“The Beatles Anthology”: 10+ hours of glorious nostalgia

Anthology_cover_collage

In the midst of reviving my Beatles blog this summer, I’ve also been on a bit of a Beatles kick in another notable way. This past month, I finally sat down and watched all eight episodes of The Beatles Anthology series, plus the “Special Features” DVD. For those of you who are unaware, The Beatles Anthology was a massive project undertaken in the 1990s by the entire Beatles camp to tell the Beatles’ story from their own perspective. This project took several forms: three Anthology CDs containing live performances and studio outtakes, a beautiful coffee table book, and an eight-part TV documentary.

I already have all three Anthology CDs in my iTunes library, and I own and have read the entire Anthology book, but a recent conversation with a friend reminded me that I somehow had never seen the documentary. Once I got home for the summer, I immediately went to my local library to see if they had the Anthology series on DVD and, sure enough, they did. Several DVDs later, I’ve finally finished the whole thing.

Anthology takes you through the Beatles’ entire story, from when they were kids growing up in Liverpool to when they called it quits. It contains lots of performance footage and interviews with all four Beatles, as well as extensive interviews with other notable members of the Beatles’ family such as Neil Aspinall (driver, then roadie, then director of Apple), Derek Taylor (at one point the Beatles’ press officer), and George Martin (their producer, but you knew that). I was quite pleased at how much airtime Anthology gave to these important figures, though it makes sense when you consider that Neil was heavily involved in making the documentary and George Martin oversaw the Anthology CD project. I also learned several new tidbits from their interviews; apparently Neil Aspinall came up with the idea to reprise the opening track on Sgt. Pepper at the end of the album, to make it feel more like a complete listening experience.

beatles cavern club

One of my other favorite parts of Anthology was how much airtime it gave to the earlier years of the Beatles. I was worried that the first few years of their success, namely 1962 and 1963, would get short shrift, but I was pleasantly surprised that two whole episodes of Anthology focused on the period of the Beatles before they really made it big in 1964. With that said, there was also a lot of interesting footage from their later years that enriched the series. The clips of the Beatles’ trip to India were particularly fascinating, as many of them I had never seen before, and that whole period of their history got more airtime than I was expecting. I also appreciate that Anthology gives basically equal billing to all four Beatles, even though obviously all of John’s interview footage was from before he died, long before the Anthology series was put together.

Watching Anthology also confirmed one of my theories about the Beatles, which I’m sure is held by many; their breakup did not result from one single event, but came about due to a series of events starting in about 1966. The interviews with the Beatles regarding their later years seem to imply that the first major catalyst en route to their break up was the decision to stop touring in 1966, which effectively ended their life as a traditional “band” and began their time together as “artists.” The other major events in this chain seem to be the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967, the trip to India in early 1968, John and Paul’s decision to start Apple, Yoko’s introduction into John’s life, and filming all rehearsals for Let It Be as part of a movie project.

Anthology portrays the Beatles’ breakup probably as it actually was, an inevitable end to a landmark moment in music history that simply outgrew the restrictions given to it by fame. It’s sad, but by the time the January 1969 rooftop concert appears in Anthology, I found myself thinking, “Good lord, how have the Beatles not broken up yet, with all of this tension and chaos happening?” Obviously, if things had been perfect and all of the Beatles still wanted to continue, it would have been wonderful for all of their fans for years to come. However, for the Beatles’ sake and the sake of their music, I am honestly glad that they broke up when they did. If Anthology showed me anything, it revealed that nostalgia and sentimentality for the Beatles can easily be revived at any time, since the worldwide love for the group is so strong.

My one critique of the Anthology series is that if you’re a relatively big Beatles fan and have read the Anthology book already, you won’t learn tons of new information by watching the series. That’s not to say that it’s not worth watching; it absolutely is! But I feel that the strength of the series really lies in the video clips and footage that it contains, and not in the actual amount of new information. The interviews added insightful context to many events in the Beatles’ history, but Anthology clearly prioritizes showing a remastered five-to-seven minute clip from the Shea Stadium concert over including a never-before-heard anecdote about what happened backstage at that concert. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but for me personally, I would have liked more never-before-heard anecdotes.

beatles anthology

This might be why I enjoyed the special features DVD so much. It included a 15 minute clip of Paul, George, and Ringo playing music at George’s house and reminiscing about the Beatle days, and there were a lot of fun stories in there that they had never discussed in other contexts. I also really enjoyed the clips of Paul, George, Ringo, and George Martin in Abbey Road Studios listening to some of the outtakes on Anthology, as well as the footage of the surviving Beatles recording “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” I do understand that these clips were probably left off of the official documentary because they don’t neatly fit into the timeline of the Beatles’ story. However, I wish that Anthology had a bit more of this spontaneous energy from the special features, the kind of energy that fueled the Beatles’ most innovative creations.

I could go on, but this post has already gone on for longer than I anticipated, so I think I’ll leave my thoughts there. If you have access to a library with the Anthology DVDs, I highly recommend checking them out or finding them somewhere online to watch. You’ll walk away with a more realistic and contextualized picture of the Beatle years, and no doubt will fall back in love with any treasured Beatle songs that you’d forgotten about.

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Almost 50 Years Later, Could “White Album” Work As A Single Album?

One of my favorite shots of the Beatles during the White Album era. They all look quite majestic here.

For the past few years in Beatleland, every other week seems to be the 50th anniversary of something. First in 2013, it was 50 years since the Beatles released their debut album “Please Please Me” and took Britain by storm. Then, in 2014, it was 50 years since the Beatles invaded America and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Last year marked 50 years since the release of the landmark Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which I wrote about here. And now, 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of two iconic Beatles projects, the movie Yellow Submarine and the release of one of the most eclectic Beatles albums, known by fans as “White Album.”

“White Album” was, like all Beatles albums, innovative and interesting for many reasons. It was released after all four Beatles took a trip to India to learn about the Maharishi and learn about Hinduism and meditation (which Ringo famously did not take to very much). It featured several songs that only had one Beatle on them, such as “Mother Nature’s Son” for Paul and “Julia” for John. Ringo also briefly quit the band while they were recording this album, though I believe that only lasted a couple of weeks. “White Album” was one of the first Beatles albums I was fully aware of, and to me it’s always marked the beginning of the Beatles coming into their own as solo songwriters.

“White Album” is also well-known for being one of the very first double albums, and the first one ever to top the charts. Even now, it’s uncommon for artists to release so much material at once that it qualifies as a double album, but back in 1968 the Beatles clearly were overflowing with inspiration. Whenever I read anything about “White Album,” it usually includes the question “what songs would you cut from ‘White Album’ to make it a single album?” Sometimes I read replies along the lines of “I wouldn’t cut anything, it’s perfect the way it is.” And I agree that its status as a double album was certainly no hindrance on the Beatles’ success. But I also don’t think that it is a perfect album. Its imperfections help solidify its iconic status, but let’s be real here, I’d be hard pressed to find a Beatles fan that truly thinks every song on this album is a masterpiece.

Theoretically, if I were to cut “White Album” down to a single album, I’d have to cut it down from 30 songs to about 17, the number of songs on disc 1 of the album. That’s 13 songs, which sounds like a lot at first. Let’s see if I can even get that far.

Songs from “White Album” that I’d honestly have no problem cutting:

“Revolution 9”- I’ve spoken about this song before and I’ll say it again, there’s a reason that I’ve only ever listened to this once. It’s scary and very confusing.

“Revolution 1”- A slower version of the “Revolution” made famous on the “Hey Jude” single, but I think this version loses a lot of its bite slowed down. It’s a little too lazy-sounding to make a statement this way, I think.

“Wild Honey Pie”- I still can’t figure out how this made it on the album, honestly. It baffles me even more than “Revolution 9.”

“Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?”- Not one of Paul’s more insightful lyrics, and while this song comes off as a bit of a joke to me, I’ve never found it that charming.

“Don’t Pass Me By”- Of the two Beatles songs that Ringo actually wrote, this is the worse one.

“Yer Blues”- It’s certainly bluesy, but I don’t think this is one of John’s more inspired Beatles songs.

“Honey Pie”- When you see quotes from other Beatles talking about Paul’s “granny music,” this is what they’re talking about. Sorry Paul, I do think it’s a cute song!

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”- I actually like this song, but I also am not that attached to it and could live with a “White Album” that didn’t have it.

Okay, that’s eight songs off the “White Album” that I’d be okay with cutting. That still leaves an album containing 22 songs, which for the vinyl constraints at the time is still way too many to have on one physical record. Let’s see if I can do any more trimming down to 17 songs.

Songs from “White Album” that I like, but don’t think are among its best:

“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”- The only hesitation I have about cutting this is that it leads directly into “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and I do think it’s generally a good song. Still, the chorus here isn’t one of my favorites, and Yoko’s backing vocals don’t really do it for me.

“Piggies”- This one is hard for me because it’s a George song. It really doesn’t hold a candle to the other George songs on this album, but as I’m listening to it now I realize that I actually do like it a lot. Cutting this one would make me sad.

“Good Night”- As I’m writing this, it’s getting harder and harder to choose more songs off of “White Album” that I would cut. This song has a lush orchestration that is the real star here, along with Ringo’s friendly vocals. It’s actually a soothing, beautiful, almost Disney-esque song. I could cut this, but it’s so gorgeous to listen to that I’d miss it.

“Rocky Racoon”- Again, I like this song a lot, but it’s never become one of my true favorites off the “White Album,” so I’m putting it tentatively on the chopping block for now. Though I feel bad about it, because it tells a fun story.

“I Will”- A very pretty song, but of the several “Paul’s acoustic ballads” that made it on the album, this one is the least memorable for me.

Okay, so I’ve made it down to 17 songs on the “White Album.” Below, I’ll list the tracking that I’d do with these 17 songs, if I were creating the album order.

  1. Back in the USSR
  2. Dear Prudence (can’t mess with that one-two punch, it really works)
  3. Glass Onion
  4. Martha My Dear
  5. I’m So Tired
  6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  7. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  8. Blackbird (this would be the end of side one of the album if it were on vinyl)
  9. Birthday
  10. Julia
  11. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey
  12. Mother Nature’s Son
  13. Sexy Sadie
  14. Savoy Truffle
  15. Cry Baby Cry
  16. Long, Long, Long
  17. Helter Skelter (I’ve always thought that this would be a badass album closer)

After listening to this new “White Album” I came up with, it definitely works, though I think it has a bit less personality than the original album without all of the songs I left out. I like the idea of bookending this new one-disc “White Album” with Paul rockers, and honestly I wish that “Helter Skelter” had been the original album closer because it really works so well! Obviously though, the Beatles knew what they were doing when it came to ordering songs on their albums, which is why I didn’t change that many of the original album’s track orders. When all is said and done, though, I still love the double album the way it is, and even those songs that I’d cut add a lot of character to the album that I’m ultimately glad is there.

If this post interested you, share with me how you’d theoretically trim down the double album into a single LP, or listen to these 17 songs in this order and let me know how you think it flows! Until next time then, fellow Beatlemaniacs. As John once sang, “We all shine on.” 🙂

Another Top 10 Favorite Beatles Songs

A great picture of the Beatles from 1965, my favorite period of their music. 🙂

 

As I was reformatting this blog last week and scrolling through some of my old posts, I came across the original “favorite Beatles songs” post from 2013 and examined to see which favorites have stayed the same and which have changed. Just for reference, here is the top 10 list that I wrote when I first started this blog.

I thought it might be fun to write about 10 other Beatles favorites that could easily also be a separate top-10 list. None of these were on the previous list I made, but if those other 10 songs didn’t exist, these would be my 10 favorites. I think that after 5+ years, the other list is still overall accurate – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is still definitely my favorite Beatles song. But the Beatles have such a wide variety of fantastic songs that I could probably come up with several unique lists of 10 songs that would all qualify as my favorites. So without further ado, here are 10 more of my favorite Beatles songs, in reverse order!

10. We Can Work It Out

This is one of the best examples of a John/Paul collaboration that brilliantly showcases their individual styles. Paul’s part is upbeat and optimistic, while John’s part takes on a more somber, sobering tone. They replicate this general pattern in other songs like “Getting Better” and “A Day In The Life,” but this is one of the first instances where I think their songwriting partnership really displays how different their musical perspectives can be. The organ in this song also lends a distinct touch, and I love the bouncy rhythm throughout.

9. Dear Prudence

Though the repeating guitar lick is prominent throughout the song, I think that Paul’s bass line is the real star here. It tells a story all on its own, and I always listen for it when I hear this song. Paul also plays drums on this, and adds some fantastic drum fills that take the song to even greater heights. This is unmistakably a John Lennon song, and I think it’s one of my favorite John-penned Beatles songs actually. But Paul’s work on multiple instruments here is what makes this one of my favorite Beatles songs to listen to no matter what mood I’m in.

8. Taxman

This song has so many wonderful, intertwining elements that it’s hard to choose my favorite. From the iconic guitar solo (played by Paul), to the wonderfully melodic bass line (also played by Paul), to the lovely harmonies (some of my favorite Paul harmonies in the Beatles’ catalog), to the biting lyrics (okay, these are George’s), there’s a lot to unpack in this short song. It’s a perfect opening to “Revolver,” which to me represents the Beatles fully stepping away from their poppy image and delving into edgier material. This song, with its sneering tone, is a good one to play when you’re slightly annoyed about something. It’s also another fantastic song written by George, long before he fully came into his own on the “White Album.”

7.  Paperback Writer

I think this was one of the first Beatles songs I ever heard. I seem to have much older memories of it than I do of most other Beatles songs, and I’ve always really liked it. Once again, it has a really interesting bass line, and also has some of my favorite harmonies in the Beatles catalog. Another fun fact is that it was the last new song that the Beatles played on tour before calling it quits in August 1966. Paul shows off his storytelling prowess very well here, and also shows his songwriting maturity, as this song (unlike many of his previous ones) has nothing to do with love or relationships. Though it’s well known, I think it’s among the more underrated #1 hits the Beatles had, which I realize sounds like an oxymoron.

6. Happiness is a Warm Gun

The more I listen to this, the more I marvel at how many moving parts there are in such a short song. But they all work together perfectly and make for a very interesting song. There’s something new to hear every time I listen to it, though at the moment I’m particularly drawn to the driving guitar part in the “Mother Superior jumped the gun” section. It’s another stellar track from the “White Album,” which though uneven at times has some of the most innovative and timeless songs that the Beatles ever recorded.

5. Helter Skelter

I imagine that if I had heard this song when it first came out in 1968, I would have been amazed that this came from the Beatles. It’s one of the hardest rocking songs in their catalog. The only song I think it resembles in this regard is “Revolution,” though only the intros to both songs are similar. Every guitar part in “Helter Skelter” is worth paying individual attention to, from the lead part to the thumping rhythm sections. This is the song to play to anyone who says, “Didn’t the Beatles just do pop songs?” No, they didn’t. And they recorded this heavy rock song months before Led Zeppelin released their first album. Once again, with practically every song they did, the Beatles invented a new genre of music and reinvented themselves.

4. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away

This is one of the musically simpler songs on this list, but I’ve always loved the melody here. It’s one of my favorite Beatles songs to sing to myself throughout the day. This is a great example of how I think John’s best Beatles songs came from 1965 and 1966, as he’s really the star of “Rubber Soul” in my opinion. The acoustic guitar part sounds so modern that it could have been recorded today. As I said in a previous post, I could play this on repeat for hours and not get sick of it.

3. Not A Second Time

I put this as one of my most underrated Beatles songs here, but as I’ve listened to it more and more, it’s become one of my favorite Beatles songs, period. This is one of the most unique-sounding early Beatles songs, and the melody here is one of my favorites that John sings. This is another one I love to sing along to wherever I am, and the drum fills here show how Ringo was instrumental in the Beatles’ success even in the early years. This is probably the “least mainstream” Beatles song on this list, but every time I listen to it I wish that it were more highly regarded among their earlier songs.

2. Eleanor Rigby

I wrote about this song in my tribute post for George Martin, which you can find here. And I’m shocked that I didn’t put this on my previous list of favorites, but this is one of those songs that has grown on me immensely. It’s a masterpiece. Every time I listen to it, I’m amazed at how compact the lyrics are and how intricate the string arrangement is. Beyond that, the melody for this is I think one of the best Paul has ever written, and the harmonies are some of my favorites in the Beatles’ catalog. Clocking in at just over two minutes long, I really feel like I’ve gone on a journey every time I hear it. I really can’t write enough about how amazing I think this song is. This one is honestly tied with the #1 song on this list, but I’ll put it at #2 here just because it has a more serious tone.

Which means #1 has got to be…

1.  Here Comes The Sun

This is one of those later Beatles songs that’s so perfect, it’s hard to believe a person actually wrote it. As I listen to the later years of the Beatles’ catalog, songs like “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” and this one stand out as songs that have somehow always existed, like they just floated down from the sky as textbook examples of how to write a timeless song. Like many of George Harrison’s most beautiful songs, “Here Comes The Sun” seems to give its listeners a comforting hug. This is one of those songs that I wish could just automatically play in nature every time I walk outside. I smile every single time I hear its iconic intro, though my favorite part of this song is the descending guitar line in the middle. But the main reason I put this at #1 here is because it tells such a beautiful, optimistic story that I think its existence alone genuinely makes the world a better place.

When I’m thinking about my favorite Beatles songs now, I’m thinking about songs that I sing to myself all the time, songs that always make me smile, songs that I really think are perfectly crafted. These 10 songs all do that for me, despite being absent from my previous list of favorites.

Also I discovered while making this post that it seems like, at long LONG last, the official Beatles YouTube channel has uploaded all of their albums! Hooray! And they’re all the remastered versions! It has been notoriously difficult to find Beatles songs on YouTube over the years thanks to copyrighting, but even though I already have all of their songs on iTunes, this is a huge deal. It will make doing many of my Beatles-related song posts much easier. Happy early birthday to me, and happy weekend to all of you!

Paul McCartney “Gets Back” To His Roots With “Carpool Karaoke”

This picture should be an official ad for happiness.

Whenever Paul McCartney is in the news, I (and the rest of the world) pay attention. Sometimes he’s announcing a new concert tour or a collaboration he did with another prominent musician. And sometimes, he’s appearing on late night television with another British celebrity, driving around his old stomping grounds and reminiscing about his Beatle days.

When I saw “Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke” pop up in my YouTube feed last week, I figured that it would be an amusing, nostalgic drive in London filled with many of my favorite Beatles songs. I did not expect that James Corden would be driving Paul around Liverpool and going to many of the actual sites that Paul has written about in his career. Here’s the clip in its glorious 23-minute entirety, for your viewing pleasure.

I watched all 23 minutes of this video with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I was already a big fan of the Late Late Show’s “Carpool Karaoke” series before this aired, and I must confess that it had never consciously occurred to me that Paul would be a perfect guest. But as perhaps the most famous musician in the world, Paul seemed quite delighted to drive around for what was probably hours and regale James with stories about growing up in Liverpool. I geeked out when Paul signed his name on the Penny Lane sign, which reminded me of when I visited Abbey Road and gleefully signed my name on the wall outside the studio. I’ve now made a mental note to visit Liverpool one day and add my signature on that sign next to his.

I have thought many times over the years about how I’d love to take a pilgrimage to Liverpool and immerse myself in Beatles lore. Paul’s “Carpool Karaoke” certainly intensified that desire, while showing me yet again of why I fell in love with the Beatles in the first place. This segment, like the Beatles’ career, radiated positivity and love from beginning to end. It also reminded me that Paul’s music is a unifying force in this increasingly divided world. This was evidenced by the touching sequence where people of all ages rushed in off the street when they saw Paul unexpectedly playing a set in a local pub, and it looked like every person there was having the time of their lives. I couldn’t even imagine the chaotic thrill they must have felt as they saw their idol performing only several feet away, in a pub they’ve probably been to many times before.

I certainly did not go into this clip expecting to tear up, but I did get a bit teary-eyed at the constant sight of Paul greeting adoring fans and making their day, probably their life, everywhere he went. Of course, I was mentally putting myself in their shoes and imagining how I would feel absolutely elated if I ever met Paul in person. It was also humbling to hear him share how he and the other Beatles had no idea their music would even be remembered beyond the 60s. It is truly astonishing that this band had such a concentrated period of genius musical output in the 60s that still inspires people to love one another. I know that Paul has been famous for 55 years and probably tires of doing interviews and such, but I was inspired by his energy in this segment and how he gracefully handles his megastar status in the real world.

Of course, Paul’s wonderful songwriting has continued long after the Beatles disbanded, and I loved how this segment also promoted his upcoming album, “Egypt Station.” After watching this “Carpool Karaoke,” which featured a singalong to his new single “Come On To Me,” I immediately went to YouTube and listened to it and his other new song, “I Don’t Know,” on loop.

At age 76, Paul clearly has not lost his musical inspiration. These songs both highlight his knack for weaving together unexpected musical turns and catchy melodies. I particularly adore the musical break in “Come On To Me” that features a lively horn section, as well as the gorgeous piano intro to “I Don’t Know.” Though his last album, “New,” relied heavily on modern musical production and more techno-sounding touches, it seems like this album will have more of that classic instrumental feel that he’s done so well before. However, if Paul has taught me anything over the years, it’s that you can never quite predict what he’s going to do next. So I’ll reserve my full judgment until I can listen to the entire album when it comes out in September. Though I tend to blog sparingly during the school year, you can bet that I’ll do a post reviewing Paul’s new album as soon after that as I can.

As people often comment on particularly resonant YouTube videos, “I didn’t know how much I needed this until I watched it.” James Corden and the whole “Carpool Karaoke” team outdid themselves with this one. I don’t know if late night segments are even  eligible for awards, but this segment is the most Emmy-worthy piece of television I’ve watched in a long time. And we all need a little dose of Paul McCartney spreading joy every once in a while. He may be getting older, but I am so grateful that I still share this world with him and can enjoy new Paul McCartney songs as he releases them. What an incredible privilege it is to be able to say that I once saw him in concert. I am so glad that Paul and James teamed up for this latest “Carpool Karaoke” and gave the entire world a reason to smile for 23 minutes. It was truly a beautiful collaboration.