It was 50 years ago today/a month ago…

I write today about the 50th anniversary of the release of what has become arguably the most hallowed rock and roll album of all time: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This post comes in full awareness that I’ve missed the official anniversary of June 1st by over a month, but as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I suppose I’ve just been too busy living for the past month to acknowledge this momentous occasion, but I have plenty to say, and so here goes.

For the entire duration of my Beatles fandom, which officially stretches back over five years, Sgt. Pepper has never been among my favorite Beatles albums. I gave it a shot, doing the classic “listen to a full album at night in the dark with headphones in,” and while tuning out the world, I managed to gain at best a casual appreciation for what I had heard for years was the album to end all albums. I can’t quite quantify why I never felt that connected with Sgt Pepper. The best explanation I can come up with is that I’ve always felt that the songs overall just are not as good as the songs on Revolver and, especially, Rubber Soul. Sure, the production value of Sgt. Pepper is spectacularly high, but I bet some would agree that the actual songwriting of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Fixing a Hole” does not compare to anything on either of those albums. I do believe that “Within You Without You” is among the most beautiful songs in the Beatles’ catalog, but I have long felt that the songs on this album overall are, frankly, overrated by the Beatles’ own standards.

Before I completely slander what is, I acknowledge, an extremely cherished album, I now delve into an event that has dramatically reshaped how I view Sgt. Pepper in the context of the Beatles’ music and rock music in general. I was lucky enough to attend a multimedia lecture about Sgt. Pepper with my dad last month. This took place at my local library, and was so jam-packed with fascinating information that I felt seriously compelled to take copious notes the entire time. The lecturer, a Beatles expert who happens to work at this library, spoke about everything from the planning behind the famous album cover, to the initial takes of songs like “A Day In The Life,” to other artists who the Beatles were influencing at the time, to so many other cool tidbits I don’t even remember them all.

It was absolutely fascinating, and even I, who foolishly believes I know everything about the Beatles, learned many new things. For example, I had no idea of the scope of album covers that have parodied Sgt. Pepper since its release, and I also did not know that the Beatles had a connection to a little known band who, a few years earlier, released an album with a cover very much like that of Sgt. Pepper. I was also unaware that this album is the most “British” out of all the Beatles’ albums, featuring many references to aspects of British culture like “Meet the Wife,” meter maids, and the Royal Albert Hall. This lecture also put Sgt. Pepper in a new context in my mind, for I had never really thought about it as a tribute to Britain within the confines of a psychedelic rock album. It got me thinking more about the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper than I ever have before, and also made me consider how the album would have been different if it had included, as originally planned, “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Personally, I am of the camp that believes these two songs would have made this album truly perfect, thematically and musically, but of course I can’t rewrite history. When looking more closely at the album as it was released, it is pretty perfect just the way it is.

I struggle with calling Sgt. Pepper a “concept album” in the traditional sense, because its songs do not tell a continuous story like those of, say, “Tommy.” But the more I think about it, the more I realize that Sgt. Pepper is absolutely a concept album, though of a different nature. It is a concept album in its artistry, not in its narrative. Songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which features possibly my favorite opening to any song ever, are an entirely new concept for songs in the rock genre. This redefinition of what the boundaries of rock encompass, or don’t encompass, also applies to “She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You Without You,” and basically every single song on the album. Sgt. Pepper is an artistic departure even from the psychedelia of Revolver, which was largely contained in songs with a familiar structure. It is the first Beatles album that is truly a spectacle much like its artistic predecessor, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, an album which I actually have never loved either but which is probably worth another shot.

This lecture also introduced me to the new remixed version of Sgt Pepper, produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin who was, as I’ve said before on this blog, the real 5th Beatle. When you hear the term “remix,” don’t be alarmed; here there are no trap beats added to this album’s beloved tracks. Instead, Sgt. Pepper was literally remixed in that the sound levels of instruments and vocals in each song were re-mixed together to create a more balanced sound. If you’re interested in hearing more about the album’s construction, here’s a lovely interview with Giles Martin when he was on The Tonight Show recently:

Knowing that Giles is the man behind the “Love” album for the Cirque de Soleil show of the same name, among many other acclaimed projects, gives me immense respect for how carefully he treats Beatles-related material. I don’t know how many other Beatles remixing or remastering projects there are in the works at the moment, but it would be a definite shame if he were not at least partially involved with them.

I still have one Sgt. Pepper-related project to finish this summer, and that is watching the new PBS documentary that aired in early June about the album, entitled “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution.” However, from what I’ve heard it offers a lot of insight into the album’s lyrics, which I definitely feel I have neglected to examine over the years. Even without having seen this documentary, I feel that I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for the genius of Sgt. Pepper this summer. It dared to be loud, over-the-top, and unconventional even for the ever-changing Beatles. Though not universally admired by critics of the time, it was adored by millions of Beatles fans in the 60s and is still adored and respected today. I haven’t actually listened to the album straight through in a long time, but these recent Sgt. Pepper-related projects make me more interested than ever in indulging in all of the goodness that Sgt. Pepper has to offer. I suggest you do the same, and I hope you will enjoy the show. So, sit back, and let the evening go.

 

George Martin, The Real 5th Beatle

george martin

The man who made the Beatles into rock pioneers.

Hello followers and readers of Beatle Me Do! I have returned from a hiatus for which I greatly apologize, but I have a few ideas for fun posts that I will be publishing throughout the summer! In the meantime, I have decided to dedicate a post to the late Beatles producer, George Martin, who died on March 8 of this year at age 90. Before becoming a music producer with the Beatles, Martin primarily produced comedy albums. However, he is most well known for signing the Beatles to a record contract in 1962 and producing every single Beatles album except for Let It Be, which was (some say) infamously produced by Phil Spector.

The debate over who is “the fifth Beatle” has gone on for decades and is practically a cliche by now. Some Beatles fans support awarding this illustrious title to members of the Beatles camp such as their manager, Brian Epstein, or their first drummer, Pete Best. However, if there really is such a thing as “the fifth Beatle,” I strongly believe that George Martin deserves that title.

His work in the studio with the Beatles helped transform their songs from acoustic demos into sonic masterpieces. He was a major player in the Beatles’ studio experimentation starting in around 1965 and strongly supported their use of the studio itself as an instrument. When the Beatles were on top of the charts and the musical world, George Martin was the man behind the curtain, the wizard of Oz who literally orchestrated their success. His death marks the passing of a figure essential to the Beatles’ musical innovation.

I’d like to touch on a few Beatles songs on which Martin had a particularly noticeable influence. First up is the acoustic version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps from the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show, Love. This show features some remixes of Beatles songs, but these remixes are composed only by compiling bits and pieces from different Beatles songs. This particular version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps originates from a demo version from the Beatles Anthology 3. It features a George Martin-composed orchestration that was the only original music composed for the Love album. I absolutely love this version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps; it’s a beautiful song made even more poignant and striking by the orchestra. Seeing the Love show is definitely on my Beatles-related bucket list!

Next, I’m going back to one of Martin’s first orchestral contributions to Beatles music, the famed song Yesterday, which features only Paul McCartney, an acoustic guitar, and a beautiful Martin-composed string quartet. Supposedly Paul was a bit skeptical about the idea of putting a string quartet on a song released by a rock band, but was convinced otherwise after Martin explained exactly how he planned to arrange it based on the chords of the song. This song is now legendary among the many iconic tracks in the Beatles’ catalog, thanks not only to the beauty of its melody and lyrics but also to the perfect melancholy accompaniment that the strings provide.

Another song which has an unmistakable George Martin touch is In My Life, on which he plays the sped-up piano break at the end of the song. I believe this is one of, if not the only, Beatles songs to feature a piano solo, or if not it was definitely the first to do so. It’s songs like this that truly embody the spirit of Rubber Soul, an album which challenged the definition of rock and roll and began pushing the boundaries of musical experimentation in rock music.

Eleanor Rigby is one of those Beatles songs that features an orchestra arrangement so strikingly iconic that I could listen to just the instrumentals and enjoy the song just as much. This is all thanks to George Martin, who insisted on creating a relentlessly staccato string arrangement that I regard as an absolute masterpiece. You can listen to the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby, a track on the Beatles Anthology 2 album, here. Every time I listen to this track and try not to let my inner sing-along drown out what I’m actually hearing, I notice new little intricacies of the arrangement. It’s songs like this that absolutely astound me as to their fearless musicality and give me a true appreciation for the power of orchestral music. This song is just perfect.

Finally, what better way to close out this George Martin tribute post than with the behemoth of all classical arrangements in rock songs, the string section in A Day In The Life. This song is often ranked as the #1 best Beatles song, and while it’s not my #1 personal favorite, it is without a doubt an absolute, indisputable masterpiece. This is largely due to the enormous, chaotic, vaguely conducted orchestra part that builds and builds and always makes me feel like a car is about to hit me. Martin’s touch on this song is evident in its sonic power to completely overwhelm your senses and leave you breathless at its conclusion. What a song to close out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. What. A. Song. Period.

Rest in peace, George Martin. I know this tribute is a few months late, but I tried to make a post that pays the proper respect to a man who was literally  and figuratively instrumental in crafting many of my favorite songs of all time. He was among the giants of the musical world, and he will certainly be missed.

 

And I Love Polls

So here’s another poll I came up with. I think this is a pretty interesting one, because I was curious to see what is the one Beatles song that most people can’t live without. I tried to pick a list of Beatles songs that basically everyone, even non-Beatles fans, would know.
If you would choose another song that’s not on this list, feel free to comment about it!
For me personally, out of this list of songs, I’d have a hard time choosing between Hey Jude and Here Comes The Sun. It’s pretty much a toss up between those two, although While My Guitar Gently Weeps is my #1 favorite Beatles song.
Enjoy the week!

My Top 5 Scariest/Creepiest Beatles Songs

The Beatles, wearing silly costumes and looking adorable

The Beatles, wearing silly costumes and looking adorable

In honor of Halloween, which is in only 5 days, I’ve decided to make a short list of Beatles songs that, for whatever reason, creep me out or used to scare me. This won’t be as long a list as my usual lists, for the simple reason that there are not too many Beatles songs that make me scared! But, though they were originally the lovable moptops, the Beatles also had a dark side. So, without further ado, here is my list of scary Beatles songs!

5. Run For Your Life

Upon a casual listen, this song is pretty unassuming, but when you actually listen to the lyrics, it’s really creepy. Apparently the Beatles stole the first line, “I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man” from an Elvis song called “Baby, Let’s Play House”, and they built the rest of the song around that. It’s basically about a man threatening to kill his girlfriend if she cheats on him. This song has never really scared me, but the lyrics are quite ominous, which makes it a good choice for this list!

4. Helter Skelter

Back before I became a devoted Beatles fan who would listen to anything they recorded, I used to not be able to listen to this song all the way through because it scared me too much. I can’t put my finger on why it scared me, but it just did. For whatever reason, I just could not get through it without pausing the song and listening to something else. Of course, I got over this fear a while ago, and rocking out to Helter Skelter at the Paul McCartney concert was one of my highlights of the night! Still, the fact that this song supposedly inspired the Manson murders makes it scary to me.

3. A Day In The Life

This is another song that I’ve grown to love and appreciate, but that for some reason used to scare the wits out of me. I think it was the orchestral links between the Lennon and McCartney sections of the song that scared me, and whenever I listened to that part of the song, I felt like a car was about to hit me.
The song is a work of art, and I thankfully can now listen to it all the way through without getting scared! But it certainly isn’t the cheeriest Beatles song out there…

2. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

For some reason, I could not find the original album version of this on Youtube, but I did find a version performed live by The Fab Faux, so hopefully you get the gist of this song through their performance.
Whenever I listen to Abbey Road, I almost dread this song coming on, because it’s so long and demonic sounding that by the end, I’m always completely freaked out and silently willing it to be over so my heart can stop racing. The last few minutes of this song are entirely instrumental, and the “whooshing” sounds near the end sound like a plane about to crash. In other words, this is a pretty creepy song. Don’t listen to it if you fear the end of the world is upon us.

1. Revolution 9

This is by far the scariest Beatles “song” (I don’t really consider it a song) in existence, but it’s more than that. It’s quite possibly the weirdest, freakiest, creepiest 8 minutes ever recorded in the history of rock. This song creeps everybody out, including me, which is why this is the only Beatles song to date that I have only listened to once all the way through. I hate skipping songs on albums, but whenever I listen to the White Album, I just can’t bring myself to listen to this song. It’s too trippy and too scary for me to handle. This is probably a common choice for “scariest Beatles song,” but rightfully so, because it’s just insane. I love the Beatles, but this takes it a bit too far into the psychedelic territory for me to enjoy and appreciate.

And that completes my list! I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and a happy early Halloween!
I’m also VERY excited for the Fab Faux George Harrison tribute concert that my dad and I are seeing tonight! I will surely be posting about it tomorrow, so be on the lookout!

Ringo, You’re My Starr!

Look at that winning smile! You rock Ringo!

Look at that winning smile! You rock Ringo!

I feel like a terrible Beatles fan. I just realized that in all of my blogging over the past month, I have not dedicated one single post to the wonderful and talented Ringo Starr! He deserves his own posts just like the others! Well, that’s about to change, because here I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Ringo drumming performances on Beatles songs. In my opinion, Ringo was/is a fantastic drummer, and without him, the Beatles would not have been as advanced and ahead of the times as they were. So, here we go!

A Day In The Life

I’m clearly not a drummer, and I don’t pretend to be, but I can safely say that Ringo’s drumming on this song is fantastic! His intricate fills really enhance an already amazing Lennon/McCartney composition and lift it to “legendary” status. I’ve read articles that list A Day In The Life as the #1 best Beatles song, and I’m positive that Ringo’s drumming has more than a little to do with that.

I Feel Fine

I love the drumming on this song in particular because it doesn’t overpower the vocals at all. Instead, it’s a perfectly understated complement to the rich three part harmony of John, Paul, and George, and shows how versatile of a drummer Ringo was.

Long Tall Sally

I’m including this song mostly for the headbangingly awesome drumming starting at about 1:34 in the video. In every video I’ve seen of the Beatles performing this song live, Ringo goes nuts at that part! I’m almost afraid that the drum set is going to topple over, but it somehow never does.

What You’re Doing

I love the intro to this song. It’s unlike anything the Beatles had done up to that point, and adds character to what I think is a very underrated Beatles song.

Get Back

I don’t really know why I love the drums to this song so much, I just do! It’s a cool sound! Go Ringo!

Rain

Here it is, the song that is usually listed as “Ringo’s best drumming performance on a Beatles song,” even by Ringo himself. Although it’s not my favorite drumming performance of his (that would be A Day In The Life), I do agree that the drums here are superb. Also, I love this promo video! Out of all the Beatles, John definitely looks the best in sunglasses. And when George looks directly into the camera at 1:15 and smiles… I can’t help but smile back!

There you have it, my favorite Beatle drum songs. I’ll also post my favorite Beatle bass, guitar, and harmony parts at some point. For now, enjoy the music! Ringo rocks!