Happy 50th birthday, Revolver!

Revolver

Used solely to illustrate the subject for the purpose of critique, and consistent with Fair Use doctrine

Revolver, one of my favoritest albums and one of the greatest albums of all time, turned 50 on 5 August. This album has been in my personal Top 5 for years and years, and I can’t see it ever not having one of those most coveted top spots. It’s just absolute perfection, a timeless classic.

The album spent seven weeks at #1 on the U.K. Albums Chart, and 34 weeks on the chart altogether. In the U.S., it spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top LPs chart. This was the last proper album to be repackaged by Capitol, and like its predecessor Rubber Soul, the name and cover were left alone.

Whereas RS has been called The Beatles’ pot album, Revolver was their acid album. Trippy sounds are all over the album, like backwards tape loops, sitars, and varispeeding. So many of the songs are lightyears away from their early offerings, with such mature, complex, surrealistic, and, yes, drug-induced themes. They’d moved beyond only doing simple love songs.

Track listing:

“Taxman”
“Eleanor Rigby” (one of only two songs, the other being “In My Life,” which John and Paul significantly disagreed on the authorship credits of)
“I’m Only Sleeping”
“Love You To”
“Here, There, and Everywhere”
“Yellow Submarine”
“She Said She Said”
“Good Day Sunshine”
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (the throwaway)
“For No One”
“Doctor Robert” (about the dentist who gave John and George their first acid trip)
“I Want to Tell You”
“Got to Get You into My Life”
“Tomorrow Never Knows”

Unusually, George got three songs (“Taxman,” “Love You To,” and “I Want to Tell You”). He’d really begun coming into his own as a songwriter by this point.

Also by this point, the four Beatles’ personalities were showing through most loud and clear in their songs. Even if you haven’t heard the songs but just read the lyrics, it’s pretty obvious which is which, and that each had distinctive interests and themes.

The album met with huge critical acclaim, and has continuously been praised over the ensuing decades. Many folks, myself included, consider it The Beatles’ very best. It holds up incredibly well over time, and doesn’t sound dated like a certain other Beatles’ album surrounded by massive hype. Revolver has more than enough substance underneath the acclaim. It’s not just a bunch of trippy noises with a classic album cover, more famous for being famous than for timeless, outstanding musical merit.

I absolutely adore this album! Even the throwaway, “And Your Bird Can Sing,” is listenable.

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Happy 50th Birthday to Rubber Soul!

RS U.S. Front

Don’t blame me for the shoddy condition of this record! The U.S repackagings of most of The Beatles’ albums came into my possession in 2008, and they were all in less than very good condition when I got them.

Released 3 December 1965, the same day as The Who’s début My Generation, The Beatles’ sixth studio album is widely established as one of their all-time best, both then and now. It holds up very well over time (unlike the most overrated album of all time), and marked the start of the band’s middle period, my favorite of their three eras. Even Capitol Records recognized what a special album it was and didn’t change the title or cover art.

Though this wasn’t the gigantic sea change many people portray it as, it was still a rather noticeable evolution from the types of songs on their last album, Help!, released just four months earlier. Their songwriting was starting to reflect their growing maturity, moving beyond simplistic boy-loves-girl songs to more introspective, complex scenarios, with artsy, sophisticated lyrics.

The songs:

“Drive My Car”
“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”
“You Won’t See Me”
“Nowhere Man”
“Think for Yourself”
“The Word”
“Michelle”
“What Goes On”
“Girl”
“I’m Looking Through You”
“In My Life”
“Wait”
“If I Needed Someone”
“Run for Your Life”

As per usual, Capitol Records changed the track listing and used songs from earlier albums. I can now understand this widespread practice in historical and economic context, but I still really, really dislike how it was once considered acceptable and appropriate to mess around with a band’s artistic vision and integrity. It would be like releasing a book or movie with scenes and chapters in different orders, and material from earlier works scattered in, for different international markets. The only repackaging Capitol got right was Magical Mystery Tour.

RS U.S. Back

The album was a huge chart and critical success, knocking The Sound of Music soundtrack out of Britain’s #1 spot and holding that most coveted position for 8 weeks. It stayed on the charts for 42 weeks, later returned to #1 upon the CD release on 9 May 1987, and most recently came to the charts again in 2007. In the U.S., it entered the charts on Boxing Day 1965, went to #1 on 8 January 1966, and stayed on the charts for 59 weeks.

My own favorite Beatles’ album is Revolver, but RS is nevertheless on my Top 5 (the others being The White Album, Abbey Road, and MMT). My favorite tracks are “Girl,” “Wait,” “In My Life,” “Think for Yourself,” and “If I Needed Someone.” The lattermost two songs were George’s, marking the first time he got more than a token song. Like John and Paul, he really began growing and maturing in his songwriting around this time. He got three on the next album, but then was back to just one for the next two albums.

The album’s not perfect, however. I totally agree with John’s assessment of the closer, “Run for Your Life.” It was a silly, substanceless throwaway that should’ve been left on the cutting-room floor or not even written. This isn’t even closing track material. Still, I’d rather listen to a throwaway from The Beatles (with a few certain exceptions) than anything from most modern-day pop groups. There’s just no comparison.

WeWriWa—In memory of George

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. In loving memory of George Harrison on his 14th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), this week’s snippet comes from my contemporary historical Bildungsroman, Little Ragdoll, Chapter 27, “Letters to and from Lucine and Emeline.”

It’s the fall of 1964, and 12-year-old Ernestine, 10-year-old Adicia, and 5-year-old Justine have written letters to two of their older sisters, 18-year-old Lucine and 16-year-old Emeline, who both ran away from home to avoid their black-hearted mother’s schemes to forcibly marry them off underage. Lucine is now a first-year student at Hunter College, and Emeline is a high school junior at the same Yorkville boarding school Lucine attended, a school for disadvantaged young women. The Episcopal priest and his wife running the school are now the adoptive parents of oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni, the unwanted product of her own forced marriage.

Super big brother Allen knows their address, and has let his little sisters write from his address so their evil mother won’t discover what really happened to her vanished daughters. Though Ernestine left home underage and now lives with some friends, Adicia and Justine are still at home. Emeline, near the end of her letter back, explains why George is her favorite Beatle.

George Harrison through the years.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images. My little brother has a kind of creepy resemblance to a young George Harrison.

To answer Ernestine’s question, yes, I do like The Beatles (and I can’t believe she’s old enough now to have celebrity crushes!).  Maybe I’m a little too old for them, but it’s not like I’m one of those screaming young girls who’s only thinking about how cute they are and can’t even hear them singing or playing their instruments.  Liking somebody’s music has nothing to do with how cute they are, though it does help if someone is good-looking in addition to talented.  My favorite is George.  I guess it’s because he’s the baby of the group, and it makes me think of my own dear little sisters and how the baby of a family needs special mothering, love, and protection.  Is it a good or a bad thing I feel such a strong mothering instinct at only sixteen?  Besides, I know how it feels to be pegged ‘the quiet one.’  That label sticks, and people sometimes don’t expect much of you since they think you’re not talkative.  But boy, will I prove to anyone who thinks I’m just another quiet, bookish girl that still waters can run deep when I go into the world and make something of myself!

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Not only does George’s music mean more to me than I can put into words, but he’s also one of my spiritual mentors. He was such a good person, with such a sincere, beautiful heart and soul, doing so much for the world, with such a strong belief in the power of humanity to change the world and improve ourselves. I often think of his profound last words, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.”

Good bands, fast popularity, teenybopper marketing Part IV (The Beatles on Capitol Records)

I would hope this final planned installment in this series needs no introduction! Unless you live under a huge rock, you know who The Beatles were. Even if you don’t personally care for them, find them overrated, or haven’t heard many of their songs, you at least know about them.

For a long time, it was common practice for record companies in different countries to repackage albums, by putting tracks in a different order, keeping off some tracks and substituting others, changing the album title, or using different cover art. I can’t accuse Capitol Records of doing this dastardly when just about all record companies did this once upon a time, and most serious music fans eventually discovered American and British releases differed for many bands.

However, that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. There was a reason the powers that be eventually stopped doing this. It ruins artistic integrity, misrepresents a band’s vision, and it’s inconvenient when fans in different countries have different versions of what’s supposed to be the same album. The product should be consistent across all markets.

Capitol primarily repackaged The Beatles’ albums through 1966. The only times after Revolver they did that again were in late 1967, for Magical Mystery Tour (the only repackaging they got right, which is far superior to the British EP), and in 1968, when they cobbled together an album called Hey Jude, consisting of singles and B-sides. To their credit, they rightly understood Rubber Soul and Revolver were something special, not like other albums of the time, and so kept the titles and cover art.

I personally most strongly prefer The Beatles’ middle period (RS through MMT), with their late period coming in second place. However, that doesn’t mean I think their early period sucks. It just means I’m more into the stuff they made after they started coming into more musical maturity and complexity. That said, you can’t get away from the fact that their early period coincides with the highest peak of teenybopper madness. The massive teenybopper fan base is what compelled Capitol to do these repackagings, beyond the fact that this was common practice anyway.

The Beatles’ British albums typically contained 14 songs, whereas American albums of the time tended to have 11. That might’ve only been a handful of songs Capitol held back from each album, worth pennies each, but that added up to millions of pennies for the record company. The teenyboppers bought anything with The Beatles’ names on it, and wouldn’t have cared these weren’t the original British releases.

Capitol gave these manufactured albums generic, cliché, insipid titles like Something New, Beatles ’65, Beatles VI, The Beatles’ Second Album, and The Early Beatles (the lattermost of which was an 11-track version of Please Please Me). They mismatched songs from very different-sounding albums, like putting Help! tracks on RS and mashing together RS and Revolver songs on Yesterday…and Today. This gave fans the completely false impression that The Beatles were still stuck in a certain style long after they’d moved on and matured.

I wish I could say I don’t understand why there was even a market for boxed sets of these repackagings some years back, but everyone knows what nostalgic, aging Boomers are like. They wanted to waltz down memory lane with the albums they grew up with, instead of readjusting to the proper British releases. I don’t want to generalise and insult anyone, given how many Boomers I know and respect, but this generation is beyond self-absorbed. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard/read a Boomer referencing being a Boomer when it has absolutely nothing to do with anything:

“I’m a Baby Boomer, and my mother has Alzheimer’s….”

“I’m a proud Boomer, and I have Golden Retrievers…”

“As a Boomer, I have happy memories of Colorforms…”

“Many Boomers have proud memories of…”

“Did I mention, I’m a Boomer?”

“I live in Boston, have cats, and I’m a Baby Boomer!”

“As more Boomers retire, there’s a greater need for home health aides…”

To quote the worst rapper alive, “Me! Me! It’s all about me!”

I was born at the tail-end of Gen X, and I have never seen any of my generation-mates referencing this accident of birth unless it’s relevant. You were born between 1946-64. Big deal. The world won’t stop turning if you’re not constantly reminding everyone you happen to be a freaking Boomer. Believe it or not, you’re not the first or last generation to deal with things like retirement, divorce, raising children, health problems, buying cars, sex, remarriage, working, caring for aging parents, or owning pets. Get over yourselves already!

The most overrated album of all time

Just because you like an album doesn’t mean you’re immune from looking at it with critical eyes. Sgt. Pepper is hands-down the singularly most overrated album of all time, bar absolute none. I’m glad more people have come to see it as more hype than substance. The review I gave it at my old Angelfire site was a generous 4 stars, but if I’m being perfectly honest about its faults, I’d downgrade it to 3.5 stars.

There’s FAR too much filler on this album for it to seriously be considered “the greatest album of all time.” Be honest. Are songs like “Fixing a Hole,” “Lovely Rita” (after which I named my fourth journal), “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” “Good Morning Good Morning,” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in the same league as songs like “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Come Together,” “In My Life,” “Something,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “Eleanor Rigby”? “Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning” in particular are throwaways, which John called out as garbage.

You cannot say this is their strongest, best, most classic album. Revolver, Rubber Soul, and Abbey Road are all way stronger and more substantial than this. Some people criticise AR for how most of Side Two consists of song snippets instead of complete songs, but it wouldn’t be the same album without all those mini-songs blending into one another. It just works for that album. Pepper is extremely disjointed, no cohesive style. Again, some people have leveled that same criticism at The White Album, but that also fits that particular album. Each Beatle has songs in his own style, and it sounds like a solo showcase for each instead of a unified band effort.

People seem to mindlessly heap praises on Pepper for superficial reasons, not because the music is awesome and stands up well to the test of time. It’s got one of the greatest, most iconic album covers of all time, and really helped along the shift from generic band pictures to real artwork. It was also the first widely-known album to include lyrics, and it also came with paper dolls of The Beatles in their psychedelic outfits. All of which are awesome, but have nothing to do with the actual musical content.

There’s an undeniably trippy, psychedelic sound, and perhaps it sounds even better on acid. (Not that I’m going to try psychedelic drugs!) There are layers of sound, new types of sounds, and innovative use of instruments. Again, that has more to do with surface things, NOT the actual musical substance. Coating dross with layers of gold doesn’t change the fact that there’s still dross lurking underneath. As much as I love Sixties music, some songs of this era do sound dated now, because of the overly psychedelic, experimental sounds. They can certainly be enjoyed as period pieces, but let’s not kid ourselves that they’re timeless classics.

The “concept” is laughably simplistic and unoriginal, a band giving a concert. How long did it take to come up with that one, Paul? This “concept” only lasts two songs anyway, and then comes back in the brief “Reprise” near the end. There are far superior concept albums from this era, like The Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake and The Who Sell Out. (Seriously, if you love Sixties music, I highly recommend The Small Faces. Don’t let U.S. oldies stations fool you into believing their only song was “Itchycoo Park.”)

These songs just don’t beg to be listened to over and over again, aren’t the types of songs you particularly need to listen to to understand The Beatles. Looking at it honestly, the strongest tracks are “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life” (a timeless classic), “Getting Better,” and “Within You Without You.” A lot of people like to crap all over George’s contribution, but I’ve always adored it. When I first heard it at age 14, it were like an invisible door to another world opened up and expanded my mind, showed me all these possibilities, introduced me to Indian music. “With a Little Help from My Friends” is also fun, obviously one of Ringo’s most famous Beatles’ songs.

Ultimately, it smacks of drug-induced overindulgence, elevating the art aspect of music over the actual music aspect. Granted, I’d rather listen to The Beatles’ filler songs than the filler songs of most modern artists, but it’s still more filler than substance. I’d recommend Revolver, Rubber Soul, Abbey Road, The White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, and even A Hard Day’s Night (my favourite album from their early period) over this bloated exercise in excess.