“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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Beatle Book Review: “You Never Give Me Your Money”

you never give me your money

To anyone who has read my blog in the year since I last posted, hello! I am back this summer with a lot of ideas for blog posts, so get ready for some more posts from me in the upcoming weeks and months. In the meantime, today I thought I’d kick off my summer blogging season by discussing a Beatles book that I recently finished reading. “You Never Give Me Your Money,” by Peter Doggett, was published in 2009 and chronicles many of the non-musical events that dominated the Beatles’ lives in the late ’60s and into their solo careers. I was aware of some of the higher profile figures and events that this book discusses, such as the Allen Klein debacle, before reading this book. However, “You Never Give Me Your Money” goes into incredible detail about this and other contentious business situations. After reading this book, it remains even more of a miracle that the Beatles managed to release any music after 1968, let alone continue to reinvent themselves with every album.

One of the most prominent characters in this book, besides the Beatles themselves, is the incredible amount of legal drama that followed the Beatles from the late 1960s through the early part of the 21st century. Many of these court cases stemmed from the formation of Apple Records in 1968, which was initially designed as a way for the Beatles to provide monetary and artistic support for aspiring musicians. I had learned about Apple through some Beatles interviews I’ve watched, but this book makes it clear that Apple was absolutely a nightmare for the Beatles to keep up with.

From continuous battles between Apple and EMI Records, to battles between Apple Records and Apple computers later on, to the endless amount of “spinoff” companies that Apple generated, it is just mind-boggling how out-of-control this project became. I found it amusing how much of a backseat the Beatles’ musical output took in this book, to the point where it almost seemed like a footnote: “In the midst of court cases, group tensions, and a poorly run business empire that would haunt them for the rest of their lives, the Beatles also released the White Album, Let it Be, and oh yeah, Abbey Road.” Though it is upsetting to learn about all of the in-group fracturing and tension from this time, it also makes their remarkable musical achievements even more impressive given the circumstances.

I also learned a lot more than I ever intended to about how many businessmen the Beatles wrongly trusted during this time, namely Allen Klein. He became their manager after Brian Epstein died in 1967, and Paul apparently mistrusted Klein from the beginning while the other three all believed in him. This led to a barrage of court cases and lawsuits that continued for years, and I previously had no idea how involved Linda McCartney’s family was in these cases (her dad and brother became Paul’s lawyers) or how incredibly difficult it was to extricate Klein from the Beatles’ affairs once he had gotten involved. It just goes to show that the Beatles were clearly musicians first, not businessmen, and that the steady guidance that Brian Epstein provided them during their early years was perhaps more necessary to their success than it was given credit for.

This book also provided a lot of insight into the Beatles’ personal lives, especially John and Yoko’s relationship. I went into this book vaguely knowing their story, and I have to say I am no bigger fan of either of them after reading this book. Though Paul will never say flat-out that “Yoko broke up the Beatles,” it certainly seems like her relationship with John and constant presence in the studio put a huge strain on the band’s relationship and led to John becoming disinterested with continuing his Beatles involvement. Of course, even casual Beatles fans could come to that conclusion, but “You Never Give Me Your Money” goes into incredible depth about the various ups and downs with John and Yoko through the years, even aside from his famous “Lost Weekend” in Los Angeles. I was not previously aware of how tense their relationship was at times during the 1970s even when they were living together in New York.

It is also frustrating to read that John was literally about to go write with Paul again several times throughout the 1970s, when Yoko stopped him and basically forbade him from doing so, or manipulated him into not visiting Paul when he had planned to. There’s no telling that anything musical would have come of it, but this book makes clear that she wanted John to have absolutely no part in a Beatles reunion, which is annoying, but not surprising, for any devoted fan to read. However, this was all news to me, so I do appreciate how much new information I learned from reading this book even if some of it was disappointing.

If there’s one qualm I have about this book, it’s that its structure sometimes feels as haphazard as the episodes in Beatles history that it is describing. Many chapters flip-flop between multiple individual stories about John, Paul, George, and Ringo that have nothing to do with each other. I applaud the author for closely following the chronology of the events he writes about by stacking them all up next to each other, but to make the book an easier read I would have noted a clearer separation between sections that pertain directly to different Beatles.

I was also hoping for slightly more detail about George, of course, particularly about his involvement with Monty Python and how he met his second wife Olivia. The book provides great detail about how John and Yoko met, as well as Paul and Linda’s early relationship, but George and Ringo’s marriages do not get nearly as much book time (probably because they weren’t as directly entangled with the Beatles’ story, but still). With the significant involvement that Olivia now has in the Beatles empire, I think she deserved more attention in this book. However, “You Never Give Me Your Money” never shies away from admitting that its main focus is “Beatles legal and relationship drama through the years,” so if Olivia and Barbara Bach (Ringo’s wife) did not cause that much drama, then just as well that they don’t have a huge focus in this book.

With that all said, I learned more new information about the Beatles from this book than I have in a long time, possibly since I read “The Beatles Anthology” book years ago. It is truly insightful and provides a lot of new information for fans like me who already know the wistful, triumphant version of the Beatles’ story and are looking for some edgier details. If you think you know everything about the Beatles already, this book will prove you wrong.  Yes, it’s a bit depressing to read in parts, and no Beatle comes across as a saint here. But I am so glad I read this book, and I look forward to having it as a reference in my “Beatles library” for years to come.

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.” 🙂

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.

 

A Beatles Buzzfeed Bonanza

The Beatles circa 1964, likely taking one of the Buzzfeed quizzes posted below... :)

The Beatles circa 1964, likely taking one of the Buzzfeed quizzes posted below… 🙂

 

Today I’ve decided to combine two of my favorite things, the Beatles and Buzzfeed quizzes, into one post. I confess that I, like many of you I’m sure, occasionally find myself taking random quizzes on Buzzfeed just to entertain myself and pass the time. They are definitely addicting, especially when there are a whole bunch of Buzzfeed quizzes related to a topic I enjoy, like Harry Potter, Parks and Rec, theater, vegetables, and of course, the Beatles. I’ve come across many fun Beatles buzzfeed quizzes and articles over the years, and I will compile some of them for you in this post! Enjoy!

How Well Do You Know The Beatles?

I thought this one was laughably easy, in that I actually laughed out loud because I knew each one right away. Nevertheless, it’s a good quiz to make you feel like you haven’t tried that hard but still know everything about the Beatles.

Which Beatle Are You?

This quiz is not quite as straightforward as you may initially think… Instead of just the four Beatles as the four possible answers, you also have the option of being a Beatle in a certain period of their existence. For example, I got “Late 60s Paul McCartney,” although I’m pretty sure I once got “Psychedelic George Harrison” as my answer. Perhaps I put a different favorite pattern in the beginning this time, I don’t know. Honestly there’s no wrong answer for this one! (unless you get Pete Best or something, I’m so sorry if you did)

Can You Guess The Beatles Song From Its Opening Lyric?

Thankfully I got 21/21 on this one, but some of it was a bit tricky! I found myself singing most of the lyrics in my head as I read them, which made it much easier to guess the associated song title. This is a slightly more intermediate level Beatles quiz than the first quiz I posted, so if you’re feeling confident in your Beatles fandom after taking that one, go for this one next!

How Big Of A Beatles Fan Are You?

Okay, this quiz is hard. I got 18/20, and some of the ones I got right were complete guesses. This is definitely one of the hardest Beatles trivia quizzes I’ve taken. I am now a humbled Beatles fan who fully admits that she does not know everything about them. But it’s okay because now I realize that I have more random Beatles facts to learn! Yay learning!

19 Things Only Beatles Fans Will Find Funny

Finally, this is not a quiz, but it is a compilation of amusing Beatles-related GIFs, pictures, memes, etc. It is glorious. Enjoy!

I have a couple of ideas for what I could post next, but if any of you have suggestions about a post I should do, please comment below! Thank you!