The Beatles – Abbey Road album review

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After the bad vibes of the sessions recording what would eventually become ‘Let It Be‘, it seemed that an another Beatles album may never happen, but remarkably just three weeks after those torrid sessions Paul phoned producer George Martin to arrange the beginning of  new recordings. The first session for ‘Abbey Road‘ began in February 1969, but the bulk was done months later over that summer (mainly to allow Ringo to film ‘The Magic Christian’).

The sessions were far more productive and lacked the tension the ‘Get Back/ Let It Be‘ recordings did, possibly due to McCartney and Lennon having a great time creating the single ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko‘ in April which helped ease tensions between them. Yoko would say that recording was important for John as he was facing continual criticism from the press for his famous peace bed-in stunt, “Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him. Paul has a very brotherly side to him.”

Abbey Road‘ would be the last album the Beatles ever recorded, but there is still some debate over whether they knew it at the time or not. George Marin would say later, “Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album – but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did.” And this appears to be the consensus of feeling at the time.

Martin, Ringo, George and Paul all said they were very happy with the album and the band showed unity not seen for some years. Harrison said of the recordings, “we did actually perform like musicians again.” And Lennon seemed far more focused and engaged this time round, compared to ‘Let It Be‘, contributing much more material.

However, Lennon was more dismissive of the album afterwards calling it junk etc. This may have just been his post-Beatles bitterness coming through as he spoke very positively of it in interviews during the recordings, and may have been influenced on reflection by tensions between Yoko and the rest of the band due to her insistence of having input to the songs, including after needing to be bed-ridden after a car crash demanding a bed be brought into the studio so she could oversee the recording sessions. Paul was even quoted as saying, “We just had to work around her – and walk around her. It was the madness of the times: you just had to put up with it. What could you do? You couldn’t say, ‘Get that bed out of here.’ She was John’s girl.”

But despite this the album went without a hitch and the Beatles managed to record some of their best material giving the band a proper last hurrah.

It was released in September in the UK, debuting at number 1, where it remained for 11 weeks before being displaced for one week by the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, then returning there for a further six weeks before being replaced by Led Zeppelin II. What a period for music that was!

Abbey Road sold four million copies in its first two months of release, and remains to this day their best-selling album.

Side One

After the near end of the Beatles’ in the tumultuous recording of ‘Let It Be’, the opening track ‘Come Together’ sounds like a rallying call for unity within the band. Lennon originally wrote it as a campaign song for pro-drugs activist Timothy Leary’s aborted political run for governor of California, but the song works a lot better as a Beatles’ opening tune that has plenty of funk and cool Lennon vocals that make this an absolute classic.

Lennon said he wrote it based on an old Chuck Berry song ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ and included the lyric from that song “”Here come old flat-top”, causing Chuck Berry’s estate to sue, despite the songs not sounding too similar even though the inspiration is obvious. To settle the claim, Lennon would agree to cover other Chuck Berry songs leading to the ill-advised covers album ‘Rock n Roll’ during his solo career.

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Something’ is a song many see as Harrison’s best, but personally it’s one I won’t put in my top five of Harrison’s Beatles work as I much prefer his Revolver to White Album era stuff. Even Harrison wasn’t initially sure about the song holding on to it for months without showing it to anyone because he couldn’t believe it could be as simple to write a good song as this one. But it was seen by many as the moment Harrison came out of the shadows of the Lennon/McCartney song writing duo to be a force in his own right. I’d argue this happened much earlier however.

Lennon would later say it was the best song on the album, McCartney would say it was Harrison’s best ever song and Sinatra once said it was his favourite Beatles song of all, even covering it (although James Brown cover trumps all others). It was allegedly written for Patti Boyd, Harrison’s then wife, who would later marry Eric Clapton and have ‘Layla’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’ written about her by him. Quite the muse really. Incidentally, something I didn’t realise until reading up on the song, Patti Boyd would divorce Harrison after his repeated affairs, with the final straw being catching him in bed with Ringo’s wife! Which is the first time I’d realised that had happened, bad bad George. Something Lennon called “virtual incest” later.

Despite it rather light-hearted tone ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was a major point of conflict during the recording process. Despite being a song Ringo said was their worst and Lennon absolutely hated, Paul quite liked it and spent as much as three days, or three weeks according to George, to record it. A considerable length given their first album took a day in total and it fed into Lennon’s accusations that Paul cared and put more effort into his own songs than anyone else’s, and was attempting to be the leader of the band.

The song itself is not one I enjoy; sounding like a reprise of the light-hearted songs about absurd characters heard on the White Album like ‘Bungalow Bill’ and ‘ob la di, ob la da’ without ever coming near to the heights of those songs. The violent imagery of the song also strikes a bum note and seems out of step with the usual good-nature of Beatles’ songs making Maxwell the most unlikeable of the Beatles’ character creations.

‘Oh! Darling’ has that great slow jam feel to it that reminds me of the brilliant ‘Yer Blues’ from the White Album. It’s great to hear a song that is a straight out love song, something of a rarity in the Lennon/McCartney outputs at this stage. The song is aided massively by a fantastic throat shredding vocal by McCartney given it a real heart and soul in what is probably one of his strongest vocals with the Beatles, although I can’t quite get over the idea this was a song tailor-made for Lennon to sing, but still an absolute highlight of the album.

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‘Octopus’s Garden’ was written weirdly in the two week period during the White Album sessions when Ringo had actually left the band. It was the second composition solely by Ringo after ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ on the White Album, and is the natural successive to the Yellow Submarine in many ways, with its underwater theme, whimsical Ringo vocals and colourful imagery. I’ve always been a big fan of Beatles’ songs sung by Ringo and this is a highlight, with surprisingly deep lyrics about escapism and getting away from the wicked world, which is probably how Ringo felt when he left the increasingly toxic atmosphere in the studio at the time. Some dismiss this as the Beatles’ baby music, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of fun and a good palette cleanse in-between the heavier, more challenging songs they produced.

‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ is a big heavy rock number Lennon wrote about his love for Yoko. Although Lennon talks about his relationship with Yoko as this beautiful love, this song has a lot of dark tones to it as Lennon repeats “I want you” almost as if obsessed or unable to think of anything else while the music bleeds a deep ominous heavy rock sound with big dirty guitar lines and an epic vocal from Lennon. It’s a simple song but an effective one that showed the Beatles could hit that heavier metal sound and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Led Zeppelins of the world.

Side Two

The Beatles’ corporate venture Apple Corps was at the time haemorrhaging money and all members were embroiled in constant accounting meetings. The constant need for this was straining the patience of all members, Harrison, so tired of signing document after document, decided to sack it off for the day and went to Eric Clapton’s house instead. The relief and freedom he felt that day was put into the song ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ The song is Harrison at his most optimistic and happy, the way I like him, and the song is one of his finest. A real upbeat, sunny day song that stands shoulder to shoulder with McCartney’s ‘Good Day Sunshine‘, with a really great acoustic guitar piece by Harrison and superb drumming from Ringo.  abbey road 2

While John is normally more associated with edgier Beatles’ material, down the years he wrote many beautiful songs, alongside his crazier ones. Because’ is the perfect example and possibly one of the band’s most beautiful moments. He based it on Beethoven sonata 5 played backwards after requesting Yoko play it for him on the piano. The three way harmonies are some of the best the band ever did, a real gorgeous gospel choir, uplifting heavenly feel to them that flow perfectly through the simplistic lyrics. Easily one of my favourites on the album, alongside being one of George’s and Paul’s favourites too.

The medley of songs that dominate the second half of the album is the Beatles last hooray. A crescendo of music that is an absolutely fantastic piece of work highlighting the quality they could still produce. Lennon in his usual post-beatle “optimism” said it was junk and just a load of half-finished songs cobbled together. But this is actually why I think it is so brilliant and a wondrous achievement, the Beatles were able to take a group of eight completely unrelated songs and yet mould them together to one coherent and seamless whole.

Ringo would later say, “Out of the ashes of all that madness [the recording of Let It Be], that last section is for me one of the finest pieces we put together.” And I’d tend to agree it is the finest bit of their last two albums.

You Never Give Me Your Moneystarts the sequence and is about the money troubles they were having with the Apple Corps at the time, but it’s hard to realise given how sweetly Paul sings it and the tenderness of the piano playing. This melts into the more upbeat vocals by Lennon, which mirrors money worries of the everyday man, but the happiness in escapism. It’s almost like Lennon/ McCartney are reprising ‘A Day in the Life‘ but reversing roles with Lennon this time giving the day-to-day account and Paul being more dreamy.

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Sun King‘ returns to the heavenly harmonies of ‘Because‘ and again delivers gorgeous Beach Boys’ esque sounds. The beautiful laid-back guitar strings make this one of the most relaxing and soothing songs they ever did. Mean Mr. Mustard follows and is Lennon writing about a story he’d read about a miserly man who was bizarrely hiding his money in his rectum! Why John would want to write about this I have no idea but there you go.

Polythene Pam’ is either a thoughtful tribute to one of the Beatles earliest mega-fans Polythene Pat or an account about a weird sex threesome Lennon had with a beat poet and a girl wrapped in polythene. Or both. Either way, the fast guitar work and Lennon singing slightly distorted make it sound like a mix between the Kinks and Slade, which shows how easily the Beatles could jump in and out of various genres and sounds so seamlessly. This blends into ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window which is pretty self-explanatory referring to groups of girls who would hold vigils outside the Beatles’ houses at the time. One girl got a ladder and came into Paul’s house through the first-floor bathroom window and stole some photos. Instead of being mad, Paul wrote this rather lovely tribute to those fans and their dedication.

Golden Slumbersis kind of a cover with the lyrics coming from a 400 year old song. McCartney had seen the words but didn’t know the melody as he couldn’t read sheet music, so made his own. The song is a real highlight of the medley, an epic song with a huge orchestra backing and an even bigger throat-destroying vocal by McCartney, which is still one of his best. This switches into Carry That Weight’ which describes the financial difficulties the Beatles were going through, and more specifically the heavy burden and stress McCartney was feeling about it but also about trying to lead the Beatles after Brian Epstein died. It has a quite lovely trio of singing of Ringo, Harrison and McCartney and it feels almost criminal that they broke up when you listen to how seamlessly they compliment each other.

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The End finishes the medley brilliantly with a Ringo drumming solo, the only one he would ever do, and guitar sparring from Lennon, Harrison and McCartney before falling into a real sleepy sombre number which is McCartney trying his hardest to put a fitting end to the Beatles with one final hooray. It ends with the line, “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make” An absolute fitting send off to a band that gave so much joy to millions.

Her Majesty is more a hidden track, a nice little whimsical closing number with McCartney with tongue firmly in cheek singing of his love for the Queen of England. Originally supposed to be part of the medley, Paul decided to cut it but engineer John Kurlander who was so used to never throwing recordings away sliced it to the end of the recording tape. McCartney liked the edit and kept it on. It’s a nice soft way to end the album so the listener can catch its breathe after the epic wave of musical styles heard in the medley.

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Final thoughts

As the last recorded album, this really should have been released last too. It is much better overall than ‘Let It Be‘ and from beginning to end is an absolute joy to listen to as the Beatles really rallied to make something special despite the tension that had built-up. The only sadness is that there is not more, that these talented four guys didn’t go on to produce more music as a band after this, but then the albums they created in this time are truly remarkable. An absolute show of the pure talent John, Paul, George and Ringo had, and what they leave as a musical legacy has never been matched.

Ten out of ten and a huge celebratory sandwich 

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The Beatles – Yellow Submarine album review

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The ‘Yellow Submarine’ album is a curious entry in the Beatles official catalogue. It came about because the Beatles were contractually obliged to write four original songs for the animated film of the same name. The band were busy recording the White album at the time and not much bothered about doing it, so decided to keep the recording of the four songs completely separate to the other sessions. Thus, what was produced was slightly half-assed in nature but some bits of charm still shine through.

The film was released in July 1968, but the soundtrack was not released until January 1969, so not to clash with the white album’s release. The Beatles did not give much attention to the film, but warmed to it once they saw the excellent finished product.

The soundtrack is probably the least important official release of the Beatles career, containing two old songs, four new songs and the rest is instrumental music for the film that the Beatles did no work on.

I’ve always been a big fan of Ringo songs on Beatles’ albums so it’s really nice to see that a film was based around one of them. He deserved some recognition because, other than his drumming which is greatly underrated, his songs always added something to an album. His voice always has a friendly warmth to it and ‘Yellow Submarine’ is really his defining number. I said before in a previous review that only the Beatles could pull a song like this off – a Rolling Stones or Jimi Hendrix version (despite how much I love those guys) would probably sound terrible. This is definitely a Beatles’ song through and through with its quirky nature and laddish drunken sing-along mentality, making it as charming now as it was 50 years ago.

Other than the title track, the other previously released song is ‘All You Need is Love’, which is the perfect song to accompany the joyous animation of the film. If you wanted one song to distil the Beatles’ message of peace and define the ideals of the swinging sixties it would be this song. Filled with nothing but goodness, it’s the feel-good songs of all feel-good songs.

Of the new songs, they maybe don’t fit the theme as well; and are slightly inconsistent. Harrison’s ‘Only A Northern Song’ is a trippy but ultimately jokey and slightly incoherent number. It’s about Harrison feeling slightly aggrieved about not getting enough credit for his writing and royalties for the output the Beatles’ were producing. The song is a bit lazy, but then in many ways that is the point. Harrison is basically saying ‘why bother?’ when the credit for his work isn’t being given. Everyone likes a good moan once in awhile I suppose.

Jumping back to the more upbeat, All Together Now’ is a classic sing-along back and forth around the guitar style song in which everyone is drunk and singing loudly. So it makes perfect sense that it would become a popular chant around football terraces during games in England at the time. It’s throwaway for sure but still has a fun, rousing quality to it and from experience can easily get stuck in the head for days afterwards (and is absolutely the perfect song to dance like an idiot to).

But by far the highlight of the new material is ‘Hey Bulldog’, a number with a really dirty baseline played expertly by McCartney that is one of the Beatles’ heaviest sounding songs. The lyrics complement the number wonderfully with Lennon given it a full loud vocal before it deteriotes into barking and wailing and screaming. 

It’s a fun weird song that has the slight ham radio comedy skit feel about it at the end, and more the better for it- a sort of far more coherent version of their mid-60s Christmas records condensed into one pure rock song.

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The last of the original Beatles’ songs is ‘It’s All Too Much’ which is another Harrison-penned song. It seems to be his attempt to write a rock n roll song about LSD. The result is almost a dance song with a strong drum beat and distorted guitar strings intertwining to feel like a skyward gazing 90s psychedelic dance record. I think it’s better than ‘Only a Northern Song’ (Harrison was always better when upbeat and slightly spiritualised) and this has a slight rousing gospel feel to it somehow, which always makes me happily bounce my head along to as it plays.

The rest of the album is filled up with instrumental music for the film, which had little involvment from the Beatles themselves. Instead we have producer George Martin arranging a musical score of a 42 piece orchestra. It’s nice that George Martin, a crucial element in the Beatles success, gets his moment in the spotlight but it is mostly just soundtrack music.

The two stand-outs are ‘Pepperland’ and ‘March of the Meanies’. ‘Pepperland’ has some pretty lovely violin and pianos moments throughout, really using a large orchestra feel to its full power. It has that sound of a big opening credit song to a 1950s big budget musical. ‘March of the Meanies’ on the other hand has this brilliant urgent threat feel to it, a real ‘enter bad-guy’ song for a film that works really well. It really isn’t that far removed from the dark side music in Star Wars.

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The ‘Sea of Time’, ‘Sea of Holes’ and ‘Sea of Monsters’ are mostly disposable pieces with incidental music interwoven to react to what is happening in the movie. It’s an easy listen but rarely gives anything too memorable that you’d hum an hour later.

The album closes with more dread music in ‘Pepperland Laid Waste’ which is equally disposable, and then ends with a reworked orchestral version of the ‘Yellow Submarine’, which is actually very pretty piece that is removed enough from the original to be worth your time (but lacks the Ringo charm a bit).

Final Thoughts

This is the least essential album in any Beatles’ collection, but worth a listen on Youtube. Only ‘All Together Now’ and ‘Hey Bulldog’ are likely to get heavy rotation on an iPod, because both are brilliant, but I also liked the trippy good-natured ‘It’s All Too Much.’

Finally giving Sir George Martin the spotlight is a fantastic tribute to his importance as a part of the Beatles, but I think his album of reworked Beatles songs featuring Jim Carrey singing ‘I am the Walrus’, Goldie Hawn singing a jazzy sexy ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Robin Williams doing ‘Come Together’ is far more an essential purchase.

Six and a half out of ten and one billion parodies

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The Beatles – The Beatles (White) album review

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How do you follow-up one the greatest album ever recorded? Many would wither under the pressure, but the Beatles instead released two albums worth of some of their best material they ever created.

The Beatles ninth (official) studio album was self-titled ‘The Beatles’, but is widely recognised as the ‘White Album’ due to it’s iconic plain album cover, a direct contrast to the vivid explosion of colours seen on the ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ cover.

It was recorded between May and October in 1968 at the now-famous Abbey Road Studios (mostly), an absolute age in comparison to the day their first album took. Free from promotion and a hectic touring schedule that categorised their Beatlemania days, the Beatles were able to take their time and experiment as much as they like for the album. This meant songs like ‘Not Guilty’, which didn’t even appear on the album, had 102 takes. This constant take-after-take would cause tension, with Ringo even leaving the band for two weeks during this period because he felt underappreciated. It also meant that many of the songs did not have all the Beatles recording on them as all members became more individual in their song-writing with recordings of songs often happening at the same time in different studios. Lennon stated later the break-up of the Beatles can be heard on the album, and a good third of the songs were recorded without all 4 members working on them.

Despite this, the record sold very well placing number one in the US and UK charts, and selling 3.3m copies in four days in America. It is one of the most famous double albums by a band and carries some of the Beatles most famous and loved songs.

Background – in-between Sgt Pepper and the White Album

A lot happened after the Beatles recorded ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, so for context on this album, I’ve included below a bit of background. It was a significant time for the Beatles, one in which they enjoyed their highest critical praise of all, but also a time that really lay the foundations for their eventual break-up.

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Just before recording ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, but something that would have an effect on everything that followed, Lennon would meet artist Yoko Ono, and begin conversing with letters. Accounts vary on how they met. The most commonly stated is that John went to see her art exhibition in London in November 1966, and became interested in her art and outlook on life. Alternatively, McCartney has said in the past Yoko had written to him asking for some hand-written lyrics and he’d referred her to Lennon who obliged with lyrics for ‘The Word’.

Either way, Lennon and Yoko’s friendship would blossom through letters and the occasional meet-up to the point he considered bringing her to India in early 1968, when the Beatles went.

In August 1967, two months after “Sgt Pepper’s” was released, long-term manager and mentor for the Beatles Brian Epstein died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. He’d navigated them through Beatlemania, the crazy tours and the insane workload. If anyone can be considered the “Fifth Beatle” it is Brian. Lennon would be so close to Brian that they would holiday together, and there was even gossip of a gay affair, but John would later remark “it was almost a love affair, but not quite. It was never consummated. But it was a pretty intense relationship.” The lack of direction after Epstein’s death led to Paul taking more of a leadership in the band. A move that caused tension in the band and can be seen as a move that ultimately led to the break-up.

The weekend Epstein died, the Beatles were at a seminar in Wales by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi about Transcendental Meditation. Inspired by this, the Beatles looked to learn more and eventually planned a trip to India in February 1968, alongside their wives and girlfriends, and other musicians and actors. John wife at the time Cynthia Lennon would later write, “it was as though, with Brian gone, the four needed someone new to give them direction and the Maharishi was in the right place at the right time.”

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The Beatles famous and infamous month-long trip to India is one of the most iconic images of the swinging sixties. The band stayed in a place called “Valley of the Saints”, the International Academy of Meditation, a large compound near the River Ganges in Rishikesh. They would meditate twice a day and take classes with the Maharishi. The time would be a particularly fruitful one for music, with the Beatles writing pretty much most of the White Album at the compound, and songs that would later appear on ‘Abbey Road’ and various solo efforts, most notably probably ‘Jealous Guy’ by Lennon.

It would end on a sour note however. McCartney would leave early to establish the Apple Corporation and Ringo had journeyed off too due to hating the food and bugs. Both Harrison and Lennon remained longer but would leave too after a month there after they were told by a friend called Magic Alex, a man often said to have a dubious relationship with the truth, that the Maharishi was having sexual relations with girls at the compound, a direct contradiction to the higher power he was selling.

Lennon, already agitated by the Maharishi desire for publicity and apparent want for royalties on the next Beatles’ album, confronted him saying they were leaving, when the Maharishi asked why, Lennon quipped “If you’re so mystical, you figure it out.” The apparent murderous look he gave after that convinced Lennon he had made the right decision in going.

Harrison would later wonder if Lennon’s willingness to leave was more due to an eagerness to reunite with Yoko, but either way the mood of the trip was effectively soured and little to no contact was reached again between the Beatles and the Maharishi until much later. Harrison and McCartney would years later say the accusations against the Maharishi were completely false and McCartney would even visit him in 2007 shortly before his death in 2008.

Upon returning to England Lennon would continue his correspondence with Yoko and, when Cynthia had gone on holiday to Greece at John’s insistence during the recording of the White Album, he would begin an affair with Yoko in May 1968 after inviting her to their home to record experimental music that would later turn into a release called ‘The Two Virgins’ (most famous for having a naked John and Yoko as the cover art). According to Cynthia, she returned home from Greece to find Yoko in her dressing gown sitting in their house casually drinking tea with John acting as if everything was completely normal.

Cynthia and John would later divorce in November that year, with Cynthia purposely going for a small settlement than what she was entitled to avoid lengthy court battles for the sake of the kids.

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The Album

Side One

The album contains 30 songs, by far the largest the Beatles would compile, this can mainly be attributed to the high productivity seen in India. ‘The Beatles’ starts with a playful take on the Chuck Berry song ‘Back in the U.S.A.’ called ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ and is one of my favourite openers to a Beatles album. The harmonies and Beach Boys-ish lyrics are almost a homage, and a head-tilt to that band who they held a friendly rivalry with, but the talk of Russian rather than California girls brings a touch of satire.

The song wasn’t allowed in the U.S.S.R. but bootleg copies were smuggled in and very popular. The drums on the record are not played by Ringo, due to a tense atmosphere Ringo left the band for two weeks, and spent the time on Peter Sellers’ yacht. McCartney played the drums for the song, but Ringo would thankfully return to the recording after his break.

‘Dear Prudence’ is a song from the Beatles’ India retreat. Actress Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence had become obsessive about meditation at the compound, to the point she wouldn’t come out of her room for 3 weeks. Harrison and Lennon were asked to coax her out. Lennon wrote this song about it, the lyrics are basically the words they used. There is something really uplifting about it, “The sun is up, the sky is blue, it’s beautiful and so are you” is just lovely. A real example of how the Beatles can put a smile on my face with their unbridled optimism.

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The Beatles had come so far they were able to start self-referencing their previous work and ‘Glass Onion’ does exactly that. This is a big tongue and cheek song by Lennon, jokingly referring to previous songs like saying the “Walrus was Paul” and the fool on the hill still being there. I really love stuff like this, bands speaking directly to their fans through songs, and it’s a great little number in tribute to their old work probably with the intention for their fans to get a kick out of reflecting back, and having a slight joke at the expense of those who read too much into their lyrics.

McCartney would often hear someone say a phrase and then write entire songs around it, like ‘Eight Days a Week’ or ‘A Hard Days Night’. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ is another such case with it being a term often used by McCartney’s friend Nigerian conga player Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor. It is a nice upbeat number, and I like the jolliness it brings but it remains certainly derisive as an online poll voted it the worst song of all time in 2004. I would never go that far in my assessment, it is throwaway in nature but fairly harmless all-round.

It was recorded however in less than jolly circumstances. The tense atmosphere of studio and Paul’s insistence on retrying the song again and again meant Lennon was throwing anger fits during the whole process, apparently madly bashing the piano at loud volumes throughout.

Next up is ‘Wild Honey Pie’, one of the only real filler-tracks on the album,  which lasts only a short time and seems only really there as a palate-cleanser in-between two relative novelty-style songs.

The first, and only time, someone other than a Beatle sang lead vocals on a Beatles’ song is on ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’. And that person is Yoko Ono, who sings a line alone on this – instantly ruining the album. Only joking. There are a lot of opinion on Yoko, I personally think the Beatles break-up was on the cards from way back to Rubber Soul era, or at least the potential of John leaving, and Brian Epstein dying was in my opinion the largest factor. She may have just been a further annoyance during proceedings that heightened tensions during recording however.

As for the song, it’s a nice singalong around the piano down the pub kind of song. It is actually a fairly mocking piece about a rich American who came to the Indian getaway to find inner-enlightenment, in-between tiger-hunting trips. A contradiction so silly that the song needed to reflect that with its humorous lyrics.

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‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is a lot of people’s favourite song on the album and with good reason as it is one of Harrison’s true masterpieces. A song everyone seems to refer to when arguing Harrison was equal to Lennon and McCartney as a song writer. And it lives up to that high praise even after all these years, gauging one of Harrison best riff work, vocal performances, and lyrics (and includes an uncredited Eric Clapton guitar solo). Inspired by eastern philosophy that everything that happens is meant to be, not mere coincidence, Harrison opened a book and used the first words he read “gently weeps” as the basis to form a song. The lyrics are some of the most beautiful, and open to interpretation, that Harrison ever did. I believe it is a comment on western commercialism or the Beatles themselves being “Controlled” and “Bought and sold”, but there is a deeper love that must be realised and a greater spirituality to be found in life. Harrison was deeply into spirituality and his song-work reflected his studies immensely at this time.

It’s funny that despite this stretch for greater spirituality and inner peace that the song would be immediately followed by a song about human’s most base desires. ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ comes from an article title in a gun magazine but is pretty much entirely about sexual urges. Lennon said other than recording he was spending the rest of the time in bed with Yoko and the warm gun is clearly a euphemism. The song is pretty much about 5 mini songs in one with a constant change of riff, tone, tempo showing Lennon at the near height of his creative abilities. His vocal is one of his best spilling out bizarre and sometimes opaque sexual undertones with heavy riffs streaming throughout in a clear highlight of the album.

Side two

Paul had progressed a lot since the early days to become a very accomplished musician, not just with the bass, and ‘Martha My Dear’ shows this with an absolutely lovely, and difficult to play, piano number. I’ve always liked Paul’s easy listening family-friendly material (many do not), and it is certainly a great rest stop after the more distorted previous songs. While easy to assume it is about a woman, the song is actually an ode to his dog Martha, who Paul had great affection for.

During the India retreat, Lennon was unable to sleep due to change of diet, possible drug withdrawal and his marriage troubles. His wife Cynthia had thought the trip to India would be like a second honeymoon but after a few days John had asked to sleep alone and barely spoke to her the whole trip, while heading down to the post office everyday unbeknownst to his wife to receive and send letter to Yoko Ono. He wrote ‘I’m So Tired’ at this time of insomnia. Reflective of ‘I’m only sleeping’ on ‘Revolver’, it is one of my favourite songs on the album, and I’ve found it almost impossible to get it out of my head the past few weeks.

I love the way the verses are sung slowly, highlighting his physical tiredness, but the chorus is sung fast in a back and forth way that seems to reflect his mind racing. It’s exactly the type of feeling most people get when unable to sleep. The lyrics are quite obviously about thinking of Yoko Ono, although rather humourously he finds time to call Sir Walter Raleigh, a man famous for popularising smoking in Britain, a ‘stupid get’ probably because he wanted to quit.

It is no coincidence that most of the songs Lennon spoke favourably about after the Beatles split (not that many really) he could later relate to Yoko in some way. Unsurprisingly for a song about Yoko, he said this was “one of my favourites” and I tend to agree. Funnily enough that he mentions smoking in a song about Yoko. They split a few years later in 1973 and for 18 months John would date and live with publicist May Pang. After the 18 months, Yoko would convince John to come around to her place because she had developed a new way to quit smoking. John would return after this visit and immediately break-it off from May, and go back to Yoko, as if “in a trance”. John would later dismiss the period as a ‘lost weekend’, although privately he would remark it was one of his happiest times.

Following on, is the song ‘Blackbird’, a beautiful acoustic number from Paul that feels like a vision of hope for the future. Sung very gently, I’d categorise this as one of Paul’s morning songs, something that immediately has that feeling of daybreak like ‘Here comes the sun’. The ‘Blackbird’ of the title is actually about civil rights in America, with the blackbird being symbolic of their struggle and ‘waiting for that moment to be free.’ It is a beautiful way to symbolise that wonderful moment of freedom and change in American history.

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Harrison’s ‘Piggies’ continues his anti-establishment style songs like ‘Taxman’ from ‘Revolver’. It’s a dainty little song about corporate greed with the aforementioned piggies obviously talking about the rich with a beautiful use of harpsichord (another new addition to the ever expanding use of different musical instruments the Beatles tried) and a great little singalong at the end.

McCartney’s ‘Rocky Raccoon’ follows the story of a man seeking revenge after being cheated on. A kind of cowboy story with Paul even putting on a pretty terrible southern american accent at the beginning. It feels like a sequel of Bungalow Bill, but not nearly as fun, which kind of makes it feel too similar and a bit unnecessary in its inclusion.

‘Don’t Pass Me By’ is the first solely Ringo-penned song, and it doesn’t feel too out of place. I’m a big fan of Ringo songs on Beatles albums, so it’s nice to hear one with his own words. It really feels like you could have a hoedown to this, and refreshingly brings back a more retro Beatles sound in its pure love song style.

After the traditional love song comes the complete opposite, ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?’ is pretty much about having sex on a road, no real symbolism or metaphor here, but then one could hint it is a reflection of the newly found sexual freedoms people were experiencing in the swinging sixties. However, it’s source is actually a song written by Paul after watching two monkeys do it in India! It’s an odd one this, that seems to be Paul striving to be edgier more Lennon-ish, but it just never really worked for me. The blatantness of the lyrics kind of lessen the impact, rather than heighten it. To me, just a really poor imitation of ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’.

In contrast, ‘I Will’ plays to McCartney’s strengths and pretty much shows how no one does simple love songs as good as him. A very easy acoustic guitar song that has Paul sweetly vowing his love to his beau. I wish it was slightly longer though, the loveliness is short-lived and could have easily had another verse to it .

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Lennon would write ‘Julia’ in India, an ode to his mother who died in a car crash in 1958. But the lyric ‘Ocean Child calls me’ is a reference to Yoko, as it is the literal translation of her name. The song is one of Lennon’s moments of real heartfelt brilliance tapping into his inner-emotions. His words sound mournful but loving, with an intimate sounding melody. One of Lennon’s most personal songs that show his rather tragic and difficult childhood, but also his future through the encoded words to Yoko. John it probably not best known for his love songs, but when you reflect back at songs like ‘This Boy’ or ‘It Won’t Be Long’ or ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret’, he wrote some of the Beatles’ best, and ‘Julia’ shows what a talented love-writer he was.

Side three

Some Beatles songs are wildly famous and known by everyone and their mother, grandmother, uncle and aunt; then there are some that really aren’t as well-known as you’d think they should be. ‘Birthday’ is a fantastic song, a real sing-along tune with a great happy vibe to it, that should be played at everyone’s birthday party. But it isn’t, and it really should. I much prefer this to the traditional ‘Happy Birthday’ song. I think a campaign needs to be started to make this the standard birthday song.

Despite the peaceful nature of the getaway in India, Lennon would say later he was writing some of the most depressing songs of his career. ‘Yer Blues’ reflects the suicidal thoughts he was having, the line ‘Girl, I’m lonely, want to die’ were his genuine feelings at the time. Despite this, the song has a real big blues sound with John giving a loud strong vocal full of heart that really gives it a huge punch. The song was a rare moment of togetherness during recording with all four members moving to a smaller recording room than usual for it playing the song in cramp conditions face-to-face. This probably helps give it that live blues bar sound that really elevates it.

Despite listening to the teachings of the Maharishi, very few songs written by the Beatles are actually about these teachings; ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is one. McCartney based it on a lecture by the Maharishi about being one with nature, it’s another very light-hearted acoustic number by Paul that, while pretty, feels like another rendition of ‘I Will’ that could probably have been left off the album. Another song that feels like more a stop-gap between better things than a song in itself.

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When recording the album, Lennon began taking heavier drugs, allegedly starting to take heroin, something none of the other Beatles were into. This would cause Lennon to be erratic and quick to anger in the studio, many think the ‘monkey’ in this song is the monkey on Lennon’s back, in other words the heroin. The lyrics of repeated ‘come on…’ sounds almost like a drug pusher trying to convince a client. Lennon would however say it was about him and Yoko, in the ‘glow of love’ as everyone around them seemed stressed and angry. So Yoko was the monkey!?

This song, and pretty much most of the second half of the album, show the Beatles could rock as hard as all their contemporaries at the time. This has great hard guitar playing circulating around Lennon screaming.

Following on, Lennon, when disenfranchised after his experience in India, wrote a song called Maharishi, but later changed it to ‘Sexy Sadie’ so they didn’t get sued. All the other lyrics like ‘However big you think you are, Sexy Sadie oooh you’ll get yours yet’, showing Lennon anger and cynicism at the Maharishi’s apparent mysticism. It’s a real fuck you of a song, sung so beautifully with a gorgeous piano melody it is almost hard to hear real malice in Lennon’s voice.

‘Helter Skelter’ is a blistering all out rock song, an iconic and unfortunately infamous song that McCartney will still break-out often at his live shows. After hearing The Who’s Pete Townsend bragging about their band being so loud, McCartney saw it as a challenge and went about trying to create the loudest racket he could possibly make. In pretty much everyway he succeeded, with the “I’ve got blisters on me fingers” coming from Ringo after playing the drums so hard.

Helter Skelter would become infamous due to Charles Manson associating it with his killings that included actress Sharon Tate. He had become obsessed with the White album believing it was speaking to him directly about a future violent uprising of minorities. He is in short a madman that should be forgotten, his rantings and interpretation of the music sound like a man stretching logic to do evil that he would probably have done anyway, but seems destined to be mentioned alongside the album due to his despicable and horrifying actions. The song appears quite simple, about going to the fairground and chasing girls, fairly innocuous really and all Beatles members have said that there was absolutely no intention to project any malice into the listener.

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‘Long, Long, Long’ may by no means be one of his most famous pieces, but it is one of my favourite Harrison songs. A song about the joy of finding god, it’s a glorious uplifting number with beautiful sleepy vocals from Harrison. It shows there are still such a thing as an under-rated gem even on an album as widely-listened to as this.

Side four

Despite the 60s being a time of a large atmosphere of political and social change with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, the Beatles had kept relatively quiet on these issues. Lennon wanted this to change.

Revolution 1’ is the first song recorded for the ‘White Album’ and shows the increased emphasis on political movements that would influence Lennon for the rest of his career, especially in his solo work. He would comment that he was awake again after years of taking a back step and this caused further conflict within the band. His push for this to be a single were however vetoed by Harrison and McCartney, but as a beginning to Lennon more politically focused work, it stands out as one of his best. It may have many interpretations, but the lyrics suggest to me a destructive, violent revolution is not something Lennon wants but more a peaceful individualised change of outlook towards peace and enlightenment.

‘Honey Pie’ in complete contrast harkens back to an idealistic age, a kind of take on ‘As Time Goes By’. It’s very much a throwback piano song to a light story-telling of music halls in the 1920s. Although, not a favourite of mine it further expands the Beatles’ width in terms of song-writing styles.

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Continuing the food-based titles, ‘Savoy Truffle’ is an ode to desserts (the Beatles must have been in need of lunch). Harrison wrote the light-hearted song for his friend Eric Clapton, who had a real sweet-tooth. The song has a joyousness to it but feels pretty throwaway to me, Harrison’s least engaging song on the album.

Similarly, ‘Cry Baby Cry’ is Lennon’s least engaging song on the album. A homage to the lullabies of Lennon’s childhood, but one he would dismiss as rubbish later on. Although, never the most memorable songs on the album, it does have its charm if only Lennon putting a decent vocal on it with such ease which makes it easy to listen to if not exceptional.

As a huge fan of the Simpsons, I find it almost impossible not to hear their parody of this song when I listen ‘Revolution 9’. They just nailed it (still makes me chuckle 20 years on). Anyway, I’ve really never been a fan of this song, technically it’s a marvel of production for 60s standards, but to me its lacking. It sounds like deleted parts of the far superior Lennon masterpiece ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ An attempt by Lennon to bring avant-garde to the mainstream, maybe to impress Yoko. None of the other Beatles wanted it on the album, but Lennon was persistent. Revolution 1 is the sound of Lennon, this is the sound of Lennon and Yoko; I know what I prefer.

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‘Good Night’ closes the album and sounds almost like a big crooner number- something Sinatra or Bing Cosby would sing on a Christmas album. It has that big voice quality matched by big orchestral accompaniment. I think it’s a beautiful way to end such a varied album with yet another form of musical style the Beatles were able to slip into with ease.

Final Thoughts

The album was not best received at the time by critics, with the New York Times calling it “boring beyond belief” but it has aged well and grown in stature since with many now calling it their best.

I would not say it is their best personally; it is not superior to the three albums that preceded it (Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s), but it does possess some of Beatles’ best work. ‘Julia’, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘While my Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘I’m So Tired’ and ‘Birthday’ stand as some of my favourites they ever did. There is some dead weight in there, or songs too similar to other songs that should really have been cut, but overall it shows the vast variety of styles the Beatles could create.

I’d kind of wish the track listing felt slightly less manically random, but in terms of double albums, something everyone from Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones, OutKast and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers have tried, this stands tall as the best of the lot.

Nine out of ten and a nice sit down on a carpet

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The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour album review

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Magical Mystery Tour‘ was not originally an album, but has since become seen that way. After completing ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band‘, the Beatles wanted a new project. Having soured on touring, they decided to do a mostly improvised TV movie. They recorded six new songs as the soundtrack (the six first songs on the current ‘Magical Mystery Tour‘ album) and released it in the UK as a double EP packaged in a gatefold sleeve with a book featuring lyrics and pictures. A different way to release new material which was an innovation in itself.

However, due to the negative media coverage of the film, there was trouble getting US TV distribution at the time (it would later get a limited theatrical release in 1974) so Capitol Records decided to create a full length LP with the six songs from the soundtrack and all five of the single releases that year. This version was so popular it actually charted at number 31 in the UK charts in January 1968 through imported versions from the states alone. In 1976, this version was released in the UK and in 1987 when the Beatles back catalogue was to be released on compact disc across the world, this American version was released making it the only album not standardised to the British album playlists.

The film was savaged by critics at the time and is a bit of a mess. McCartney wanted it to be spontaneous so much of it is improvised, unfortunately it shows causing it to lack much coherence. As a time capsule to see the Beatles on film in this time, it is worth watching but if you want an entertaining film best stick to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (by far their best endeavour into the moving pictures).

The album on the other hand, although not exactly canon, is one of their strongest collections of songs. With this LP version and ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, you pretty much get the Beatles’ entire output from 1967, one of their most creative years, so it is great that all this fantastic work can be easily accessible to future generations getting into the Beatles.

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The title track ‘Magical Mystery Tour‘ opens the album and, much like ‘Sgt Pepper’s‘ is as much an introduction to the theme of the album as a song. This similarity led some US critics, unaware of the album’s non-canon origin, to proclaim this as a poor man’s Sgt Pepper. McCartney wrote most of the song and based it on the ‘roll up, roll up’ merchants selling games at carnivals, but with a psychedelic edge. I actually personally prefer this song to ‘Sgt Pepper’, the joint harmonies on roll-up are lovely and the song has a uplifting feel-good factor that is hard not to get engaged in. The song obviously has drug references throughout too with ‘roll up’ clearly having the potential to mean ‘roll up a joint’ and the idea of a mysterious trip is clearly alluding to LSD on some level.

The Fool on the Hill‘, which is a McCartney song about a sage-like figure seen as a fool by society but actually wise, seems to divide fans. On one hand it has inspired over 100 cover versions, including most notably Aretha Franklin and Bjork, but on the other side Tim Riley a music critic who wrote a book on Beatles’ songs (and in my opinion slightly overly critical) said it was one of the “most unworthy Beatles standards.” I personally can see both points of view, I think the lyrics are slightly incoherent and sketchy, but it is beautifully sung by McCartney in a dreamy manner and the musical flow of the tune is lovely.

It also inspired one of my favourite McCartney videos in which he looks more stoned than the cast of Cheech and Chong:

 

Next up is somewhat of an anomaly, ‘Flying‘ is an instrumental mainly, with slight backing vocals put in, that is credited to Ringo, George, Paul and John. This is rarity in the Beatles back catalogue with only ‘Dig It‘ off the ‘Let it Be‘ album being the other official album release to have all members credited. The result is a nice chilled jam, with a jazz element throughout that introduces the use of a saxophone for the first time to a Beatles song.

Harrison contributes ‘Blue Jay Walk‘, following on from his more psychedelic and Indian influenced output on the last two albums, comes one in the same vein. Unlike before with its sitar usage, this uses the traditional guitar/drum set up with added organ and cello, with some great drumming from Ringo actually. Harrison’s constant chanting of “don’t be long” feels almost ominous, and the way he speeds up singing it as well as the cello and organ get more urgent make this feel decidedly creepy in tone.

Despite this, the song has very unspooky origins. A heavily jetlagged Harrison was waiting for publicist Derek Taylor to come to his rented flat on Blue Jay Walk in LA, but fog in the area had made him very delayed, so Harrison played around with an organ and wrote the song to pass the time. The repeated “don’t be long” is just Harrison tired and frustrated having to wait so long and not being able to go to sleep!

Great Performances

Your Mother Should Know‘ is a big singalong number around the piano type song, that could easily be imagined to be a great drunken favourite in pubs around Christmas. This was apparently McCartney’s inspiration for writing it, basing it on a singalong music hall environment very common in the sixities. The result is perhaps a bit throwaway in my opinion compared to the rest of the album but a lovely feel good jaunt that could possibly be seen as a precursor to his much bigger piano based singalong ‘Hey Jude‘.

It feels odd that it would take until track six of a Beatles album for Lennon to really feature, but such was the case here and a clear sign McCartney was taking more of a leadership role and Lennon more a step back. But what a way to come in late with the undeniably brilliant ‘I am a Walrus.’

As the story goes, Lennon was so amused to find out that school kids were being asked in music class to analyse Beatles’ songs that he decided to make his next one as lyrical confusing as possible.

A big fan of Lewis Carroll, the Walrus comes from the poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter‘ from ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass‘, but unfortunately Lennon said he was the Walrus who is more the villain of the poem. He realised saying he should have called it ‘I am the Carpenter’ instead, however, most of the lyrics are just random thoughts that do not have relevance to the poem.

Lennon said of the lyrics, “‘Walrus’ is just saying a dream – the words don’t mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it’s ridiculous.” Lack of meaning doesn’t really matter as the use of violins and Lennon’s distorted voice compliment each other perfectly creating one of the most crazy distorted little fairytales created (or the biggest LSD trip imaginable depending on your point of view). Just an absolute explosion of beautiful, weird imagery that is one of the best songs Lennon ever wrote.

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McCartney’s “Hello, Goodbye” is pretty much as Lennon put it “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions,” as McCartney says yes, no, stop, go, low, high, and I’d tend to agree with John on this. It is overly simplistic and probably my least favourite on this album. Lennon would further be enraged that this would be a single, with ‘I am a Walrus’ as the b-side which John saw as a much superior song.  ‘Hello, Goodbye‘ is however somewhat saved by the brilliant singalong of random words “Hela heba helloa” used to end the song, which brings back the best singalong around a piano style jaunts there are, and more amazingly it was apparently all ad-libbed in the studio.

Lennon and McCartney had a knack of when writing alone coming up with very similar themes that compliment each other beautifully, ‘Yesterday‘ and ‘In My Life‘ being an example with ‘Michelle‘ and ‘Girl‘ being another. This continues with the two songs about childhood, McCartney’s ‘Penny Lane‘ and Lennon’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘.

I wrote in my ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ review that McCartney singing, “I have to admit its getting better, its getting better all the time” and Lennon interjecting “It couldn’t get no worse” was the perfect example of their different outlooks on life. ‘Penny Lane‘ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever‘ continue and expand on this.

Penny Lane‘ continues McCartney’s unparrelled skill of telling stories of everyday life, and in this he writes about the joyous community element of a street in Liverpool in a nostalgic tone from when he was growing up, in a jovial but slightly less cartoony manner to ‘When I’m Sixty Four‘.

Lennon starts ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, his own nostalgic look at Liverpool growing up, with “let me take you down” which obviously has an emotional double meaning to it. Both chorus’ parallel these differing tones as McCartney sings happily and triumphantly that “Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes” and with rose-tinted glasses at the “blue suburban skies”, whereas Lennon’s tone is more unemotional when opaquely singing “Strawberry Fields Forever” implying, whether good or bad, his childhood experiences will remain with him the rest of his life. In contrast to Penny Lane’s community spirit, Lennon talks of his feelings of social isolation “No one I think is in my tree” and takes a more cynical outlook to the community (“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see”).

Originally both were to go on Sgt Pepper’s until it was decided to release them as a double A single at the beginning of 1967 instead. Surprisingly, the single only got to number two in the UK, being beaten by Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”, a rarity in Beatles’ chart performance. Both songs are still two of George Martin’s favourites declaring them at the time the best work they had ever done.

Lennon would later say “Strawberry Fields was psychoanalysis set to music” and, like ‘Nowhere Man‘, is an important song in exploring his psyche. Both are two of my favourites and show the individual outlooks and strengths of McCartney and Lennon. Had these songs been on ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ as originally intended they would, not only blended in seamlessly, but added to an already first-rate masterpiece.

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Baby, You’re a Rich Man‘ is a combination of two half-written songs; Lennon’s verses and McCartney’s chorus. The result is an absolute favourite of mine. Lennon sneers and mocks the “beautiful people” and how they can;t comprehend “nothing that doesn’t show”. And the chorus is just a great rousing joyous, and probably intentionally mocking, chant, thought to be a light-hearted dig at their manager Brian Epstein.

If there ever was a song that defines the ‘Summer of Love’ then its ‘All You Need Is Love,’ which closes the album. In 1967, the world’s first televised satellite link-up between 25 countries worldwide took place called ‘Our World’, with each country showing off something of their country to the others as millions watched the broadcast around the world. The Beatles were asked to represent Britain for the link-up, and Lennon wrote this song for it. The message of ‘Love is all you need’ was the perfect message of peace to a world that for the first time had the technology to hear it. It’s an absolutely beautiful track that avoids the sappiness a song like this would create if in lesser hands.

The actual broadcast is still just as impressive and wonderful as it probably was then (with alongside the Beatles added Jagger and Clapton in the audience too).


Final thoughts

While not an album, it is amazing to think that in 1967 the Beatles not only recorded one of the best albums of all time in ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ but managed to make another album worth of songs that are equal and sometimes even better than that offered in Peppers. It just shows the incredible talent this band possessed.

As essential a purchase as any other Beatles album, and some of my absolutely favourite songs ever created by any band.

Ten out of ten and Jagger looking jealous

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The Beatles – Revolver album review

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After the rousing success of ‘Rubber Soul’ in 1965, which somehow even heightened the critical praise of their work, the Beatles found themselves experiencing a bit of a backlash in 1966.

They would play their last gig in front of a paying audience in the UK in March that year to a luke-warm reception, suggesting they’d lost interest in touring (something they absolutely had). There were growing rumours of an imminent split, and, as ‘Revolver’ was being released in August that year, Lennon’s comments made in March that Christianity was declining and that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” caused huge uproar in the religious parts of America causing album burnings, anti-Beatle demonstrations and protests.  Their American tour in late-1966 was nearly cancelled but went ahead after a public apology that Lennon’s words were taken out of context. They would play their last ever concert in San Francisco in late-August (performing live only once more on a rooftop in London in 1969).

Despite all this turmoil, the Beatles did not miss a beat when it came to recording ‘Revolver’. Following on from longer studio time given for ‘Rubber Soul’, ‘Revolver’ was recorded over three months, and, despite rumours of a split, the recording was according to Ringo and Harrison a very happy and easy experience.

What came out was a masterpiece, an album that refuses to age, in fact, it contains new meaning to each generation it touches. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the third best album of all time, and to many other critics, including Q magazine, VH1, Entertainment Weekly and many more, the greatest of all time.

This album would be the tipping point in the balance of the band. Lennon had dominated in many ways the writing and singing up to this point, but McCartney would start to take more control, due both to growing confidence on his part and Lennon’s going disinterest. ‘Revolver’ comes right as the see-saw is level, both giving equal contribution to proceedings and the result is one of the most beautifully balanced albums they did with a range of brilliant material almost unthinkable in quality and innovation.

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Revolver opens with the Harrison-penned ‘Taxman’, a brilliantly blistering up-tempo number, with beautifully sarcastic lyrics about the UK tax system. The lyric “one for you, 19 for me” I thought was an exaggeration, but doing a bit of research I found that the Beatles, due to ridiculous taxation on music royalties, were being taxed 95% of their earnings, an absolute insane amount that makes this beautifully constructed and angry anti-establishment retort that bit more satisfying.

The second Harrison -penned song ‘Love You To’ continues the Beatles’ flirtation with Indian music following Rubber Soul’s sitar usage for Norwegian Wood. This time Harrison fully realises his eastern influence, mixing philosophy and the sitar in a fast-paced western song. The sentiment of enjoying life, make love and peace, held the blueprint for the foundations of what the hippy culture of the 1960s would become.

By this stage, McCartney’s story-telling in his songs were honed to perfection. He has the rare ability to outline the trials and tribulations of everyday life to stunning effect. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was not only the Beatles first real move into using an orchestra (something often replicated by other bands, but never bettered), it also saw them create characters and plots as memorable as any book or film, all in the space of a two-minute song.

‘For no one’ continues the same style of recounting everyday life, this time looking at a break-up. For me its possibly the greatest picture of a break up committed to song. The line “And in her eyes you see nothing, No sign of love behind the tears, Cried for no one, A love that should have lasted years” is so simple but yet complete in telling you everything you need to know about this couple that Hemingway himself would be proud.

Despite the downbeat nature of this song, and indeed the depressing picture of his relationship with Jane Asher in ‘Rubber Soul’, McCartney appears to have a completely different and happier outlook on love on this album. Already, he’d written ‘And I love her’ and ‘All my loving’ , but he managed to top even his own best with “Here, There, and Everywhere”, a song so lovely that even a Celine Dion cover did not diminish my love for it.

This, along with “Good Day Sunshine” later on the album are songs that immediately make me feel its a sunny day. Absolute feel good tunes that brighten the mood of anyone.

McCartney really was on a roll this time round churning out classic song after classic song that would fit on anyone’s best of list. His more jovial approach extends further than just the love songs as “Got to Get You Into My Life” is a firmly upbeat song of shouting optimism. McCartney would later admit it was about pot and the lyric “”I took a ride, I didn’t know what I would find there / Another road where maybe I could see some other kind of mind there” would back this up. The added brass and wind instruments really gave this an epic feel as the Beatles further toyed with other instruments outside the traditional drum/guitar combination.

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Lennon’s work is equal to McCartney’s here but far less shouting from the mountaintops joy and more quiet isolated contemplation. “I’m Only Sleeping” carries on Lennon’s dreamlike songs like Rubber Soul’s ‘Girl’. Most would assume its about being stoned but seems more likely written by Lennon about his actual lethargy with a journalist describing him at the time as the laziest man in Britain. Lennon would correct her saying he was more “Physically lazy, I don’t mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more.”

The song holds the innovation of being the first song to have guitars played backwards on it (after their tape machine played a tape backwards by accident and they liked the sound of it). Its was an apt addition adding the feeling of being in an altered state as Lennon dreamily sings about the world going by as he lies in slumber.

“And Your Bird Can Sing” brings further cryptic messaging but is a crackling tune led-fast by Harrison and McCartney’s duel guitar work and a slightly more aggressive vocal from Lennon than usual as he recalls a mystery person’s achievements, but makes clear they are still not on his level. I kind of “anything you can do, I can do better” remake. While never explained (and as usual Lennon was dismissive of the song afterwards), the mystery subject of the song is probably Mick Jagger. Jagger was known to talk the Stones up a lot, and while Lennon remained friendly with the band, he also saw the Beatles as very much the superior band and would also get angered by the supposed copying of their music by the stones as this interview would attest:

Ringo would contribute his vocals to the song that would probably be most closely associated to him ‘Yellow Submarine.’ It may often be dismissed by some as “baby music”, a song for little children, but I think it’s the perfect example of what makes the Beatles great. It’s such an odd instantly catchy song with sound effects, zany lyrics and an almost Monty Python silliness to it.

Despite my absolute love of the Stones, Hendrix, The Doors, The Kinks, I can imagine if any of those acts had done this song it would have been terrible. I literally can’t even imagine their versions, but the Beatles made it work and not only that defined a persona Ringo would be able to act up to for 50 years after. This song is testament to the Beatles lasting appeal as I’ve heard four-year olds recite it word for word, and despite some fans dislike, its impact is undeniable. The animation it inspired practically defined the idea of the swinging sixties and LSD trips, and has been parodied, copied a thousand times over.  As important on the spectrum of Beatles songs as “Yesterday” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

Marijuana would be the Beatles biggest inspiration at this time, but other drugs were creeping in and becoming more prominent. “She Said, She Said” was written by Lennon about an LSD trip he had. The story goes that he was at a big summer party and actor Peter Fonda kept whispering in his ear “I know what it’s like to be dead” and freaking Lennon out. The song itself is the perfect marriage of what the Beatles were and what they would become. Uplifting tune, with relatively Dylanesque opaque lyrics and the beginning of the big guitar sounding tune that would define the psychedelic swinging sixties era. Funnily enough, while easily a stand-out, it is one of the only times McCartney didn’t play on a Beatles’ song. He’d had an argument and stormed out causing Harrison to play his parts that day.

“Doctor Robert” is probably the low-point of the album, not a terrible song, just not up to standard. It does have added intrigue however in trying to figure out who he is. Theories range from Bob Dylan, to gallery owner Robert Fraser or a fictional character in a book by LSD lover Aldous Huxley. However, it seems most likely that it is based on Dr. Robert Freyman, a doctor in NYC who was known to give speed and other drugs to many New Yorker celebrities at the time.

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The album closes with the Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, and is outstanding sounding like nothing heard before. A song that feels so far ahead of its time it sounds like a 90s dance song in many ways with a strong drumbeat, odd interspersed sound-effects and trippy lyrics. It’s a self-contained LSD trip with Lennon’s voice echoing out like a prophet. The greatest psychedelic song ever written and a huge leap forward in studio-based song production.

Final thoughts

Sgt Pepper’s may be considered their greatest, but Revolver is undoubtedly their most influential album. The sarcastic anti-establishment sneer of ‘Taxman’ can be heard in every punk song of the 70s, ‘Love You to’ helped introduce world music to western audiences, ‘Yellow Submarine’ inspired animation that would define the hippy and drug movement of the time, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ heralded the beginning of stoner-rock, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ incorporated orchestra music into rock n roll which inspired many a band to do similar (and sometimes disastrously) when they wanted to be treated as ‘serious’ (looking at you Axel Rose), the Chemical Brothers said ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was their manifesto, and was clearly influential on the entire dance music scene of the late 80s, early 90s. Hell, Liam Gallagher based his whole singing voice on the way Lennon pronounced “shining” in the song. The list is endless, and it is further testament to the greatness of this album that, after 50 years of influence, it has never been bettered.

Ten out of ten and an epic photobomb

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The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night album review

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1964 was a huge year for the Beatles. They released two albums in the UK, released their first film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, had a world tour, took Beatlemania to America, occupied all places on the Hot 100 top 5 at the same time (a record still today, only 50 Cent came close with 3 in the top 5 in 2005), Lennon published his first book and they had radio, tv, concert appearances or press interviews pretty much every day. Just a quick look at their schedule is crazy!

The fact that they didn’t all collapse from exhaustion is a miracle in itself but that they were able to produce classic music, a fantastic film (second only to Spinal Tap in films about bands on tour) and create iconic, legendary television moments like their appearances on the Ed Sullivan show is beyond belief.

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A Hard Day’s Night was the first album released in 1964 and acts as the soundtrack to the film of the same name. For the first time all songs on the album are written by Lennon and McCartney. Whilst avoiding including singles on albums at this time, they did so for the film soundtracks so ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ are included.

Whilst the songs are credited to both, it is generally excepted that Lennon was the main song-writing force behind this album. Lennon wrote 6 of the songs, was the main composer on 2 more and collaborated with McCartney on ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’. McCartney would contribute ‘And I Love Her’, ‘Things We Said Today’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’.

The album opens with title track ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ , with one of the most iconic opening strums of the guitar ever, which is still debated today as fans disagree what chord was used. It’s the definitive Beatlemania track, all happy up tempo rock n roll about loving a girl. The song name comes from a ‘Ringoism’ when he was asked why he looked so tired in the studio Ringo replied describing his bad sleep, “I had a hard day’s night.”

After the terrific opener, ‘I Should Have Known Better’ and ‘If I Fell’ back-to-back are practically a part one and two as both have some beautiful vocals from Lennon as he daydreams about asking a girl out and the magical things that will happen when they fall in love. Sweet and universal feelings that highlighted Lennon’s ability to write straight out and out love songs, with McCartney and Lennon sharing a microphone added intimacy on the harmonies in ‘If I Fell’.Opening-scene-a-hard-days-night-24207825-399-299

Next is ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’ which was described by McCartney as a ‘formula song’ and Lennon said he would never have sung it himself. Nevertheless, Harrison sings it sweetly taking his shy cute appeal with the fans to another level as he says “If somebody tries to takes my place, just pretend you can not see his face.” A throwback to innocent 50s dance hall rock n roll.

And I Love Her” would later be described by Lennon as McCartney’s first ‘Yesterday’ and is an absolute stand-out on the album. McCartney himself said it was the first time he was impressed by his own writing. Declarations of love were becoming overused slightly after 3 albums of it at this stage but rarely did it sound so sincere as Paul softly repeats the words “And I love her” as if declaring it coyly to friends and relatives that he has finally found the love of his life. Alongside ‘All My Loving’, easily one of McCartney’s best songs in the pre-Rubber Soul days.

Anytime At All” doesn’t quite hit any big heights and with the relatively poor recording of the vocals and instruments suggests this was meant as filler, Lennon himself would say it was merely an attempt to redo ‘It Won’t Be Long’ “with me shouting.” ‘I’ll Cry Instead” again brings in the Smokey Robinson influence portraying the pain of a break-up but with the added humour of Lennon arrogantly vowing to sleep with thousands of girls as an act of revenge.harddaysphoto

Another stand-out from the album is “Things We Said Today” which adds a level of urgency as Paul relates frustrations about being away from his girlfriend Jane Asher. It’s almost ominous in tone with added gloom to the vocals McCartney brings. It feels like an early attempt at the story-telling songs McCartney would later perfect like ‘For No One’ and ‘She’s Leaving Home’.

It’s funny that “When I Get Home“, a song in which Lennon sings about rushing home to see his wife so he can “love her till the cows come home,” is immediately followed by “You Can’t Do That“, an up tempo song which is actually quite dark as Lennon shows his jealous nature and his intention to hit his wife for looking at another man. film-beatles-film-a-hard-day-s-night-twickenham-studiosThis, alongside ‘Tell Me Why’ which McCartney suggested was about arguments John was having with his wife Cynthia at the time, is a theme Lennon would allude to in other songs on later albums. As is well-documented, Lennon was prone to occasional domestic violence and retrospect certainly does damage the jumpy, happiness these songs have.

‘Cant Buy Me Love’ is pretty much the Beatles retorting their previous ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ as their feelings on the matter changed with success. McCartney outlines a philosophy the Beatles would become figureheads of throughout the 60s; the love movement. It is rarely articulated more simply than here. This is what I’d call a ‘smile’ song, I absolutely can’t not smile when I hear it, a cure for depression if ever there was one.

After huge crowd-pleasing cover songs closing the first two albums, this one finishes with ‘I’ll Be Back’, a relatively downbeat closing as Lennon sounds like he’s drowning his sorrows at having to go. This move feels like a signal that the Beatles were starting to shake-off the Cavern Club days and looking to move elsewhere with their music. The intention is good but this time its not particularly memorable and pales next to Twist & Shout as an ending.

Final thoughts

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If I had to list my most to least favourite album by the Beatles, this would probably be my least (other than Yellow Submarine which isn’t a full album anyway). Many would disagree strongly with my opinion but for me the lack of variety in the music (it rarely drifts from upbeat rock n roll) and the similar tone throughout make this a collection of Beatles songs I have the least affection for.

However, in saying that, the Beatles were incapable of making a bad record. Its lack of appeal to me is only due to the ridiculous heights they achieved in other releases. When compared to albums by British Invasion bands of the 60s in general this is one of the finest releases of the time and it does still have some absolute classic songs like ‘And I Love Her’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’.

Seven out of ten and a silly face (my marking of these is especially harsh as I’m comparing between each Beatles’ album rather than against other artists. And just having tens across the board would be boring!)

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