Friday, April 26, 2013

The Beatles - Revolver

As I said, I see Rubber Soul and Revolver as being pretty tightly linked together.  Their sounds are very similar in a lot of ways.  I may listen to Rubber Soul slightly more often than Revolver, but not by much. 

  1. "Taxman" - Remember how I said George's song writing would be getting better soon?  Well here it is.  A strong opener to the album and just an all around great song.
  2. "Eleanor Rigby" - Such a depressing song.  It's interesting how Paul seems to operate at extremes, writing things that are really sad or overly sweet.  I tend to go back and forth on this song, but I think that has more to do with whether or not I'm in the mood for it.  It's very good for what it is.
  3. "I'm Only Sleeping" - From the backwards guitar solo to the wonderful dreamlike quality of the vocals, I really like this song.  Don't we all wish we could be this lazy sometimes?
  4. "Love You To" -I had no memory of this song and then I looked it up and saw it was one of George's Indian influenced songs, and it all made sense.  While I respect his willingness to try something different and he no doubt exposed many people to a style they otherwise never would have heard, I'm just not a fan of the droning nature of this type of music.  It's a little too sleep inducing for me.
  5. "Here, There, and Everywhere" - Here's the sweet side of Paul's songwriting.  It's a pretty good one, though not really one of my favorites.
  6. "Yellow Submarine" - I'm sure there are people out there who don't like this song, given how repetitive the chorus can be.  But for me it's just a silly bit of fun and I love the background voices of them mimicking the crew working on the submarine.
  7. "She Said She Said" -Another strong one from John, showing him pushing that harder edge into their music that's always a lot of fun.  It also has quite the interesting story behind it.
  8. "Good Day Sunshine" -This song kind of has the feel of a TV commercial jingle, which is why I'm pretty sure it's been used as one at some point.  It's just a good bouncy kind of song that's fun to sing along to. (I could not resist using the cartoon clip.  How adorable are the cartoon designs?)
  9. "And Your Bird Can Sing" -Another one I first heard through that Shared Vision CD, and another one of my more obscure favorites.  There's also a  great outtake on the second Anthology that features John and Paul giggling hysterically while trying to record overdubs.
  10. "For No One" - A somber song from Paul, which works so well because of its simplicity.  I think you can really hear the sadness of what he's feeling in it.
  11. "Doctor Robert" - Definitely the most obvious of the drug inspired songs on the album, it always makes me wonder about what it was like to live in the 60s, when a lot of those drugs were new and no one really understood what they did or what the long term effects of using them would be, but let's just go for it.  It's such a difference from how things are today with a wealth of information being shared from both sides of the fence.  As far as the song itself, it's good with some great harmonies on that breakdown (middle eight?  I didn't take music theory so I'm guessing that's what it is.)
  12. "I Want to Tell You" - Another one I didn't really remember at all until I heard it again. It's a George song, and it's okay.  I like the lyrics more than the music.
  13. "Got to Get You into My Life" -The horns are really what make this one so distinctive.  It's enjoyable, though not one of my favorites.
  14. "Tomorrow Never Knows" - For a really long time I never listened to this song.  It was too odd for me.  It was only much later that I came to appreciate it for the experimental piece that it is.  All the little tape loops are certainly a predecessor to the electronic music of today.  
So overall a pretty strong album, and another absolute recommendation for me.  While this is the end of my favorite era of the Beatles, we're not going to hit that sharp of a decline from here on out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Beatles - Rubber Soul

Now we're really getting into the good stuff.  This is my personal favorite era of the Beatles, where they were first starting to experiment but not getting too weird and the lyrics were becoming much more personal.

  1. "Drive My Car" - Well okay, I didn't mean they were all personal!  But there's no doubt this is a funny, catchy song and it's pretty hard to resist singing along with.
  2. "Norwegian Wood" - It's the first appearance of the sitar on a Beatles' track and otherwise just a very strongly influenced Dylan tune.  I love the juxtaposition of such a mellow sounding song and the lyrics saying he's doing something as destructive as setting furniture on fire.
  3. "You Won't See Me" - Paul is clearly still having trouble with Jane Asher at this point.  Can you imagine what it must be like, to hear your relationship problems recorded for all the world?  I imagine so many years later, both Jane and Cynthia Lennon have adjusted to this quite well, but at the time it must have been such a strange feeling.  As far as the song itself, I really like its somber yet poppy tone.
  4. "Nowhere Man" - Harmonies, harmonies, oh how I love harmonies.  The subject matter is somehow sad and also hopeful at the same time.Or maybe not hopeful but at least comforting, the idea that while we all feel alone and going nowhere sometimes, the fact that it's a common experience means we're not really alone at all.  It's songs like this that make me love John as much as I do.
  5. "Think for Yourself" - George now tries his hand at this newer style of song writing.  Musically it's pretty basic, and lyrically it sounds really jaded to me.  Which is probably a bit of honesty, as George never really seemed cut out for the huge amount of fame that the Beatles experienced.  I don't blame him, I don't know that I could handle that either.
  6. "The Word" - The word I think of when I think about this song?  Hippies.  This kind of thinking just has not aged well at all, regardless of the good intentions behind it.
  7. "Michelle" - I don't remember what comedian it was who talked about thinking that the words to this were "Someday monkey play piano song" but it's hard not to think about it when I hear the song.  Beyond that though, this is just a simple, sweet song, but it's one that I really enjoy.  I had a friend who was actually named after this song and she and I bonded over the Beatles quite a bit, so it may be happy memories coming back whenever I hear it.
  8. "What Goes On" - This song is fairly unique in that it is credited to Lennon, McCartney, and Starkey, meaning that Ringo did help to write the song, though he admits that it was a pretty small contribution.Once again it's country so it's never going to be on my list of favorites,  but it's good for what it is.  There's also a moment where after Ringo sings "Tell me why" you can very faintly hear John say "We already told you why!" in reference to the song on the last album.  I have a habit of turning the track way up so I can hear it every time.
  9. "Girl" - The song itself is a little too dreary for me most of the time, but there's no denying they did some interesting things with it.  It's a precursor to them really pushing the boundaries on their later albums.
  10. "I'm Looking Through You" - Another bouncy song about a rather sad situation.  It seems to be a recurring theme here.  It's a good one.
  11. "In My Life" - Probably the best love song John ever wrote.  The fact that it works both as a song for lovers and a song for friends, for people still living and those who have passed on, is part of what makes it so great.  Just an all around beautiful song. (I also couldn't resist linking to the fantastic edit of clips they used this song with in The Beatles Anthology)
  12. "Wait"  - On an album with so many really strong songs, this one pales by comparison.  It's good for what it is, but it's not entirely special either.
  13. "If I Needed Someone" - A slightly more positive sounding song than "Think for Yourself" but still nowhere near as strong as the Lennon-McCartney songs on the album.  Don't worry, George, you'll get better very soon.
  14. "Run For Your Life" -  I could easily admonish John for once again threatening a woman when he's talking about cheating on other tracks on the album, but in the last couple years I heard something that changed how I view this song.  The line "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man," is ripped straight from an Elvis song "Baby Let's Play House" so you could almost see this song as some kind of strange tribute to such a twisted line.  I also have this strange fascination with songs where the person is threatening or talking about murdering someone, and this song definitely belongs on that list. (Toadies' "Possum Kingdom" and Soundgarden's "Burden in My Hand" are also on that playlist, if you're curious.)
I love this album, and consider it essential listening for Beatles appreciation.  I also consider it to be tightly connected to Revolver, which we'll be looking at next!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Beatles - Help! (album and film)

Similar to A Hard Day's Night, Help's side A contains all music from the film, while side B features two covers and some more original songs.  But is it as strong overall as that other soundtrack album?  Let's see.

  1. "Help!" - Let's hit the ground running with a great one, right?  The story goes that the film was going to be called Eight Arms to Hold You until John ended up writing this song.  It fits the film well with the Beatles constantly running away from Ringo's dilemma and it's just a great song besides.  It's also a great intro to this start of a new direction for the Beatles.  While the songs are still largely about relationships, they're becoming more about specific instances rather than just general I love you/I miss you kind of things.
  2. "The Night Before" - Before Linda came along Paul had a long standing relationship with Jane Asher, and it's pretty clear that around this time they were having quite a bit of trouble.  Nearly all of his songs are about such troubles.  This one is not fantastic, but still a pretty strong one.
  3. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" - Reportedly a song John wrote for their gay manager Brian Epstein, it's a wonderfully sad song that always tugs at my heartstrings.  I love the strong presence of the acoustic guitar and the flute.  Paul described this as John mocking Bob Dylan, and you can certainly hear the resemblance. Bonus fun: Listen to the first 30 seconds of this clip where Paul breaks a glass in the background and John makes up a silly song on the spot.
  4. "I Need You" - It's time for George's song.  It's average.  There's some neat little percussion bits in there, but overall it's a kind of sleeper song.
  5. "Another Girl" - This is sort of Paul's version of "If I Fell," except he's speaking directly to the ex rather than the new girl.  It's certainly a much more positive take on the issue.  He's still trying to make the old girl jealous, but he's doing it largely by telling her how great the new one is.  It's also fun and upbeat and very catchy.
  6. "You're Going to Lose That Girl" - Another love triangle song, but now it's about threatening to take a girl away if you don't treat her right, so I guess we're on a better track here.  The harmonies and percussion are really what shine in this song to me.
  7. "Ticket to Ride" - John once called this the first heavy metal song.  At first listen, that may sound far fetched, but I think if you listen to both the guitars and way he's singing, you can hear how this could have influenced the metal singers of the 70s.  Regardless it's a great song and a great way to end side A.
  8. "Act Naturally" - Ringo sings the first of the two covers on this album, no doubt because he wasn't quite ready to write his own songs yet.  Once again it suits his voice really well and I think it's one of my favorite Ringo songs.  Listening to the original, they didn't deviate too much from it.  That one has just a little too much twang in it for my tastes though.
  9. "It's Only Love" - Another somber one from John, and another one I've always really enjoyed.  I love the way he goes crooner level high at some parts.
  10. "You Like Me Too Much" - This song sounds more like their earlier albums.  It's another George song, and it makes me think that in terms of writing he wasn't quite ready to leave that style just yet.
  11. "Tell Me What You See" - I had to look this one up because I couldn't remember it.  A few seconds in I found myself getting the urge to skip it, because apparently that's what I always did when listening to this album.  It's just really boring.
  12. "I've Just Seen a Face" - I've always really liked the fast pace of this one.  It's a different spin from most country songs you normally here.
  13. "Yesterday" - I don't have to tell you about this one.  You've heard it, you've heard it covered ten million times no doubt, you probably already know it's the first Beatles song that contained only one Beatle and just backing musicians.  At the time it sparked rumors that Paul would go solo.  To be quite honest I'm downright bored with it by now from hearing it so often, but there's no denying it's good for what it is.  I learned how to play the basic melody of this one on the keyboard way back in 8th grade, so I obviously liked it a bit more back then.
  14. "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" - Well hello oddball cover track that doesn't belong on this album.  Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen a more obvious instance where they had to fill up the rest of the record space so they fired off one more quick cover.  I always assumed this was a Little Richard song, but in fact it was sung by Larry Williams.  So now we all know.

After A Hard Day's Night was such a huge success, they decided to take a few more chances and go a bit more theatrical for their second film.  The result is a far zanier film, a more obvious comedy, and not something that could be labeled an art film very easily.  But that doesn't mean it isn't good.

The plot is simple if not a bit ludicrous - a girl who is part of a sacrificial cult sends Ringo their symbolic ring to avoid her own sacrifice.  Yeah, that's the one problematic part of the film, where the enemy is made up of "Easterners" and of course are all played by European actors.  But this was made in the 1960s after all.  Ringo puts on the ring not knowing what it is, and then can't get it off once he finds out.  He and the other Beatles spend the film trying to run away from the cult members, who chase them all over the world.  It feels a lot like an English comedy sketch show like Monty Python, and it should, because both that series and this film were inspired by the English radio program The Goon Show.

I love this style of humor so it's no surprise that I also love this film.  It's silly, it's random, and it has all kinds of crazy moments.  I love the set up of the house where the Beatles supposedly live and so many of the gags just thrown in throughout.  "The Exciting Adventure of Paul on the Floor" may be one of my favorite moments, but really the whole film is just so funny.

The music segments here are all straight up music videos, which makes sense as by this point they were making promotional videos to send out to television stations quite regularly.  This comes from my favorite era of Beatles history, and therefore I particularly love most of the songs here, Ticket to Ride perhaps being the best, both in song and performance.  We also once again get instrumental Beatles songs in the score.

This film may not be as easily accessible as A Hard Day's Night, but I think fans of British humor will enjoy it immensely.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Beatles - Beatles for Sale

This album was recorded at the height of the Beatles popularity, and its name is as tongue in cheek as the Beatles often were.  The record company wanted to push out another album to cash in on their success, and so they quickly recorded these songs with a large number of covers included to pad out the album.  But that doesn't mean it's all fluff.

  1. "No Reply" - Case in point, this is a good one.  There's an adorable outtake on the Beatles Anthology for this one where they flub the words halfway through and then continue the joke through to the end. 
  2. "I'm a Loser" - I find that whenever I'm home alone on a Friday or Saturday night for whatever reason while everyone else is out, I find myself singing the chorus of this song.  It doesn't really fit at all, because he's singing about being dumped, but the way they stretch out the O in loser just makes it so fun and generally makes me feel a little better even though I'm not out having fun.
  3. "Baby's In Black" - I don't really care for this too much.  There's some clever stuff going on here in the lyrics, but it just doesn't grab me like a lot of their other songs do.
  4. "Rock and Roll Music" - The first cover, originally a Chuck Berry song, which if you've been paying attention you know means I like it more than the original.  John just puts an energy to it that I find Berry's version lacking.
  5. "I'll Follow the Sun" - It's another somber Paul song.  It's not bad, not great.  It is very easy to sing along with.
  6. "Mr. Moonlight" - Another cover, and this one is just plain mediocre.  I blame the song itself rather than their performance.  Hear the original and see how close it is.
  7. "Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!" - Putting all these covers in a row just really makes it kind of painful to get through.  Though this is the perfect time to point out that Paul McCartney obviously secretly wished he was Little Richard around this time.
  8. "Eight Days a Week" - I like the way this one seems to never really start or end, with the fade in and fade out.  But of course the danger of that is it can essentially get stuck in your head repeating forever.
  9. "Words of Love" - A cover of a Buddy Holly song that has his distinctive style to it.  It's odd to hear the Beatles emulating it so closely.  It's not bad, it's just clearly not their song.
  10. "Honey Don't" - This cover is originally by Carl Perkins, and this is Ringo's token song of the album.  While I'm not much of a fan of country, there's no denying that it suits Ringo well.
  11. "Every Little Thing" - I had zero memory of this song when I started this review.  Hearing the chorus brings it back to me, but it is pretty forgettable over all.
  12. "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" - I am bothered by that title.  I'm not exactly sure why, though it does sound whiny.  The song itself is a little too country for my tastes.
  13. "What You're Doing" - I had no memory of this one either.  Stylistically it reminds of songs that Paul would write better on the later albums.  So I guess it serves well as a predecessor, but I'd rather listen to the other songs instead.
  14. "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" - Another cover of a Carl Perkins song, this one sung by George.  While the lyrics don't really seem to suit him, I do like the way he sings it and I like the upbeat nature of the song.  It also makes me wonder if its just coincidence that George and Ringo both sang Perkins songs or not.  Maybe they were both listening to his albums together around that time.  BONUS: Carl Perkins and George playing the song together!

Overall it's a weak album, but there are a few decent songs tucked in there.  It certainly doesn't belong on a list of essential Beatles albums, but I think it's worth at least one listen before moving on.
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