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.

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies

The Beatles while filming Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles while filming Magical Mystery Tour

I know this list won’t be strictly Beatle-related, but I felt like I had to do it at some point. I’m not really into movies the same way I’m into music, but I do enjoy a lot of movies, mostly comedies, and thought I’d share some of my favorites with you! There are a couple of Beatle-related movies on here as well. 🙂

10. Elf
I thought about not including this since it’s a Christmas movie, but a good movie is a good movie, regardless of the season. Anyway, I absolutely love this movie! I saw it it in the theaters when I was young, and ever since I’ve been entranced by its charm. I really don’t know how anyone could dislike this movie, unless they can’t stand Will Ferrell. Whom I love dearly, so that’s not an issue for me. 🙂

9. Stranger than Fiction
I first watched this back in January when my friend recommended good Will Ferrell movies for me to watch. As soon as I saw this, I was hooked. The story is fascinating and the acting, from Ferrell to Emma Thompson to Dustin Hoffman to Maggie Gyllenhaal, is phenomenal. Also, for a movie not based on a book, the screenplay is fantastic. Not that many people know about it, but it’s a great movie that makes you laugh, cry a little, and contemplate life.

8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Though I’m a huge Python fan, I’ve actually only seen this entire movie once. That said, I think it’s one of the most brilliant comedies ever made. I don’t think I’ve laughed harder at a movie from start to finish ever than I did at this movie. This would probably be ranked higher if I’d watched it more than once, but I do love it. A lot.

7. A Hard Day’s Night/Help!
I know in a previous list I separated these two movies, but here, I just can’t. They’re both so great for different reasons, and really I don’t prefer one over the other. I really should just have all of the Beatles movies in this slot.

6. The Sound of Music
I’m definitely a sucker for old fashioned movie-musicals, and this I think is one of the best. Whenever this is on TV, which thankfully is pretty often, I have to watch it and sing along to all of the songs. Julie Andrews has one of the most beautiful singing voices I’ve ever heard, and all of the songs are classics.

5. Forrest Gump
Watching this in my history class recently reminded me just how much I loved this movie, which is why I’ve included it here. I don’t think I need to tell anyone why it’s amazing, but I’ll just echo the masses and say that Tom Hanks is a brilliant actor. This is also one of the only movies that really makes me emotional at the end. It’s visually stunning, emotionally penetrating, and well deserving of its status as a modern classic.

4. George Harrison: Living in the Material World
I hope I’m not cheating by including a documentary on this list, but this one is so amazing that I can’t resist. It’s three and a half hours long, but it never drags. And of course, it’s about my dear George. 🙂
He lived a very interesting life, which lends itself well to a fantastic documentary. I’ve probably watched this 4 or 5 times. By the end, I’m always crying, but always glad I watched it again. I’d recommend this to any music fan or fan of documentaries.

3. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
The third and final Will Ferrell movie on this list, but probably the most well-deserved entry. I first watched this movie in December because of the hype over Anchorman 2, but as soon as I watched it, I understood why so many people love it. It’s absurd, ridiculous, weird, and absolutely hilarious. I tend to like movies with kind of a weird charm anyway, which this definitely has. Here’s hoping there will be an Anchorman 3!

2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
I am a huge fan of movies from the 80s, but this one stands above the rest I’ve seen as a true masterpiece. This is my go-to “snow day/rainy day/boring day” movie, and no matter how many times I see it, I laugh just as hard in all of the same parts. There’s also the memorable scene with Twist and Shout, which of course I love! If you’ve somehow never seen this, you’re missing out. And life moves pretty fast to be missing out on this. 🙂

This pretty much gives it away...

This pretty much gives it away…

1. Field of Dreams
I haven’t seen this in a while, but it’s without a doubt my favorite movie. I first watched it as a 7th grader obsessed only with the Mets and not yet with the Beatles, but as my love for the Beatles and many other things has developed, this has remained my #1 favorite movie. Its story is magical and uplifting in a way that truly distinguishes it as a work of art, and even my friends who aren’t baseball fans love this movie. I definitely need to watch this again soon, and you should, too!

I hope you enjoyed this list! Have a great week!

Foster the People’s “Supermodel” is Super-Awesome!

Supermodel

Supermodel

As I’ve said before, before I became a Beatles freak I was a big fan of Foster the People. Torches was the first album I bought on iTunes, and I’ve probably listened to it over a hundred times. But that album came out almost 3 years ago, and for a while I sort of forgot about Foster the People. However, the release of Supermodel has completely renewed my interest and reminded my why I loved their music so much in the first place!

The first thing to do when listening to this album is accept right away that this is NOT Torches, The Sequel. It’s much more of a concept album, and once you get comfortable with the overall vibe, the songs will definitely grow on you. I love that this album is very psychedelic and rock-oriented. There was only one really guitar-heavy song on Torches, but here both acoustic and electric guitar are present on basically every song. The songs here primarily deal with Mark Foster’s apparent detestation of the idea that one must sell oneself to the public in order to be happy. There are no stereotypical “love songs” on this album, which shows me that while Foster definitely writes songs from the heart, he doesn’t write songs from a one-sided perspective. Though the entire album is inspiring and worth listening to, I’d definitely recommend “Coming of Age,” “Nevermind,” and “Fire Escape” as exceptional stand-alone tracks.

However, I must admit that my favorite song by far, “Best Friend,” truly captures the magical energy of Torches better than any other on this album. In an interview, Foster said that he wrote it while trying to get out of writer’s block. To be stuck in a rut and then come up with this exceptional song? That’s talent right there! Whenever I listen to this amazing song, I feel like doing the head-bopping thing that Chris Kattan, Will Ferrell, and Jim Carrey do in the SNL sketch. The song is just that catchy. There’s also a part in the middle that sounds a lot like Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. If there’s one song from this album that will be played at parties, it’s this one.

I’ve read many reviews of this album that have shocked me with their overt negativity. If anything, I thought this album would be lauded by critics, but it’s been almost the opposite. From what I’ve gathered, the #1 reason why critics don’t seem to love it is that it’s not as poppy, fun, and summery as Torches. People seem to have no patience with new albums these days. One critic’s review said flat-out, “The songs suck,” which is just incorrect.

I take issue with the idea that if music is not instantly accessible to the ears, it automatically sucks. If I want a poppy, fun, summery album, I’ll just listen to Torches. Supermodel is a completely different listening experience and should be appreciated in its own right. Just because the Beatles didn’t make an exact replica of Please Please Me the second time around doesn’t mean that With The Beatles wasn’t as good. For that matter, even Revolver, usually considered one of the Beatles’ best albums, didn’t strike me initially as being amazing. It took me more than a few listens to really get into it and figure out what the heck was going on half the time. I now love Revolver, but just because its brilliance didn’t strike me right away doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth another shot.

Anyway, if I have one major criticism of this album, it’s that I get the sense that Foster the People was trying really, really hard to make a fantastic, groundbreaking work of art. I definitely appreciate the artistry, but sometimes it feels a little forced. This is why I usually prefer more low-key albums like Rubber Soul and Madman Across The Water which don’t feel like they were supposed to be brilliant, as opposed to obvious masterpieces like Sgt. Pepper or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I love when the brilliance of an album seems to happen by accident, which doesn’t quite happen for me with this album.

Despite that one minor quibble, I think this album is fantastic. It’s insightful, introspective, and dares listeners to question things that they may never bother to think about. At least Foster the People is trying to evolve their sound, be interesting, and keep their fans guessing, even if they tried a little too hard here. But I can always forgive overachievers, and they deserve to stick around for a few more albums and grace us with more awesome, interesting, thoughtful music. And murals.

An actual mural of their album cover on a building in Los Angeles.

An actual mural of their album cover on a building in Los Angeles.

Buy Supermodel on iTunes today! You won’t regret it! Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

My Top 10 Favorite Music Videos

I realize that I haven’t done a list-type post in a while, and so I’ve decided to post my all-time favorite music videos today. Truthfully, I’m not really that into music videos, and I haven’t watched that many at all. In fact, I might be the only person in the last 30 years who has never bothered to watch the music video for “Thriller”. I know, I’m so out of it, but I really only watch videos from artists that I listen to A LOT, and that’s why every video in this list is of a song by the Beatles, George Harrison, Elton John, or Paul McCartney. But anyway, here’s my list of music videos that I love. Enjoy!

10. I Am The Walrus- The Beatles

This is quite possibly the trippiest music video ever made. I mean, the song is basically nonsense lyrics written by John solely to confuse people who were reading too much in to the Beatles’ lyrics, and the video is in the same psychedelic vein as the movie it accompanies, Magical Mystery Tour. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite Beatles songs, and likewise the video is one of my favorite videos. I love it precisely because it’s so weird and strange. Becoming a Beatles fan has made me accept the weird and absurd things in life much more easily, and this video is definitely weird and absurd. But it’s just so artsy and cool at the same time!

9. Junior’s Farm- Paul McCartney and Wings

I know I’ve posted this before, and it’s really more of a promo than it is a traditional music video, but I love it so much that I had to post it here! Mostly I love it because Paul is such a cutie here, but the song is also awesome. Still, not too much going on here. Just sit back and enjoy the view of Paul McCartney’s adorable face for 4 and a half minutes… 🙂

8. I’m Still Standing- Elton John

This video is a classic! One of the judges from Dancing with the Stars, Bruno Tonioli, actually directed and choreographed it, and he appears in various costumes throughout the video. I love how Elton is basically just strutting around the entire time, being fabulous. The video is definitely a little odd, but since it was the 1980s, I’ll give it a pass. It’s fun and the song is great, and really, that’s all that matters!

7. This Song- George Harrison

George’s quirky sense of humor is definitely showcased in this hilarious, Monty Python-esque video! (which I think was directed by Eric Idle) The song itself is mocking the court case in which George was sued for plagiarism over “My Sweet Lord”, and the video makes a complete mockery of the court system itself. Georgie looks gorgeous in this video with his long, wavy hair, and I love his cute dance moves and expressions that he makes throughout the video. This video is pretty much a party, and it rocks!

6. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word- Elton John

I’ll admit that along with Junior’s Farm, this is the most superficial choice on this list. Why? Because the only reason why I love this video, other than the beautiful song itself, is the fact that Elton John just looks so darn attractive here! I do love him with the glasses too, of course, but seeing his beautiful eyes is always nice. And that is all I have to say about that. 🙂

5. Say Say Say- Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

See, even without Thriller, Michael Jackson did make it on this list, but not without a little help from his friend Paul McCartney! I think this video is just hilarious. It’s so goofy and fun, and it’s nice to see Paul and Michael together before Michael bought, excuse me, STOLE the rights to all of the Beatles songs!!! 🙂

4. Free as a Bird- The Beatles

I know this isn’t my #1 favorite music video, but it is hands down in my opinion the most brilliant music video ever made. It actually won the Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video in 1997, and rightfully so. It’s just amazing how so many aspects of the Beatles’ lives and career are so beautifully melded together in this one video. There are a lot of subtle references to various lyrics in various Beatles songs hidden throughout the video, and I think it’s fun to try to find all of them! If you can’t be bothered, just sit back and enjoy a wonderful video and a beautiful song from the best band ever.

3. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart- Elton John and Kiki Dee

After searching for this video on Youtube for weeks, I finally found it! (but not on Youtube)
I actually could not stop squealing with delight as I watched this video, for many reasons. First, I think it’s the cutest, yet most awkward music video I’ve ever seen. Without his piano, Elton looks like he has no idea what to do with his arms, and I love how he just keeps moving them randomly. Apparently this was a spur-of-the-moment video and was filmed in one take, which definitely shows in the occasional missed cues. Still, I just love this! It’s so cute! The “dance break” is hilarious, but my favorite part comes at about 2:30 in the video, where Elton kisses the little flap on the front of Kiki’s overalls and then makes a really funny, “Did I do that?” face! How I wish I could have been in her place… Elton is such a cutie pie. Ahhh, this song is so catchy and this video is wonderful!!!

2. Crackerbox Palace- George Harrison

Another goofy, Python-esque video from the lovely George Harrison! This one is also directed by Eric Idle, which definitely shows because there are many random things in this video, like elves, that wouldn’t really make sense outside of a Python/Harrison environment. This videos always cheers me up and makes me smile. Once again, George’s hairstyle here is one of my favorites of his, and I love how relaxed and happy he looks. Happy George = Happy me!!!

1. Ever Present Past- Paul McCartney

This, folks, is my #1 favorite music video. Why? Well, it’s Paul McCartney, in a suit and Converse, dancing adorably in his old age to a wonderful and catchy song. That really should be enough. But seriously, this video is just awesome. Paulie is still so cute! As proven years before in Magical Mystery Tour, out of the four Beatles, Paul is by far the best dancer. He has a great sense of rhythm and actually looks graceful doing the moves. The brilliance of this video is rather self-explanatory, and Paul is a musical genius. The end. 🙂

Honorable mentions for this include my entire “Hilarious Beatle Promos” post. Check it out if you haven’t already!
Have a great week!