I was born in 1970, the same year The Beatles released Let It Be, and subsequently took their own advice and broke up. I grew up hearing plenty of Beatles hits on the radio, but aside from a taped copy of Abbey Road given to me by an ex-girlfriend in the 80’s, I’ve never owned any Beatles albums.
That all changed this year.
This year, I bought one album a month, which gave me their whole studio catalog (OK, there were 13 albums, but I slotted in the songs from Yellow Submarine that I didn’t have from other album purchases). I have not bought the Anthology albums. Yet.
My general knowledge about the history of The Beatles was limited to widespread folklore and the music I’d heard on the radio over the years. It’s fair to say that my historical knowledge of The Beatles is still pretty limited compared to the hardcore fans out there, but this year’s listening has opened my eyes and my mind to a few things. In point form:
- Just how progressive The Beatles were – I knew that The Beatles grew as a band, but I had no idea how much they grew. The sugary-sweet songs of their early albums are wonderful, but the sounds get incredibly experimental as you move through the catalog. You have to keep reminding yourself that these songs were recorded in the 1960’s because when your iPod’s on shuffle, it’s so easy to hear one of their later songs and think it’s some contemporary artist that you might have just picked up. I didn’t realise how widespread their influence became. I thought Jimi Hendrix changed music (which he did). The Beatles tipped music completely on its head.
- The absolute genius of John Lennon – Paul McCartney delivers some very memorable songs (Rocky Raccoon, Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Helter Skelter and Oh Darling are some of my favourites) but The Beatles were at their best when John Lennon was working his magic. I’m sure he must have been difficult to work with as he grew as an artist, but thank your chosen deity that they all persisted. I’m going to be collecting Lennon’s solo works next year.
- The off-beat stuff – Songs like Piggies, I Am The Walrus and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer don’t just make you scratch your head. They stick with you and sometimes it’s most unexpected. These guys could make nearly anything sound good.
- The occasional dark side – Maxwell’s Silver Hammer comes to mind immediately. But the one the takes the cake is Run For Your Life (from Rubber Soul) with lyrics like “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man”. The song continues in the same manner right through. I don’t want to be accused of being too literal here, but it is a disturbing song. There is some written history (how accurate, we don’t know) of Lennon abusing his first wife, Cynthia, on the odd occasion. Songs like this one should be confined to another age, though sadly, they’re not.
- Ringo – I’m completely surprised by the fact that I always look forward to hearing the songs Ringo sang, especially Honey Don’t, Act Naturally and Octopus’ Garden. Ringo was always the dopiest Beatle to me and I didn’t anticipate this, but I love his work.
An aside – is Ringo Starr the luckiest man alive, or what? Lands on his feet as a Beatle, then lands on his feet afterwards with the whole Thomas the Tank Engine gig. He has an unlikely golden touch, of sorts. Either that or he’s just been in the right place at the right time more than once.
Addendum: A friend sent me this overnight, which sums up Ringo quite nicely:
Apparently John Lennon, when asked in an interview if Ringo was the best drummer in the world, jokingly (?) replied “He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles”.
Drive My Car – Rubber Soul
Good Day Sunshine – Revolver
Oh Darling – Abbey Road
Come Together – Abbey Road
Twist and Shout – Please Please Me
Back In The USSR – The Beatles (White Album)
Strawberry Fields Forever – Magical Mystery Tour
Yer Blues – The Beatles (White Album)
Get Back – Let It Be
I Want You – Abbey Road
Rock And Roll Music – Beatles For Sale
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – Help!
Eleanor Rigby – Revolver
You Really Got A Hold On Me – With The Beatles
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Album of the same name.[hr]
Revolver is my favourite Beatles album. With that said, I like ’em all, but I really love Revolver.
The love starts with Taxman, one of my favourite Beatles songs and one that’ll head the list of Best Beatles Songs I Hadn’t Heard Before 2013 (see below). It follows with the classic Eleanor Rigby and the dreamy I’m Only Sleeping. Then they get their sitar on, with Love You To, which is one of those songs that sounds so much younger than it is. Tomorrow Never Knows is revolutionary in all sorts of ways and is an achievement that bands have been trying to replicate ever since, with very few seeing success.
Other favourites are the feel-good Good Day Sunshine, the beautiful And Your Bird Can Sing and the rocking Got To Get You Into My Life (which sounds sweet and lovey-dovey, but it apparently about pot).
Revolver is a cracker of an album although it has maybe the worst of the the Beatles album covers. My second favourite album, Rubber Soul, has the best Beatles album cover IMHO. It’s all in the font.[hr]
Favourite Beatles Songs I’d Not Heard Before 2013
Taxman – Revolver
You Really Got A Hold On Me – With The Beatles
And Your Bird Can Sing – Revolver
The Word – Rubber Soul
Girl – Rubber Soul
Hey Bulldog – Yellow Submarine
Happiness Is A Warm Gun – White Album
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey – White Album
Kansas City (Hey Hey Hey Hey) – Beatles For Sale
Tell Me Why – A Hard Day’s Night
This year with the Beatles has been immensely rewarding. I’m glad I took the time. I’ll probably get The Anthology albums in 2014 and I’ll definitely collect John Lennon’s solo works.
The Beatles are one of the few bands in history where you know a fair bit about them simply by virtue of the fact that you’re alive, breathing and at least somewhat aware of popular culture.
There’s so much more to learn, though, and so many layers to their music. It’s an ongoing journey that I’m very much looking forward to.