, but the slightly out-of-whack retro atmosphere does work for me. (I'm going to be the "Ob-La-Di" defender, aren't I? Eh, I'm OK with that.)

    You wouldn't be alone, because on some days I'd pick the White Album as my personal favourite. That said, side four is pretty tough going modulo "Cry Baby Cry". (Why not the original version of "Revolution", for goodness' sake?)

    Anyway, it is time to commence.


    Part One

    What I hope to do, with this series, is to show some love to the songs that aren't here, whether they be forgotten gems or lesser-known fan favourites. It's hard to remember, sometimes, that classic rock bands are more than just the overplayed radio singles, and that's a perception I always want to dispel. This, perhaps, will also introduce some themes I intend to revisit in the reveal posts themselves, as a sort of preamble. (Though I do always feel I have written better about music than I do about lyrics or my own personal connections to the music, so perhaps my thoughts there could do with some refinement and further discussion.)

    Four in a post, at whatever intervals I can. Please enjyo!

    At number twenty...

    From A Hard Day's Night

    It's often forgotten when listening to the Beatles with today's Loudness War numbed ears, but the fact is this: by the standards of 1964, they could rock pretty damn hard. For a few years prior to their arrival, American rock and roll and its stars had largely been moribund, and while British rock already had a handful of classics of its own (I'm thinking here of “Apache” and “Shakin' All Over”), the majority of it was either pallid imitations of the Yanks or had too much of the cabaret about it. So with their unadorned instrumental setup and ruthlessly compact songwriting, the Beatles first came on the scene as a breath of fresh air, and I think there's few better examples of their earlier, grittier rock songwriting than this one.

    Sure, “You Can't Do That” is easy to appreciate on its own terms, as a great bit of tough garage rock: a hard-driving cowbell-bolstered backbeat that's hard not to heatedly boogie to, ragged shout-along backing vocals, a call-and-response vocal pattern that betrays the Beatles' love and appreciation of American soul music (John recalled it being inspired by Wilson Pickett specifically). Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds an interesting little beast of a song. For you see, “You Can't Do That” is quite clearly the product of a songwriter who is straining at his bonds and hungry to make more ambitious music rather quickly, but has not quite learned, as Lennon and McCartney would later, how to incorporate that ambition and complexity subtly. Even if you don't know music theory, it's easy to tell that there are some “weird” chords going on – specifically, the rarely seen and majestic D7#9 chord on “I told you before”, and all the G chords in the verses being played as G7s, which are normally transitory chords, but here don't resolve for four entire bars. Hell, the arpeggiated opening riff approaches outright dissonance, and the guitar solo (John's work rather than George's) is a terse series of angry slashes, like someone taking a knife to the tape. It all makes for a fun, refreshingly dirty listen, unique amidst early songwriting just learning to break out of the formulas.

    Admittedly, from a feminist perspective the lyrics aren't terribly easy to defend, John seething with jealousy over catching his girl talking to another man and threatening to leave her over it. I don't quite know what to make of this: it's always seemed to me that he seems more upset over other people thinking he's being cucked, rather than the prospect of actually being so. (A very Lennonish way of thinking, there.) But you know what? Thanks to another bravura soul'n'blues shouter performance from him, growling through the bridges and snarling “I TOLD YOU BEFORE... ohhhh, you can't do that!”, I think it's forgivable, capturing grit and menace as well as the best of the Stones. And hey, at least it's not “Run for Your Life”...

    At number nineteen...

    From Rubber Soul

    It's one of the great narrative arcs of the Beatles' career: George's humble origins as the soft-spoken baby of the group, elbowed out of the spotlight by its two more bullish songwriting leads, making his first tentative and forgettable steps as a composer (at first just to see, with “Don't Bother Me”, if he could write a song) until, on Rubber Soul, he finally emerges from the chrysalis with both “If I Needed Someone” and this. More on that later, but suffice to say, it was a joy to watch, and when it results in album highlights like "Think for Yourself", the fact that George was so often treated as the junior partner of the group becomes downright infuriating.

    There's small innovations all over the place in the Beatles catalogue, if you care to look, and here's one on “Think for Yourself”, in which Paul McCartney becomes the first person to record his bass guitar through a fuzzbox, and plays it like a lead guitar throughout (George credits Phil Spector's production of “Zip-a-De-Doo-Dah” by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the distorted lead guitar of which inspired Gibson to invent the fuzzbox, as the inspiration). Alongside an ordinary bass guitar part, Paul achieving a heavier and pluckier tone with his Rickenbacker 4001S than he had with his iconic Hofner violin bass, and a low-toned pulse of organ, “Think for Yourself” has a low-end weightiness distinctly uncommon with the era's recording standards, murky and dour in ironic contrast to the protagonist's unfettered free-thinking spirit. Musicologists have also identified the key as constantly shifting and ambiguous, not seemingly sitting comfortably in either G major or G minor, while the bounce between a tensely downbeat verse soaked in folk-inflected three-part harmony, to a more upbeat chorus given additional lift by Ringo's hand percussion, is more cleverly and cleanly executed than such a thing ever had been in the Beatles' prior music.

    The lyrics, too, betray the Beatles' turn towards more ambitious songwriting: while the songs that aren't the big hits from the pre-Rubber Soul era are often dismissed as fluff by more casual listeners, not always fairly, it's true that the lyrics weren't up to much for a while. (John, speaking about "In My Life": "Before, we were just writing songs a la Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly — pop songs with no more thought to them than that. The words were almost irrelevant.") "Think for Yourself", on the other hand, betrays an intriguing ambiguity. In his autobiography I Me Mine, George writes that it "must be about "somebody" from the sound of it – but all this time later, I don't quite recall who … Probably the Government". It fits well enough, as a decrying of false promises of future prosperity, it could work equally well when read as describing a relationship, broken down by the stifling conventionality of the partner and their empty life choices. Here, we see the first seeds of one of George's most recurring themes, the insensate and mind-numbing routines of modern life and the possibility of breaking out from it with free thinking and spiritual enlightenment. While this could sometimes result in a bit of uncomely sneering at the "unenlightened" (as most uncomfortably realised in the risible "Piggies"), not so here: there is still an optimism that the target could change their ways and come to the side of the angels, a surprising amount of depth packed into simple phrasings in the best Beatles fashion. Forget any narrative of Revolver as a sudden turn to the complex and even literary: the seeds for it might have been in the soil a few years, but they were there from the start, just waiting for their moment.

    At number eighteen...

    From The Beatles

    The White Album is much misunderstood. To attack it for its lack of cohesiveness, the Lennon-McCartney credit once and for all becoming an anachronism and the record disintegrating into a heavy, random sprawl, is to miss the point entirely. Never once do I feel that these innumberable styles clash with one another, the almost fragment-like numbers in between more substantial works provide fascinating glimpses into the composers' mindsets, and the sequencing is beautifully done to keep the sense of a true genre odyssey. Sure, I wouldn't weep if I never heard "Savoy Truffle" or "Rocky Raccoon" again, but there's less filler, I submit, than there is popularly believed to be. I'd miss those lovely little pastiche numbers as well, most of them beautifully balanced between parody and earnestness - but none tread that line with more success than "Yer Blues". With the contemporaneous boom in heavy electric blues, Cream and Fleetwood Mac leading the charge for Britain, a debate was being aired in the press: can white men really play the blues, with true understanding of what it meant? Well, on this evidence, they can certainly make a creditable stab at it.

    According to John, sentiments like "feel so lonely, wanna die" were genuine to how he felt at the time, but he hid them within this intentionally over-the-top song so that he could pass them off as parody if anyone asked; the idea of parodying the British blues scene had come from a sincere desire to write a blues song, but being unsure if he could convincingly imitate the bluesmen he had listened to at school. I'd say, given his barnstorming lead vocal here, he had little to worry about on that front. Even if the lyrics amount to a farrago of overly-literal blues cliches that mean little when all put together (plus a probably-intentionally mangled Bob Dylan reference), John roars them out with such conviction, with the requisite gruff moans and howled ad-libs in an uncontrolled falsetto, that it makes no matter. At his peak, he was unmatched (except perhaps by Paul!) as a rasping rock singer, and he gets his teeth into the role of a blues shouter with barely disguised glee. The lyrics almost remind me of David Bowie's famous Burroughs-inspired "cut-up" technique: sure, it is nonsense, lines like "my father was of the sky and my mother was of the earth" are meaningless, but when all put together it flows beautifully, and somehow, the true emotional core behind the song's bluff wall of parody shines through.

    And the production on this is just immaculate. The White Album was one of the first to really be able to take advantage of the new eight-track tape machines, inaugurating the more modern era of stereo recording where they were able to record each instrument on one track, and the whole thing has a crisp, live-in-the-studio sound that is perfect for both the more delicate numbers and the rougher hard rockers like "Yer Blues". Ringo's drums thunder away under a wash of sizzling cymbals during the 6/8 verses before cutting loose in the Yardbirds-like "rave-up", and Paul's bass tone is so delectably thick and crunchy you could spread it on toast. And with all the advancement in recording technology, it's difficult to get guitars to sound that good, the tubey hollow distortion searing through the mix while the low-tond slide stings like a hornet. They even manage to make John and George playing completely different guitar solos at once sound great, the two interwoven closely enough that the two men seem synced to the same cosmic clock, George's mixed much lower so that only the most important notes peep out of the mix to compliment John's. Both a sparkling, musically witty parody of a genre and a sterling example of that genre in itself, "Yer Blues" is the kind of thing that truly makes the White Album what it is - and god bless 'em for it.

    At number seventeen...

    From Let It Be

    Ah, the ever controversial Let It Be, the warts-and-all, stripped-down rock record that never was. Debate over it in Beatles fandom continues to this day: whether Phil Spector's remixing and production is a sugary bastardisation, whether it's good in its own right, or whether the album was doomed from the get-go. And it's a conversation I have somewhat invited, even welcomed, with my provision of both versions of its songs for rating. Even as individual tracks, these songs strike a discord with each other, some seemingly grotesquely ill-suited to the live-in-the-studio Get Back treatment, others seeming as if that approach would have only left them looking malformed and half-finished. As much as I like many of the individual songs on it, whether Spectorised or Naked, I am reluctantly forced to conclude this: the possibility of it ever being a cohesive album died at its birth. But that said... what about one of those individual songs?

    I will admit that my opinion on “Two of Us” had long been unfairly soured by one thing: it's not much of an opener, too intimate and small to really immerse one in Let It Be from the start, and I really don't know why it was placed at the beginning of the record. Put that aside, however, and we find one of the Beatles' most modest and charming efforts in the country-folk idiom, and a tune that truly captures the throwback essence of the ill-fated Get Back project as it was meant to be captured. The arrangement – closely interwoven acoustic guitars over a trotting drumbeat, George's low-register Telecaster slides taking the place of a bassline – has a warmth not characteristic of Spector's typically fussy mix, where it is easy to picture all of them picking and grinning together in the studio. The close harmonies between John and Paul (they shared one microphone, and you can tell) dig their teenage infatuation with the Everly Brothers out of mothballs, proof positive that they never truly lost sight of where they began, as teenagers worshipping their idols the way their very own fans had come to do with them. Their vocals might be more rough and reflective than they were, but with a new instinctive understanding and strength between them as they tread in a more similar register, the strength of their psychic bond burnished by years to drive the song's insinuating melody home: one that is placid and contented, in the best possible senses of those words.

    And how appropriate is it, by the way, that this song should be so dominated by close harmony? Well, Paul allegedly wrote it about the times in which he and Linda (to whom he had recently married) would drive out into the country for the purpose of “getting lost”, so as to enjoy uncomplicated moments out of the spotlight's glare - but others, Ian MacDonald most notably, have interpreted it to be about Paul and John. I can believe it, personally, and evidence can be found: the nod to contemporaneous lawsuits where the two of them were both “chasing paper, getting nowhere”; the brief nods to Help! and “Day Tripper”; the fantastic line making reference to “memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead” (perhaps odd in the Linda context considering that Paul had only met her two years prior), a bittersweet reflection on what they once shared together but most likely no longer could. And is it not clever, in a way, that it could so easily be either? “The Long and Winding Road” is an appropriate closer, certainly, but I think “Two of Us” could also have served that purpose well – a superb summation of Pauls future and past, for better and for worse.​
    Last edited: May 12, 2021
  2. If I were to write a 5th song on my last post, it would have been Two Of Us. Excellent pick.
  3. I love Two of Us as well. Famously also that song that lead to George Harrison's biting "I'll play whatever you want me to play. Or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I'll do it." remark to Paul during rehearsals.
    Filippa, ohnostalgia and Ironheade like this.
  4. I’m an Apple Music lady over a Spotify girl, so I put together a playlist on Apple Music if anyone would like to use it.
  5. Linked in the opening post now.
    boombazookajoe likes this.
  6. Random question/request -- I know the songs are listed in chronological order but is there any kind of song-groupings from the list, as in albums/era/years etc. -- It helps give me some context in rates in like "okay I like this more than this" (allows me to average out groups of songs too) and adds a little something to the following the reveals from my standpoint // seeing what parts of the discography are being decimated/not decimated, especially for someone not well-versed in there discography. I tried looking at wikipedia against your list and felt like I would need get a doctorate in Beatlology to figure it out.
    DominoDancing and Ironheade like this.
  7. Songs by (canonical) album:
    Please Please Me (1963) - "Love Me Do", "Please Please Me", "I Saw Her Standing There", "Twist and Shout"
    With the Beatles (1963) - "All My Loving"
    A Hard Day's Night (1964) - "A Hard Day's Night", "And I Love Her", "Can't Buy Me Love"
    Beatles for Sale (1964) - "Eight Days a Week"
    Help! (1965) - "Help!", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "Ticket to Ride", "Yesterday"
    Rubber Soul (1965) - "Norwegian Wood", "Nowhere Man", "Michelle", "In My Life"
    Revolver (1966) - "Taxman", "Eleanor Rigby", "Yellow Submarine", "Tomorrow Never Knows"
    Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) - Title track, "With a Little Help from My Friends", "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", "When I'm Sixty-Four", "A Day in the Life"
    Magical Mystery Tour (1967) - "The Fool on the Hill", "I Am the Walrus", "Hello Goodbye", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", "All You Need is Love"
    The Beatles (White Album) (1968) - "Back in the USSR", "Dear Prudence", "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Happiness is a Warm Gun", "Blackbird", "Helter Skelter", "Revolution"
    Yellow Submarine (1969) - NOWT (technically "Yellow Submarine" and "All You Need is Love", but those were previously released)
    Abbey Road (1969) - "Come Together", "Something", "Oh! Darling", "Octopus' Garden", "Here Comes the Sun"
    Let It Be (1970) - "Across the Universe", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road", "Get Back"
    Non-album singles and B-sides - "From Me to You", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "I Feel Fine", "Day Tripper", "We Can Work It Out", "Paperback Writer", "Lady Madonna", "Hey Jude", "Don't Let Me Down", "The Ballad of John and Yoko"

    Some amount of confusion is understandable with regards to the discography, especially the matter of UK vs. US releases, so here's a quick explainer for anybody who wants it.

    Like their British Invasion contemporaries, the Beatles' albums got chopped and changed a lot for the American releases on Capitol against the British Parlophone releases. Essentially, the feeling in the UK at the time was that consumers wanted all-new material for LPs, rather than singles that they had already heard, whereas US consumers didn't want to invest in an LP without the big singles that they already knew, hence why non-album singles remained prominent in the UK through the 70's and early 80's but sort of faded out in the US. (Why this difference in attitude, I couldn't say.) Furthermore, the States held eleven or twelve tracks as the magic number for an LP, something to do with different publishing royalty standards (of which I need to research more) rather than the UK's fourteen. So what was released in the US was effectively rejiggered compilations, kitbashed out of the British LP and non-album tracks. The Beatles were never happy about their work being messed with in this way, seeing as unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they did put quite a bit of thought into the composition and sequencing of even their early LPs. When they signed a new recording contract with EMI in 1967, Sgt. Pepper was their first album to be released stateside in unmodified form, and this continued for everything after it.

    The original UK LPs are now considered the official versions, with the American comps now out of print, with one big exception: Magical Mystery Tour. It had been a double EP in the UK, containing the six songs from the film, but as EPs were not popular in the US at the time, it was turned into an LP, adding their 1967 singles ("Hello Goodbye", "All You Need is Love", and the "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields" double A-side, plus the B-side "Baby, You're a Rich Man"). Demand for this version in imported form in the UK was such that it ended up getting an official release there, and eventually supplanted the double EP in canon. The canon is completed by Past Masters, which compiles every non-album A and B side officially released during the Beatles' existence. With the UK LPs often not having singles pulled from them (though some previously released singles did end up on them), the Beatles often accompanied an album release with a single, such as "Day Tripper"/"We Can Work It Out" being put out on the same day as Rubber Soul.

    Yellow Submarine is part of the official canon, but doesn't quite "count", so to speak. One side consists of two previously released songs used in the film and four new additions (some of which were offcuts from previous albums), while the other consists of selections from George Martin's score. It was released only to fulfil contractual obligations.
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  8. ohnostalgia

    ohnostalgia Staff Member

    Just seeing the words “Run For Your Life” made me cringe. And that’s why I’m fine not doing a complete discography rate.
  9. Perfect @Ironheade and the explaination is very helpful.
  10. Busy times, but I will try to do this! Thankfully there’s still a lot of time.

    Has anyone seen the film ‘Yesterday’? It has its flaws (why did there have to be so much Ed Sh**r*n?), but it was a nice reminder of just how iconic their discography is, if we even needed one. It’s crazy how their songs are 50+ years old (!!!) and so many of them still sound fresh and current, much more so than a lot of other 60s music.
    Ironheade and Eric Generic like this.
  11. I got it on Blu-ray for something like 2.99...one of those "get this for X price when you spend Y amount".
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  12. Was not a fan. One thing that bothered me: with the amount of artists that have been influenced by the Beatles since their existence, pop music and its history would have taken a very different form. The film's way of dealing with this, if I recall, is basically, "uhhhh... HEY LOOK OVER THERE IT'S ED SHEERAN!" (Yes, the ontological arguments probably bother me more than they should.)
    marie_05 likes this.
  13. I've only seen a few minutes of it...the bit where he googles "Oasis" and all that come up are images of the desert. Cheap gag but I found it funny.
  14. Yeah, the butterfly effect is definitely limited, especially when you take into consideration that things like Coca Cola, cigarettes and Harry Potter were also erased from history. Never mind the music industry, the whole world would have been a completely different place! But then, it’s probably not the kind of story you should overthink too much.

    The “Oasis no longer exist either” joke was almost too obvious, but I’m glad they didn’t miss that trick!
    Ironheade and Eric Generic like this.
  15. We now have the first set of votes other than myself! Thank you to @blissteria for getting our ball rolling!
  16. I've been on a rate-doing spree lately so once I wrap 90's Dance Divas up, this is next for me. Printing a songlist for Mom today as well.
    Ironheade likes this.
  17. The next installment of 20 BEST SONGS NOT IN THE RATE will be coming up in the next couple of days, showing a bit of love to Revolver for the first time. (Seriously, only three songs from it on the Red Album?! Hogwash!)

    Also, it feels pretty weird for me giving this many 10's in a rate, I have to say, given that I'm usually very stingy and give no more than four or five. But I suppose if you feel good enough about an artist to run a rate for them...
  18. I'll keep an eye on this thread because I've wanted to get into The Beatles' music for some time but was afraid I'm not going to like it.
  19. Feel free to dive in any time you like! You won't offend me if you don't like what you hear, promise!



    Part Two

    At number sixteen...

    From Beatles for Sale

    I have the feeling that a lot of new Beatles listeners, in this day and age, pay short shrift to the early records, and don't really go in for any earlier than Rubber Soul. It's not always fair - true, for the most part they're patchy and uneven, but there are plenty of gems beyond the big hits (though not quite on the level of their later work). Of the pre-Rubber Soul era, Beatles for Sale is by far the most derided. After making the great leap forward of a full LP of Beatles originals with A Hard Day's Night, the band was forced to keep the hit machine cranking with their fourth LP in twenty-one months - even though, as John groused in a contemporaneous interview, "Material's becoming a hell of a problem", the supply of song fragments and ideas they'd been working off since their Hamburg club days all but exhausted. So the idea of doing another all-original record was scrapped, and out of desperation they returned to the old "eight originals and six covers" formula. Between this, the generally sour and downbeat mood of the originals that some view as reflecting a tiredness in the band and their playing, and the weakness of some of the covers, it sure doesn't make a good case for itself...

    ...but if you ask me, the eight originals are their strongest all-around set of Lennon-McCartney tunes yet, easily enough for me to take Beatles for Sale over the first two LPs, though not over A Hard Day's Night or Help!. Chief among them is "I'm a Loser", one of John's first forays into the introspective, often self-loathing streak that would come to typify both his Beatles contributions and the early years of his solo career. Hitting some of the lowest notes he ever did as a Beatle ("I should never have crossed"), delightfully atypical for John's bright baritenor voice, John spins a downbeat tale of love lost, and as the early band were wont to do, he packs a lot into simple phrases, spinning the hurtful macho pride of "She Loves You" back onto himself and blowing up his emotional torment into something reflected in the very weather itself ("my tears are falling like rain from the sky" - interesting bit of ambiguous phrasing there!). In its dark shadings, hinting at something nastier and more tormented behind the sarcastic japery of John's public persona, "I'm a Loser" is a bit of poking at rockstar mythologising that is surprisingly advanced for 60's pop. Sadly, I don't believe, during the course of his life, that John ever did quite figure out what he was, if not what he appeared to be.

    Musically, too, "I'm a Loser" is one of those small roadmaps to future glories that, providing an important prototype for the British folk-rock scene. John described it as being one of the first fruits of his "Dylan period", in which their first American meetings with the Mighty Zim did more than just introduce them to the joys of pot: an album later, on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", John was openly imitating the nasal gruffness of his voice, but "I'm a Loser" reflects more subtle borrowings in its general introspective cast and foursquare folk strumming. Even the reference to clowns/jokers/circus pageantry in general is a very Dylan thing, as recognised by Stealers Wheel in their own Dylan pastiche "Stuck in the Middle with You". The song also has more of a country feel than most contemporary Dylan offerings, with George's minimalistic but note-perfect rockabilly licks and more mordant harmonies than the Beatles standard, dressing a minor-key midtempo country boogie enlivened by Paul's winkingly po-faced descending bass. Here, the harmonica solo acts as a transitional element, harking back to the earliest of the Beatles' hits in a wilder fashion that hints at emotional release, before John largely put it aside. (It reappears as a drone instrument on "The Fool on the Hill", as well as a key part of the tape loops on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". Usages on "Rocky Raccoon" and "All Together Now" are perhaps best forgotten...) It's interesting to see contemporary artists inspiring the Beatles as they go, and the rapid pace of change in the era - after all, Dylan was the same age as them, yet could already seem like a seasoned elder. Like I've said, the period of Revolver onwards wasn't quite the massive leap in emotional and musical maturity that some might see it as: it was there to begin with, and I'll try to point this out with the early Beatlemania hits as we score them.

    At number fifteen...

    From Rubber Soul

    Beep-beep-m'beep-beep-yeeeaaaah! Likely the most famous song to be left off the list, with its primo position as the opener of Rubber Soul and nearly fifty million Spotify plays, "Drive My Car" was actually present in early editions of the rate selection, but at the suggestion of @ohnostalgia , I swapped it for "Happiness is a Warm Gun". (For the record, it's one of four songs from the Red and Blue Albums we're not rating here, "Girl", "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Old Brown Shoe" being the others.) So I figured I ought to show it some love in this little sequence of posts. The characterisation of Rubber Soul as a folk-rock album, based as it is largely on the re-sequenced and more acoustic-heavy Capitol release, has never quite sat right with me: the more obvious genre connection, I think, is in the title, and "Drive My Car" is as successful of an R&B number as the Beatles ever managed, a standout in a crowded field.

    Paul's primary reference point was to Otis Redding's "Respect", with Beatles authority Ian MacDonald suggesting the song's similar riffing line, played by doubled bass and low guitar, was the Beatles' attempt to capture the meaty low-end of American soul music, so different to the polite trebles of the British pop studios. It's a killer bassline, with some of those typical melodic lines that Paul so loves, so slippery in their steady rise and fall and the fleet-fingered fills, that it seems almost impossible he could be singing at the same time. And the groove is just fantastic here, Ringo's timing deadly as always as he slips into a relaxed slow funk groove more ruthlessly accurate than anything yet heard from the Beatles, a steady cowbell clang and some of that classic Motown tambourine slipping into the spaces between his beats and a few of those classic spattering Ringo snare fills on the pre-chorus. Vocally, Paul is on point with his lead, close to perfecting his soulfully growled "Little Richard" voice but without any overindulgent yowling, while John and George's playful interjections at the end of each verse add a lightness and lift to the relatively limited range of the melody - the interplay between the three of them is just great here, John and Paul seeming to fight for the lead on the chorus before John coos "and maybe I'll love you!", where you can practically see a big stupid grin on his face as he deflates Paul's straight-faced read of the verses. The two of them, I submit, needed each other, and reason number one would be these sort of games of catch-and-release.

    What people often turn to lyrically on Rubber Soul is the Beatles' moves away from romantic love, "Nowhere Man" and the later "Paperback Writer" single making the Beatles' first total break with the subject after a bit of playing with it on Help!. But when they do turn to it, it's cleverer than the slightly moon-June lyrics of before, and "Drive My Car" is a great example of that. The Beatles had long been known for their wit and their banter with the press, John even publishing two Lear-ish books of humorous nonsense, and in "Drive My Car", they apply it to a sneaky bit of innuendo, the girl looking for a "driver" as she seeks stardom. Thank heavens they didn't go with more cliches about "diamond rings" as Paul originally wrote, that's all I can say, and it's a fun little lyric to be sure. The innuendo is as much musical as anything: the quarter-note triplets of sly lounge-bar piano answering each phrase of the chorus as it slides between D major and B minor, Paul's greasy slide guitar solo sprawling over that relentless groove in a draw-me-like-one-of-your-French-girls pose, the few slippery snatches of blues-funk guitar that lead into the song. And I can't help it, the eventual punchline - "I've got no car and it's breaking my heart, but I've got a driver and that's a start!" - it does kinda get me, I won't lie. There were few groups as witty as the Beatles in their prime, not necessarily lyrically, but in terms of musical humour they were second to none.

    At number fourteen...

    From Revolver

    Alright, just so we're clear, Revolver is the Beatles' masterpiece as a band, yes? Out of the other big four contenders, in order: Sgt. Pepper waffles on its concept and has a couple of tracks I rarely ever revisit, putting it a relatively distant fourth; as much as I like to defend them, some of the genre pastiches on the White Album are overly precious or just plain unsuccessful; Abbey Road is a very confident second, but in comparison to the rich yet ruthlessly tight arrangements on Revolver, it can be marred by a slightly too heavy hand in the orchestration. Meanwhile, I genuinely can't think of anything about Revolver I would change as a single piece of work. Even for a band that was confident and forward-thinking from the outset, their arrangements stuffed with chords unusual for pop and written outside the 60's pop structural box, Revolver was a rocket-powered leap forward - and this less than four years after "Love Me Do", let us not forget, and a year before the Summer of Love. The lyrics went from Girl-meets-Beatle to complex meditations on death, spiritual transcendence and LSD-powered visions, and the list of recording techniques invented or made popular by it could fill a good-sized book. Any psychedelic or progressive rock group of the next decade owes their very existence to it, as does any Western pop artist who wanted to dabble in global sounds, and it even popularised the tape looping which early electronic artists would turn from the province of experimental classical composers to the sound of mainstream pop in the 80's. As far as bringing the truly avant-garde into the pop spotlight, only the Beatles' cross-Atlantic rivals the Beach Boys got close; now, unencumbered by the need to reproduce songs for live performance, the studio could truly become an instrument in itself.

    One of those innovations can first be heard on "I'm Only Sleeping": that is to say, the techniques of backmasking and variable speed, soon to become a source of supposed "satanic messages" to over-impressionable busybodies in the Bible Belt. This was done by having George write out his doubled guitar line (one with fuzz and one without) in normal sequence, have George Martin transcribe it in reverse, George recording it in that way, then dubbing it onto the tape backwards. (The whole process took over six hours of painstaking work by George and engineer Geoff Emerick. Ah, what we used to have to do before ProTools, eh?) The result was well worth it, the sensuous sighs of the backwards guitar solo sounding like a slip into the dream world in which the lines between the real and the unconscious blur into one. (Cleverly, they place some of the guitar lines on "running everywhere at such a speed" - a sort of sucking noise, as if the very energy of these mocking observers was being hoovered up into John's lethargy.) The production of "I'm Only Sleeping", beyond this pioneering invention, is immaculate for its mood as a whole, as it happens: the gentle swing and sway of Ringo's drums always about to sublimate into a wash of cymbals, the acoustic guitar seeming to vacillate between earthy folk strum and dreamy bejewelled haze, the cooing falsetto harmonies seeming to come and go whenever they please, Paul's bass placed at perfect moments to interrupt the music like noises that intrude upon a dream and get incorporated into it. Revolver marked the first time the Beatles attended mixing sessions, and their newfound care for this aspect shines throughout.

    It all results in one of the prettiest moments that John has to contribute in this period: for a man so often pigeonholed with responsibility for the Beatles' hard-driving rockers, he has as fine a line in ballads as Paul, from his first steps with "If I Fell" to the tearful release of "Julia", and "I'm Only Sleeping" fits very well into that canon. It was inspired by his own sleepiness, in which he spent his time off doing nothing musically productive and Paul would have to drag him out of bed to write songs - not necessarily drug-induced, but it's easy to read that into it. (Said journalist Maureen Cleave in a contemporaneous feature on him: "He can sleep almost indefinitely, is probably the laziest person in England." "Sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more", he said in return.) The mood of John's singing, more delicate than ever before, is both blissful and melancholic, as he finally finds the happiness he sought but only by disconnecting from the physical world. Even the very recording of "I'm Only Sleeping" reflects an insecurity about his own voice - per George Martin, John was never satisfied with his singing, and always wanted effects on it to mask that. Here, it is an elaborate process of speeding up and down that thins his voice out, leaving it sounding distant and old beyond his years, slowly succumbing to melancholia and lethargy yet oddly happy with it. Unfortunately, later in the Beatles' career, that could never be the case.

    At number thirteen...

    From Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

    So what exactly is it that so often makes people perceive Paul as the cheesy Beatle? A large part of this is that his musical tastes (inspired by those of his father, who had played in a trad jazz combo) are in large part grounded in the pre-rock era that he grew up in: the British music hall tradition, the Tin Pan Alley standards of the Thirties and Forties, and the songs of Broadway. With the generation that made and grew up with this music dying off, these traditions are no longer an organic part of British culture, so perhaps it's unsurprising that younger Beatle fans turn their nose up at Paul's music hall numbers - even at the time, the other Beatles thought this side of his tastes was corny, and in the politically radical transformative atmosphere that the counterculture strived for, it may even have seemed downright reactionary. ("Paul's fucking granny shit" is just one of those immortal Lennon quotes.) But that was part of the genius of the Beatles: they truly could appeal to anybody and everybody, and what's so wrong with aiming at an older audience, anyway? In an era where global capitalism is out to convince us that anybody over forty should be thrown on the trash heap - digitally unadaptable, stuck in their ways, PROBLEMATIC!!! - it's easier, paradoxically, to appreciate such things, particularly as the slow march towards thirty is much on my mind lately.

    And while Paul's fucking granny shit could sometimes indeed be too pat and overly sentimental, there's nothing of that in "She's Leaving Home", a complex story song and a weepie of the first order - ironic that, on a record that did so much to advance the forward-looking Summer of Love, a pastiche of the Victorian parlour ballad (in keeping with standards that Sgt. Pepper's band might have played) should provide some of its most emotionally resonant moments. "She's Leaving Home" is something of a successor to "Eleanor Rigby", a melancholic tune in which the instrumentation is done by a string section while the Beatles only provide vocals, but it is a rarity in the Beatles catalogue in that it is not arranged by George Martin - as he was busy, the band turned to Mike Leander, leaving Martin (hurt by feeling left out in this way) to conduct the orchestra. There's a distinctly different flavour, however, with this newer number opening to the celestial tinkle of a harp, before giving way to strings that are altogether sweeter and more pillowy than the starkly close-miked divebombs of "Eleanor Rigby". Overflowing with self-consciously grand ninth and eleventh chords, some have found the melodism of "She's Leaving Home" a little too rich for their blood, but this overt musical sentimentality is entirely the point. Embodying the stifling atmosphere of a conservative household, the strings make a graceful arc through the verses - but Paul and John's vocals, spookily double-tracked, cut through like the ghost of the Sixties yet to come, as the protagonist makes her escape.

    Where Paul intones the lead as smoothly and unhurriedly as if he were carving the words into oak, John moans in anguish in the background, a touch of musical darkness in the midst of Paul's sentimentality reaching back to the co-writing days of "We Can Work It Out". The genius in the lyric of "She's Leaving Home" is in its nuance: the daughter's desire to have fun and be free given equal weight with the well-intentioned but wrong-footed upbringing given to her by the parents, not lacking in love, but in fun, in a more nuanced mirror to "Can't Buy Me Love". I don't believe the psychedelic era has a more rewarding, even-handed, yet never mawkish look at the generation gap - and perhaps, even today, there is no vaster one. For the Beatles to straddle the divide so well is quite impressive. (For the record, it is based on a case Paul read about in the Daily Mirror, of a teenager named Melanie Coe who ran away with her croupier boyfriend. She was interviewed by Rolling Stone for the fiftieth anniversary of Sgt. Pepper, if reading that takes your fancy.)​
    Last edited: May 18, 2021
    Filippa, pop3blow2, KingBruno and 8 others like this.
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