Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Beatles' Remastered Catalogue


Their first record begins where any 60's pop band would. A mixture of old standards, love ballads, and love pop songs. This is a dull album save "I Saw Her Standing There", the title track, and the select few that have gone on to be classics. Although full of covers, it does begin to show the Lennon-McCartney dynamic and how it developed over the years. This album is more respectable because of what it started, rather than how it sounds.


Another year, another album for the Beatles, another 2 singles meshed with 12 others on a LP for 30 minutes. This is perhaps evidence that every group, even *gasp* the Beatles, had a sophomore slump. This shows that the pressure on a group has always been high after a well received record. Let me reiterate a point, and my outlook for these reviews: I am not going to look at every Beatles album as a classic. This is a flaw that most reviews of their records have. When this came out, no one thought that the Beatles would be the biggest thing in the world, so I'm reviewing it based on sound, the songs, with a small thought of influence and the fact that it's the Beatles. This album suffers from "single-itis" worse than the record before. Standouts are the blissfully in love "All my Loving", and little George singing "Roll Over Beethoven". How cute, the Beatles make their first mess up; however, this album shows a lot of progress in the strength of their writing, and choice of covers.


Here we go! Their first great record. From the first track, it doesn't seem like much has changed, but when listening deeper, it's clear that the Beatles had definitely searched deeper for their songs and it shows. The Beatles become self aware on "A Hard Day's Night". George's 12 string guitar jangles all across the world, and inspires all musicians who heard it to go and buy a Rickenbacker (see the Byrds). Even the regular songs on this album are easy to listen to. The album covers shows the Beatles playful, creative, and artistic, which is exactly what happened on this one. "And I Love Her" is gorgeous.


The album cover shows four grimaced, faux-bad ass Brits. By 1964, the Beatles were superstars and they knew it. This is the point in their career where they could release absolute garbage (see Let It Be) and it'd still go number 1 for a week or two. "Beatles For Sale", however, is not garbage. This was their second LP in one year, and that's an accomplishment in itself. They've still got some covers, but their songwriting is being developed more and more, and more and more great songs are coming out on the records. Unfortunately, there are still too many sub par songs typical of a 60's group that don't deserve very much merit. Listen to "Eight Days A Week" and call it a day.


The album title says it all. Enthusiastic, progressive; Help! has more happy songs than somber, lame ones. The listener deserves this. All songwriters are showing incredible progress, and there are more great songs on this record than any of the other ones. The first side is almost perfect. This album has several "classics" that we've come to know and love from these guys. "Help!" is also perhaps the first album with a strong core. It builds on what "A Hard Day's Night" had, and expands it in a more "Rubber Soul" kind of way. And this album helps them get from the poppy, early 60's vibe, to the next record. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", "Ticket to Ride".


Expanding on what "Help!" started, "Rubber Soul" takes the folk-rock genre that the group explored even further. Also, this LP started the elements of psychedelia that would come to fruition on "Sgt. Pepper" and so on. The psychedelic font and long, messed up hair on the cover says it all; the 60's were changing, and so were the Beatles. This album is their first incredible album. The sitar in "Norwegian Wood", the more thoughtful love songs like "You Won't See Me", the lulling, francophile "Michelle", this album is the first one where the great songs out weigh the mediocre ones. This album also bred competition with The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson heard "Rubber Soul" and was inspired to write "Pet Sounds"; the Beatles heard "Pet Sounds" and were inspired to write "Revolver". The folk-rock meets jangly pop take their sound to the most mature level yet. Harrison shines on the 12 string "If I Needed Someone", and Ringo is given a token lead vocal on "What Goes On" (see Sufjan Stevens). "Rubber Soul" was a key stepping stone to all future records for the Beatles, and brought folk-rock to the mainstream (see Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Hollies).


Enter psychedelia, stage right. Just look at the fab four's faces on the cover. They look suspicious, ambitious, busy, and apathetic all at once. However, this record is in no way apathetic. "Revolver" isn't just a psychedelic record; this record tests the boundaries of typical pop formats, experimental instrumentation, and stereophonic arrangements. The sound is a little muted, and very wintery. There is a certain empty space that is in each of these songs, at times filled with horns and strings, vocals, or just backwards guitar ("I'm Only Sleeping"). Continuing the sitar contributions, this album has the biggest touch by Harrison, and shows some of his greatest songs. One could even call this record baroque. By 1966, the Beatles were looking and sounding like adults, and the songs reflect that. "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" are incredible tracks from Lennon, while Harrison shines on "I Want to Tell You", and the funky "Taxman". "Revolver" is the first record that leaves the listener saying "wow" after listening.


A true classic, you can't argue that. What this record did to inspire other musicians is unmeasurable. While I can't argue that it's an incredible record, I can argue that it's not the best of all time (see Rolling Stones' list of 500 greatest [?] albums). It was now intensely clear that the Beatles were doing a lot of drugs, and they were making some of the most incredible songs of all time. The recording was at times meticulous, but it definitely payed off. The instrumentation and arranging was artistically pioneered. A record of monolithic achievements, and small faults ("Good Morning"); John Lennon's contributions are the weakest, and "Sgt. Pepper" was clearly a sign of McCartney's genius coming to fruition. This record is the first time that McCartneys out shine, out do, and really tarnish Lennon's contributions (save "A Day in the Life). "Within You Without You", Harrion's sole contribution, is a pristine, climactic, Indian jam. Wow, wow, wow. Does anyone else wish that the intro to "Lovely Rita" should go on forever? I do...


Take one look at the silly (stupid) costumes the Beatles are wearing on this cover. Take one look at that...interesting...cover and say to yourself this is a great album. Doesn't really fit does it? One would not associate mastery with random animal outfits and psychedelic eclecticism, and unfortunately, this album lacks the mastery and cohesiveness that "Sgt. Pepper" had. We are now in a different world for albums, we are no in the post-Sgt. Pepper era.

Most of the songs on "MMT" are singles or outtakes from "Sgt. Pepper" anyways. This album also has a darker, more distant face to it; George Harrison's dark violins drown in a sea of organs on "Blue Jay Way", a stand out on this LP. On a lighter note, the would-be classics "I am the Walrus", "Penny Lane" and "Hello, Goodbye" bring this album a lighter edge, and brings listeners those pop songs that they've come to expect, something they'll miss after the "White Album" hits. Perhaps this record is their last summer in innocense before growing up. Perhaps it's their last hoorah of fun, whimsical, no worries songs. Nonetheless, "MMT" is a return to their barely par, mediocre albums before "Rubber Soul".


What do you get when you take the biggest band in the world, bored with success, on a plane to India for an unset amount of time? An eclectic, unpredictable double album. This album showed the growing rift in each of the Beatles' opinions on how things should be. Everyone was writing; not only writing, but writing more and sometimes better than ever before. Each of them had a set idea of what they wanted "The Beatles" to be, and that was slightly different to each of them. But what's great about the "White Album" is that despite the differences, they all put forth their songs. Their writing was better, and there were more recording avenues than ever before that allowed them to pursue their ideas. Again, most of the crappy songs are by Lennon, whose good contributions are becoming more and more rare. McCartney has grown up, and is showing his individual strength in writing and instrumentation. Harrison has also grown up, and his contributions are perhaps the greatest. Highlights are the luring "Dear Prudence", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Martha My Dear", "Mother Nature's Son", and "Long, Long, Long". Most of their songs are joined by orchestration, which compliments their pop formats greatly.


This is it. This is what the Beatles were made to create. "Abbey Road" is the ultimate stepping stone for them. If "Sgt. Pepper" was their best album in terms of innovation, concept, and instrumentation; then "Abbey Road" is their best album in terms of songwriting, technique, musical merit, and guts. This is it.

"Come Together" demonstrates how Paul McCartney sounds when his bass skills grow a pair. That grooving Rickenbacker glides through Lennon's song like a salmon swimming upstream. Harrion's "Something" is not only his best songwriting effort, but one of the best Beatles' song in general. In fact, it's so good that some people even believed that Lennon and McCartney had written it instead. McCartney's contributions on this album are sometimes insufferable, unfortunately. Starr and Harrison come together on "Octopus' Garden"'s jangle, child-like, under the sea extravaganza. On the almost 8 minute "I Want You", the Beatles are at their most impressive, jaw-dropping musical level yet. McCartney's basslines are walking and dynamic, the organ is evil and crunchy, Ringo's fills crash and roar, and the lead guitar is Clapton-cum-Hendrix, if you asked me.

On side 2, Harrison again knocks all the songs out of the water with "Here Comes the Sun". This song only confirms the fact that he is the best beatle musician. The rest of the side, is an entire contiuous suite; an spectacular, immaculate one I might add. They even use major 7th chords on "Because" and "Sun King", whose dreamy, spacy group vocals make you want to float down a stream or float off into a large orange summer sky. The greatest of these 1-2 minute clips in the suite, "Polythene Pam/She Came in Through the Bathroom Window". McCartney shows his name dropping story telling, and Harrison his climactic, decisive guitar. The Beatles had been waiting 10 years to write these songs, and they never even played them live. "The End" is just as much "All You Need is Love" as it is "Here, There and Everywhere". And you've gotta love "Her Majesty" tagged on to the end of it, ending the Beatles' last great album. "Let it Be" is not worth mentioning and will not be appended to this review.
Farewell, and remember that I reviewed these albums as albums themselves. It is not up to me to tell you that they're classic or not; as time has already proven that. Rather, to show how each album compares to something today, and to each other.

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