Rubber Soul by The Beatles

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Rubber Soul by The BeatlesAs the years have gone by, Rubber Soul has distinguished itself more and more from the “typical” early album by The Beatles. While the 14 selections remain pretty much bright and poppy, the underlying lyrical content starts to touch on more mature themes, as its center of gravity migrates from teenage love to young adult sex. More importantly are the compositions, the music and the sound production which feature a stream of creative innovativeness by the group and producer George Martin.

Following the band’s international success in 1964, the year 1965 saw many new achievements and discoveries for the group, ranging from their reception of Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in June to their first experiences with LSD and other drugs later in the year. During the summer of 1965, the motion picture and accompanying soundtrack album Help! were released and continued their phenomenal chart success. The group’s third US tour followed, opening with a then world-record crowd of over 55,000 at Shea Stadium in New York on August 15th, with many more sold out cities to follow. That Fall even saw the premier of an American Saturday-morning cartoon series of the band, the first ever television series to feature animated versions of real, living people.

After the tour, the group had little time to record their sixth album in order for it to hit the markets in time for Christmas. However, due to their second straight year of top-level success, there was little pressure to focus on hit singles, which made this their most cohesive album effort to date. They returned to London in October 1965 and nearly all of the songs were composed and recorded within a four week period into November. The Beatles grew up quite a bit on this album. The harmonies are simple but artfully arranged while the production begins to get a bit “edgy” (without being too revolutionary) but adding more piano and keyboards as well as excess percussion and some non-traditional instrumentation.

Stylistically, the group incorporates contemporary R&B, soul, folk rock, and just a tad of psychedelic music styles. In fact, the album’s title is a play on the slang term “plastic soul”, which some musicians coined to describe Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones when he attempted to replicate the “soul” singing style.


Rubber Soul by The Beatles
Released: December 3, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Studios, London, October-November, 1965
Side One Side Two
Drive My Car
Norweigen Wood
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
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards. Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Bass, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Organ, Vocals

The album opener, “Drive My Car”, reaches back to The Beatles’ roots as a pure rocker with little deviation, save for the overdubbed piano during chorus sections and Ringo Starr‘s cow bell throughout. Lyrically, the comical phrases are augmented by the title, which is an old blues euphemism for sex. Rubber Soul‘s next two tracks feature incredible production value. John Lennon‘s, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, is where the group takes its first real leap into the unknown as an acoustic folk song with a complementing sitar riff played by George Harrison. This works to gives a mystical feel to this story of what seems to be about a love affair that has lost its spark and the fire that was once warm and welcoming becomes vengeful in the end. Some have credited this song as the conception of the “world music” genre. “You Won’t See Me”, is a somewhat forgotten gem by Paul McCarftney. It is piano driven with fine chord progressions and melodies throughout. The bridge section shows off McCartney’s complex compositional skills, while the three part-harmonies throughout are another highlight to the song.

The Beatles in 1965

“Nowhere Man”, features clever lyrics and philosophical commentary by Lennon, all while remaining melodic and pop-oriented. Harrison provides a slight guitar lead after first verse, while McCartney and Starr thumb out good rhythms throughout on this track which reach number 3 on the pop charts in America. “Think for Yourself”, is the first of two compositions by Harrison this album and features an intriguing “fuzz” bass line by McCartney, complemented by a Vox Continental organ played by Lennon, giving it a total mid sixties vibe. While still entertaining, “The Word”, is the first song in the sequence which is not absolutely excellent, as the harmonies seem a bit too forced. However, this track does contain a cool piano backdrop and outstanding drums by Starr. The first side wraps with another unique track, the European folk-influenced, “Michelle”, complete with lyrics partially in French. This melodramatic love song is beautifully produced with rich background harmonies and Chet Atkins-style finger-picked electric guitar by McCartney for great sonic effect. “Michelle”, which was originally written as a spoof on French Bohemians during the Beatles’ early days, was re-written with proper lyrics for Rubber Soul and eventually won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967.

Side two of the album is not quite as excellent as the first side, but still contains solid songs throughout. “What Goes On”, is Starr’s country and western influenced contribution, in which he sings lead vocals and receives partial compositional credit for the only time on the album. Lennon’s, “Girl”, features great folk rhythms and melodies and previews some of his finer solo works years later. With more fine harmonies, the songs lyrics paint a vivid picture of a character who drives the protagonist crazy but is mesmerizing nonetheless;

Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure? Did she understand it when they said… That a man must break his back to earn his day of leisure? Will she still believe it when he’s dead?”

Following McCartney’s bright and sparse acoustic pop track, “I’m Looking Through You”, comes Lennon’s masterpiece of this album, “In My Life”. Everything about this two and a half minute ballad showcases the Beatles at their best in 1965, The opening guitar notes, which were written by McCartney but played by Harrison, instantly tug at heartstrings. The poetic lyrics drip with sentimentality and lead to the climatic, Baroque–style piano lead played by Martin, which got a unique effect when the producer recorded it at half speed and found an authentic-sounding harpsichord result when played back at the normal rate. The first of its kind, Lennon wrote the song as a long poem reminiscing on his childhood years, themes which would be further explored by Beatles’ members on future band albums.

“Wait”, features great choruses and a decent bridge by McCartney along with a creative percussive ensemble and pedal-effected guitars, but is otherwise a weak song for this album. This is followed by Harrison’s smooth classic, “If I Needed Someone”, which features deliberate vocals, a sweet guitar and upbeat rhythms. This song was nearly simultaneously recorded and released as a cover by the Hollies and became a minor hit for that group. While Rubber Soul is a bright album overall, it concludes with the dark and violent, “Run for Your Life”, an ode to domestic violence or perhaps the “outlaw country” of 1965, as presented by Lennon. A very far cry from the “Give Peace a Chance” theme of the near future, it is hard to discern if this is serious or dark comedy lyrically, but musically it contains a plethora of guitar textures – from the strummed acoustic, to the slide electric and rockabilly lead – which make it undeniably catchy overall.

Like all albums to that point, Rubber Soul was released with differing British and American versions, with the British version eventually becoming canon (and hence, the one we review here). The album was another commercial success, originally staying on the charts for nearly a year, with several chart comebacks throughout the decades. Within the following year of 1966, The Beatles would continue to accelerate their recording innovations with the follow-up, Revolver ,and give up on touring completely to strictly become a studio-oriented band.

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1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Help! by The Beatles

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Help by The BeatlesTheir fifth overall studio album, Help!, is perhaps the final of The Beatles‘ pop-centric, “mop-top” era records released over the course of 30 months. Still, the group did make some musical strides on this album, most particularly a stylistic move towards folk and country on several tracks and the addition of piano and keyboards, performed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney on a few songs. Released in conjunction with their second feature-length film (of the same name), Help!, contains fourteen tracks split evenly between seven that were featured in the film (side one) and seven other 1965 studio tracks on the original second side of the LP.

Already a relentlessly hard working group, The Beatles’ American and worldwide breakthrough in early 1964 only served to expand their schedule as their label and management looked to fully capitalize on their unprecedented popular success. During March and April of 1964, the group members filmed A Hard Day’s Night as they played themselves in a “mock-umentary” about their sudden success where the Beatles showed a knack for comedy. That film was accompanied by their third studio LP with each being very well received. During the summer of 1964, the Beatles embarked on an international tour through Europe, Asia, and Australia, followed by a 30-concert tour of the United States. Returning to Abbey Road studios, the Beatles recorded and released their fourth studio LP, Beatles for Sale in late 1964, which had a much darker tone than any of their previous work.

The Beatles on the set of HelpIn early 1965, the group filmed the movie, Help!, which included a much larger budget than the previous year’s A Hard Days Night. As a result, this movie was filmed in color and at many disparate locations including various places in England, the Bahamas, and the Austrian Alps. However, the richer plot and cast served to alienate the band members who stated that they felt like “guest stars” or even extras in their own film, despite the fact that the drummer, Ringo Starr, plays a central part in the plot.

Music for the film and album was produced by George Martin who, for the first time, employed “track bouncing” techniques for overdubbing. Distinct versions of the record were released in the UK and North America (we focus on the long since canonized British LP version in this review). The North American (Capitol Records) release was of EP length and features some orchestral scores produced by Dave Dexter, with omitted songs later appearing on the US versions of Beatle VI and Rubber Soul. On the other end of the spectrum, a few songs that were recorded intended for the film were not used in either the movie or on the album, including the tracks “If You’ve Got Trouble”, “That Means a Lot”, “Yes It Is”, and an early version of, “Wait”, a song re-recorded for Rubber Soul later in the year.


Help! by The Beatles
Released: August 6, 1965 (Parlophone)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI (Abbey Road) Studios, February–June 1965
Side One Side Two
Help!
The Night Before
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
I Need You
Another Girl
You’re Going to Lose That Girl
Ticket to Ride
Act Naturally
It’s Only Love
You Like Me Too Much
Tell Me What You See
I’ve Just Seen a Face
Yesterday
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The title track storms in with a sudden vocal explosion of the distinct intro section of “Help”. Written by Lennon to express his personal difficulties with the Beatles’ sudden success, the song contains a desperate message lyrically but an excited and frantic approach musically and tonally, making for a strange but effective mix of emotions throughout. The descending bass and guitar line during the chorus is the most effective and interesting element of this fine track which became the group’s tenth #1 pop hit. McCartney’s, “The Night Before”, features a nice mixture of guitars and electric piano, adding an overall twang effect to the background. The sharp beat and rhythm is kind of boilerplate Beatles at this point in their career but this song does feature a unique, duo guitar lead by McCartney and George Harrison.

“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” is a loose tribute to Bob Dylan which features a tremendous sound that is at once simple but still fills the room. Lennon constructed this not as a lovey-dovey song, but as an introspective track where he delivers totally distinct vocals and gives early Beatles fans a glimpse into what group would the later become. Aside from Lennon’s strummed acoustic, the song musically features simple, layered percussion and an earthy, ending flute solo by guest John Scott. “I Need You” is an early, forgotten gem by Harrison that features sweet sounds, such as a cool guitar pedal effect, and somber vocals.

Later on the first side, the Beatles revert back to some of their traditional styles. “Another Girl” includes some bluesly slide guitars, possibly influenced by Brian Jones, as well as a nice little solo lead at the very end. But otherwise, the track was garden variety and had not ever been played live by any Beatle until April 2015, over 50 years after it was recorded. Lennon’s “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” was a bit more popular, in somewhat the same vein of the female vocal groups of the day, with its backing vocal chorus call-and-response. “Ticket To Ride” is not only the only track to exceed three minutes in length, but may well be the finest overall song on the album. There are inventive and entertaining blends of sound throughout and droning rhythms with steady but interesting drum patterns by Starr during the verse/chorus sections that work seamlessly with Harrison’s ringing guitar riff and Lennon and McCartney’s harmonized melodies. The song transitions to a few upbeat bridge sections which transition back with a slight solo guitar flourish. Lyrically, the song caught some controversy due to its sexual connotations, but nonetheless topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic when it was released ahead of the album in April 1965.

 
The album’s second side features two tracks which made up one of the oddest inverted 45 singles ever. The cover “Act Naturally”, with lead vocals by Starr is a country-flavored acoustic track and complete change of pace for the group, which was originally issued as a single with McCartney’s “Yesterday” occupying the ‘B’ side. Of course, “Yesterday” became one of the most popular songs in music history, even though its solo performance by McCartney with string quartet and non-rock-n-roll approach was considered a significant risk by the band at the time. It is a song that hits every note in your emotions and a universal song that makes one feel a little nostalgic no matter what age. McCartney says he received the entire melody in a dream and hurried to a piano to play the tune before he forgot it, using the filler theme “Scrambled Eggs”.

The remaining songs on side two are relatively lesser known, albeit interesting. “It’s Only Love” is a short blend of Byrds-meet-Roy Orbison with a slight preview of the psychedelic flower-power English pop to come. Harrison’s “You Like Me Too Much” is another retro-sounding tune with a hi-hat and double piano holding the beat and a bridge section which features trade-offs between lead guitar and piano by Lennon and Martin. On “Tell Me What You See”, complex percussion rules the day through the first two verses and an electric piano section at end. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” features a great intro with dueling acoustic guitars, fantastic vocals by McCartney, and a fast-paced skiffle beat throughout. If anything, this track shows how the Beatles can take common instruments, voices and tools to  make unique and divergent sounds. The Larry Williams cover, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” concludes the album as a groovy early sixties jam which, if anything, shows that this is still the “Beatles” after the unconventional track, “Yesterday”. This song is also notable as the final cover song on a Beatles album until 1970’s Let It Be, which included the traditional folk song, “Maggie Mae”.

Beyond spawning three #1 singles, Help! became an album chart-topper as well as a multi-platinum seller worldwide. Following the album’s release, The Beatles embarked on their third US tour, which opened with the classic Shea Stadium performance on August 15, 1965 that shattered all previous attendance records. Following the tour, the group took some time to focus on their next album, which would become the classic Rubber Soul late in 1965.

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1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.

 

Let It Be by The Beatles

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Let It Be by The BeatlesReleased less than a month after the announcement of their breakup, Let It Be was a unique release by The Beatles on several fronts. First, the bulk of the album was recorded over a year earlier (and before the recording and release of 1969’s Abbey Road) and was slated to be released twice in 1969 as different incarnations of an album called Get Back. Also, after it was finally released, there was debate over the enriched production added by Phil Spector, which ultimately led to a 2003 re-mixed version called Let It Be Naked.

The idea for this project was sparked by Paul McCartney who wanted to use these sessions to “get back” to the rock basics of the band’s early years. McCartney was also eager to play live again and wanted simplify the band’s sound, which had gotten increasingly complex in the studio. As an added dimension, the rehearsals and recording sessions would be filmed as part of a planned documentary showing the group prepare for a return to playing live.

Starting in late 1968, the project was marred by confusion in purpose and production duties and, ultimately, led to strong animosity within the band itself. In fact, George Harrison temporarily quit the band and agreed to return only if plans for a live tour were nixed (the band ended up playing a single “show” on the roof of Apple Studios). Still, the band was incredibly prolific in rehearsing over a hundred songs during these sessions, which included early incarnations of songs which would end up on Abbey Road and several early solo albums by individual band members.

An originally intended release date for Get Back was set for the summer of 1969, but the group members were dissatisfied with the mix and the project was temporarily shelved while they worked on Abbey Road. Early in 1970, a second version was attempted, again to less-than satisfactory results. Finally, Spector was brought in to “save” the project in March 1970 and finished the album which now had a new title and new status as the final album by the world’s most popular rock band.


Let It Be by The Beatles
Released: May 8, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: Phil Spector & George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road, Twickenham & Apple studios, London, February 1968-April 1970
Side One Side Two
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Dig It
Let It Be
Maggie Mae
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
Get Back
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Tambora, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

“Two of Us” was written by McCartney about a driving adventure with his future wife, Linda. While early incarnations were electric guitar-driven, the final album version was mostly acoustic with harmonized vocals by McCartney and John Lennon. “Dig a Pony” was composed and sung by Lennon, almost as a counterpart to the opener as it was inspired by his future wife, Yoko. This song was also the first of several to feature guest Billy Preston on electric piano.

The oldest composition on Let It Be, “Across the Universe” was written by Lennon in 1967 and originally recorded in early 1968. The song’s vibe was heavily influenced by the transcendental meditation the band was studying at the time, and its melodic flow make it one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. “I Me Mine” was Harrison’s first songwriting contribution to the album with lyrics that mock the bickering within the band. Late on the album’s first side are a couple of filler tracks, each less than a minute in duration. “Dig It” is credited to all four group members (giving Ringo Starr a rare songwriting credit), while “Maggie Mae” is a traditional British skiffle tune.

McCartney’s title ballad was Billboard’s highest debut single to that date and the final single before the band’s breakup announcement. The song was sparked by a dream he had about his mother (Mary), who had died when Paul was a teenager and its title and theme served as a call for serenity in the face of the band’s breakup.

Beatles in the Film Studio, 1969The album’s second side begins with “I’ve Got a Feeling”, a fusion of two unfinished songs, along with John Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year”, which may have been one of the last true collaborations between the famous songwriting team. McCartney’s guitar-driven and upbeat rock theme fuses nicely with Lennon’s mellow folk lines to make a unique tune. In contrast, “One After 909” was a song written a full decade earlier in 1960, as one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions. It was recorded here as a symbolic gesture to signify the band’s return to “good ol’ rock n’ roll”. “The Long and Winding Road” became the group’s twentieth and final number one song as a mature and philosophical piano ballad by McCartney. After production modifications by Spector, which included orchestral strings Richard Anthony Hewson and a choral arrangement by John Barham, McCartney expressed outrage at the enhancements without his input.

Harrison’s “For You Blue” features Lennon playing lap steel guitar with McCartney playing an intentionally dulled piano, which act as the only “bass” on the track. The album closer, “Get Back”, was the earliest single from the album, released over a year before the album as a single credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston.” The album’s version is a different mix of the song. The song’s evolution was fully documented on film and the album’s version ends with the ironic quote by Lennon,

I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition…”

Let It Be topped national charts in a half dozen countries worldwide and won an Academy Award for the Best Original Score for the songs in the film. Beatles fans still debate whether this is truly their final studio album or more of a posthumous release of tracks from an unfinished project. In any case, it is a quality addition to the band’s portfolio.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

Plastic Ono Band
by John Lennon

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Plastic Ono Band by John LennonOur third and final installment of the “Life After Beatles” series looks at the critically acclaimed debut record by John Lennon called John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band. Unlike any other that Lennon had recorded within or beyond the Beatles, this album was raw and forthright lyrically and stripped to the bare essentials musically. The songs were largely the product of the “primal scream” psychological therapy that Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono undertook through a large part of 1970, following the Beatles’ breakup. This technique emphasized the emotional release of repressed traumas, which is evident throughout the album as Lennon touches on the most base elements of life and death.

Prior to 1970, Lennon and Ono had jointly issued three experimental albums along with Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which was credited to the “Plastic Ono Band”, a newly enshrined joint vehicle for Lennon and Ono’s musical projects. In early 1970 they released the single “Instant Karma!”, which sold over a million copies and reached the top five on both sides of the Atlantic, making it the first true solo “hit” by any of the Beatles. The song was produced by Phil Spector, who was also working on the Beatles Let It Be album, and featured Klaus Voormann on bass, who Lennon would retain for this album.

Starting in July 1970, Lennon recorded demos of tracks inspired by the ongoing therapy which was then taking place in the United States. In September the couple returned to England and began recording at Abbey Road. The sessions began with Lennon, Voormann, and former Beatle bandmate Ringo Starr jamming to early rock standards to forge a tight sound among the three. Ultimately, the new tracks were laid down with this base, three-piece arrangement. Originally slated to be the album’s producer, Spector’s busy schedule meant he could only work on a few songs, so Lennon and Ono produced most of the material themselves, forging a dry rhythmic sound which worked perfectly with the thematic feel of the album. John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band was recorded simultaneously with Ono’s debut solo album of avant garde sounds, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.


Plastic Ono Band by John Lennon
Released: December 11, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios & Ascot Sound Studios, London, September–October 1970
Side One Side Two
Mother
Hold On
I Found Out
Working Class Hero
Isolation
Remember
Love
Well Well Well
Look at Me
God
My Mummy’s Dead
Primary Musicians
John Lennon – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Klaus Voormann – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

On the same day they released their respective albums, the couple also released a joint single of Ono’s “Why” and Lennon’s “Mother”. Starting with a tolling bell which symbolizes the death of his mother when John was a teenager, the song abruptly enters as a raw and untamed prayer with choppy piano chords and bass notes along with Starr’s moderately steady drum beat. Actually a cry to both parents (who Lennon pretty much grew up without), this ode to abandonment features a final line which is repeated nearly a dozen times with increasing intensity and dramatic effect. This represents the fact that being left behind by both parents will always be in the back drop of anything else in his life. In contrast, the sweet and soft “Hold On” changes the tone from the inner battle that has been going on forever to a hopeful mood of optimism. Musically, this is led by fantastic, jazzy tremolo guitar by Lennon.

I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa, they didn’t want me so they made me a star…”

We return to the primal scream, angry-at-the-world material with “I Found Out”. Starting with pure, raw blues as Lennon’s vocals mimicks his guitar riff, the song takes off when Voorman and Starr break in with upbeat rhythms, with the bass line being the true highlight of this dark but fine tune. Speaking of dark, “Working Class Hero” is a solo folk performance where Lennon provides at once a slightly profound anthem to the “regular guy” and a bitch fest to suppress all hope of escaping to a better life. Closing side one, “Isolation” is a largely underrated classic as a great desperate ballad where Lennon’s vocal skills are at their best. A beautiful piano is upfront while the rhythm is very refined and laid back and everything is staggered (or “isolated”), eventually climaxing in a crescendo with exquisite timing.

People say we got it made, don’t they know we’re so afraid, isolation…”

With a consistent, driving beat and vocals methodically delivered with long pauses between each verse line, “Remember” is another gem from the heart of this album. During the well-spaced chorus sections the song briefly changes direction with more standard, melodic rock timings. Lyrically, this song deals with remembering events of the past and how some memories are not that rosy but they still help you shape your today. For the song’s climax, Lennon references “The Fifth of November”, a British holiday known as Guy Fawkes Night and celebrated with fireworks, hence the ending explosion. “Love” is a soft and weepy ballad, which works well as a counterbalance on this emotional album. Musically, the song features piano by Spector and a soft, tender acoustic guitar by Lennon. This song was eventually released as a single in 1982, in the wake of Lennon’s assassination.

John LennonThe weakest part of the album begins with “Well Well Well”, a six minute filler that is not at all focused or anywhere nearly as interesting as the other “primal scream” tracks. Aside from some interesting stomping and crunchy guitar riffs, this song has about as much merit as a prolonged conversation where no one says anything of substance. “Look At Me” is another weak track, albeit at least a bit moody and melodic. The only song to predate the Beatles’ breakup, this song was written during sessions for the White Album in 1968 and contains a finger-picked acoustic technique similar to that album’s “Dear Prudence”. The album does recover nicely with the philosophical closer, “God”, featuring Billy Preston on piano. The song features a totally unique compositional formation with long, repetitive mid-section screed. Here, Lennon earnestly declares what he believes in and (most prominently) doesn’t believe in, with a whole list of terrestrial idols culminating with The Beatles themselves. This is followed by the sad closing section where Lennon repeatedly declares “the dream is over”, ultimately addressing the elephant in the room to which all previous subjects have built towards.

Much like the classic Abbey Road a year earlier, Platic Ono Band ends with a song after the final song, in this case a low-fi demo of a brief diddy called “My Mummy’s Dead”. The album reached Top 10 and spent several months in 1971 in the charts. Lennon followed up on the success of this album with Imagine, another self-confessional (albeit tamer) album which was a worldwide hit for Lennon.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

All Things Must Pass
by George Harrison

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All Things Must Pass by George HarrisonWe start our three part mini-series called “Life After Beatles” with All Things Must Pass, the triple LP album which George Harrison the month the Beatles officially broke up. However, much of the material on this album dates back to later Beatles projects (usually as material rejected by the band) as well as personal contemporary influence from artists like Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. For the Beatle who was often relegated to a supporting player with one or few compositions per album, this was a massive break out for Harrison as he firmly established his own musical identity and introduced methods like his signature slide guitar technique. The result was a critical and commercial success and some consider this to be the best of all the former Beatles’ solo albums.

Harrison previously recorded two experimental solo albums called Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which made use of early synthesizers. Following the release of The Beatles’ White Album in late 1968, Harrison took a trip to America, which included a stop at Dylan’s residence in Woodstock, NY as The Band was working on their self-titled sophomore album. Inspired by the songwriting methods of Dylan and his protégés and a renewed fascination with the guitar, Harrison began writing prolifically, and contributed songs to artists Billy Preston, Doris Tory, an Cream. Harrison also briefly toured with Clapton and his group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. Although he began to openly discuss recording a solo album in 1969, it was not until The Beatles’ break-up in the Spring of 1970, that Harrison moved forward with the project.

Producer Phil Spector was invited to listen to Harrison’s growing library of unreleased compositions, some of which dated back as far as 1966. These diverse songs ranged in sub-genres from rock to country, Motown, Gospel and Indian music, as well as many hybrid fusions of these styles. Even though there was enough finished material to release a triple-length album, Harrison reportedly made demos of at least twenty other songs, most of which have yet to be released. Due to Spector’s rich “wall of sound” recording method, it is hard to discern exactly who played what on which track. However, this album did employ an incredible roster of talented rock musicians to back Harrison. Along with Clapton and Preston, these included fellow Beatle Ringo Starr, Dave Mason, Alan White, Phil Collins, and all four members of the group Badfinger.


All Things Must Pass by George Harrison
Released: November 27, 1970 (Apple)
Produced by: George Harrison & Phil Spector
Recorded: Abbey Road, Trident, & Apple Studios London, May–October 1970
Side One Side Two
I’d Have You Anytime
My Sweet Lord
Wah-Wah
Isn’t It a Pity
What Is Life
If Not for You
Behind That Locked Door
Let It Down
Run of the Mill
Side Three Side Four
Beware of Darkness
Apple Scruffs
Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp
Awaiting on You All
All Things Must Pass
I Dig Love
Art of Dying
Isn’t It a Pity (version 2)
Hear Me Lord
Side Five Side Six
Out of the Blue
It’s Johnny’s Birthday
Plug Me In
I Remember Jeep
Thanks for the Pepperoni
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eric Clapton – Guitars
Klaus Voorman – Bass
Ringo Starr – Drums

All Things Must Pass starts with the ballad “I’d Have You Anytime”, a song co-written by Harrison and Dylan in Woodstock in November 1968. This opener features a fine guitar lead by Clapton, although he was not originally credited due to contractual concerns. The first minute and a half of the hit “My Sweet Lord” is quite brilliant in its approach. But this song does get quite repetitive and the backing religious chants wear thin later on in the song. The song turned out to be a mixed blessing as Harrison’s biggest pop hit (number one for four weeks) but also controversial due to the lawsuit for copyright infringement due to this tracks similarity to the sixties pop hit “He’s So Fine”.

“Wah-Wah” is a track with great sonic texture and arrangement that was written during Harrison’s brief departure from the Beatles in early 1969. It was the first track recorded for the album and includes a great performance by Badfinger in backing Harrison. “Isn’t It a Pity” is even older, dating back to the 1966 Rubber Soul sessions. Two distinct versions of this melancholy ballad were included on the album, with the seven-minute side one closer being the more popular version, which reached the top of the charts in Canada.

George Harrison and Eric Clapton in 1970The fantastic rocker “What Is Life” is one of Harrison’s most indelible tunes, driven by a rich guitar riff, great melody, and strategic horns, all of which helped make it a top-ten hit in the United States. Originally, the song was a concerted effort at “blue-eyed soul” but the result is much closer to heavy rock/pop. Written solely by Dylan, “If Not for You” is a bright pop song with slight Caribbean elements and the only song not at least partially composed by Harrison. “Behind That Locked Door” follows as a Country-waltz with some steel guitars in distance, while “Let It Down” was one of a few presented to the Beatles during the Let It Be sessions, but ultimately rejected by the other band members. “Run of the Mill” starts with blissful blend of guitars while the lyrics express some frustration with the circumstances surrounding the Beatles’ business practices.

The album’s fine third side begins with the slow drudge and subtle, building intensity of “Beware of Darkness”. The lyrics of this song reflect Eastern philosophy and the wariness of corrupting influences. A light tribute to rock fans, “Apple Scruffs” is dominated by harmonica, upbeat strummed acoustic, and rich harmony vocals. The clicking percussion by Mal Evans gives it a feeling of spontaneity. “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)” contains some good melodies and great sonic feel as a distant slide guitar and near piano work well together, while “Awaiting On You All” is a Gospel rock revival that is almost too richly produced for its own good.

The excellent title ballad is filled with rich instrumentation and a great overall vibe. First recorded with The Beatles, the song was originally released by Billy Preston on his Encouraging Words album. Harrison was influenced by The Band’s communal music-making with the lyrics drawing from Timothy Leary’s poem “All Things Pass”. “I Dig Love” has a raw sound and catchy groove – repetitive but in useful way, while “Art of Dying” contains more great rock elements. The side four closer “Hear Me Lord” is an explicit prayer asking for help in becoming a better person, with a strong chorus in background and a very animated piano throughout.

The final two sides of the album is known collectively as “Apple Jam”, with four of the five tracks being improvised instrumental tracks. The best of these is the long droning “Out of the Blue”, a two-chord jam with decent sax lead early on and subtle piano and organ motifs later. “I Remember Jeep” contains some synthesized effects overdubs and features former Cream and Bind Faith drummer Ginger Baker, while “Thanks for the Pepperoni” is the most roots-rock oriented jam. The only vocal track on these two sides is “It’s Johnny’s Birthday”, which was recorded as a gag to present to John Lennon on his 30th birthday.

All Things Must Pass launched a long and respectable solo career for George Harrison, concluding with his 15-year final project Brainwashed. Still, few dispute that this first post-Beatles release is Harrison’s true masterpiece that would never be equaled.

~

1970 Page ad

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.

 

The Beatles

Buy The Beatles

The Beatles (white album)In 1968, The Beatles released their only double studio album, an eponymous release commonly referred to as The White Album. Despite the official title which emphasized group identity, the actual recordings were segmented and increasingly individualized based on the original composer of each tune.  Much of this was due to dissent and inner turmoil in which members openly objected to certain tunes. In fact, all four members of the group play together on barely half of the album’s 30 tracks and producer George Martin later admitted he advocated for a “very good single album” in lieu of including so many marginal individualized tracks. Thematically, the White Album was a complete withdrawal from The Beatles 1967 albums, retreating from the lush and vivid colorful themes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour with a plain white sleeve (save for the band’s name discreetly embossed) to pair with the most simple of titles. This was also the first release by the group on their independent label, Apple Records.

Even with 30 tracks, the album omitted much potential material. Several songs started during the five months of recording were later included on Abbey Road and several solo albums by the members and the group opted to release the tracks “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” (two of the most popular songs ever by the Beatles) as a pre-release single than include them on the White Album. With such a large amount of tracks, the album contains an eclectic mix of songs from wide musical genres, including folk, country , avant-garde, classical and chamber music, and British dance-hall music. The Beatles only slightly continued their psychedelic leanings from 1967 but spent much more effort returning to basic rock and blues of their earlier years. Such diversity on a single album was largely unprecedented in 1968 and seemed to bring equal measures of praise and criticism from fans and critics over the years. Still, The Beatles was a phenomenal commercial success, reaching number one on both side of the Atlantic and selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.

Many of the songs originated in Rishikesh, India while the band was collectively on a Transcendental Meditation retreat with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. Both John Lennon and Paul McCartney used the time to write songs in earnest and would frequently meet to discuss song ideas (even though this was in contrast to the meditation “course”). Theses songs were composed on acoustic guitar, the only Western instrument available during their Indian visit. Once back in England, the group gathered at George Harrison‘s home to hash out the close to forty new compositions and make preliminary plans for recording. The sessions for The White Album were the first on which the band used 8-track recording, starting with “Hey Jude” at Trident Studios in central London before returning to Abbey Road Studios once EMI installed their own 8-track machine.

During the lengthy sessions from May through October 1968 much internal conflict began, group members later pinpointed this as the beginning of their ultimate breakup. Frustrated with his diminished role on several tracks, drummer Ringo Starr quit the band for a brief time, leaving McCartney as the drummer on a couple of tracks. These were also the first Beatles sessions where wives and girlfriends frequently attended, most notably Lennon’s future wive Yoko Ono, who was constant presence at the sessions. As a result of the tension McCartney and Lennon would often record in separate studios at Abbey Road (there were three), each using different engineers. The turmoil of these sessions extended beyond the band members. Engineer Geoff Emerick, who had worked on several albums with the Beatles, abruptly quit and announced he would no longer work with the band and even George Martin took an unannounced holiday midway through the sessions, leaving the group to scramble for an interim producer. In the end, however, Lennon. McCartney, and Martin got together for a 24-hour session to mix, master, and sequence the White Album.


The Beatles by The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Side One Side Two
Back In the U.S.S.R.
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Blackbird
Piggies
Rocky Raccoon
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
I Will
Julia
Side Three Side Four
Birthday
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Long, Long, Long
Revolution 1
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night
Group Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Keyboards, Harmonica, Saxophone, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, Drums, Flugelhorn, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Organ, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals

 

McCartney played drums on the first two tracks of The Beatles. The opener “Back in the USSR” commences with jet aircraft effects and breaks into an upbeat rocker, combining elements of earlier Beatles and Beach Boys songs. In fact, Mike Love of the Beach Boys also attended the retreat in Rishikesh and he encouraged McCartney to “talk about the girls all around Russia” when Paul told him of his idea to write a song called “Back in the USSR” as a homage to Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”. Although no tracks from The White Album were initially released as singles, “Back in the USSR” was released by Parlophone as a single in the UK in 1976, eight years later. “Dear Prudence” arrives like an awakening or a drawing out, with the hypnotically picked, rotating guitars by Lennon. The subject of this song is Prudence Farrow, part of the Rishikesh entourage, who became so serious about her meditation that she rarely came out of the cottage she was living in, prompting others to enlist Lennon to try and make sure she came out more often. Towards the end of the song is a good rock jam which previews some of the finer moments on the album.

“Glass Onion” contains lyrics and music that acts as an epilogue to Magical Mystery Tour. Like a psychedelic trip through the past year, the lyrics call out earlier Beatles songs by name with provocative lyrics to fans such as; “Well here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul”, which Lennon later dismissed as having no deeper meaning. On the gibberish front, McCartney’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” may contain sophomoric lyrics, but this song shines for its pure sonic quality, starting with McCartney’s vocals which sound like nothing else he had (or has) done. Thematically, this infectiously fun song is an expression of the pure joy of everyday, ordinary life. While Lennon, openly detested this song in its original, reggae-influenced form, the band spent many sessions reworking it towards its finished form.

George HarrisonAfter the filler experimental piece “Wild Honey Pie”, a flamenco guitar phrase introduces “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”. Like a kids song gone rogue, the song mocks a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took break from meditation to go hunting tigers. Recorded later in the album sessions, “Bungalow Bill” features Yoko Ono singing co-lead vocals for a single line, the only female lead vocal in the Beatles library. Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the best moment on the album. With a great piano intro and chord structure, the song features a pulsating rhythm beneath the profound vocals of Harrison and wild guitar  by guest Eric Clapton. Inspiration for the song came from reading the I Ching which prompted Harrison to experiment by writing a song based on the first words he saw upon opening a random book. Those words were “gently weeps” and he immediately began writing the song, although many of his verses were later omitted. The presence of Clapton also served to temporarily alleviate the studio tension, as the band members were on their best behavior during his time in the studio.

The fantastic first side concludes with Lennon’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, an asymmetrical mini suite, which moves several sections rapidly, each becoming more anthemic and rocking. Lennon claims the title came from the cover of a gun magazine that George Martin showed him. and it has been cited by both McCartney and Harrison as one of their favorites on the White Album.

Paul McCartney“Martha My Dear” begins with a great piano through intro, soon accompanied by orchestration and a very slight thumping rock section during the middle of the bridge. McCartney is the only Beatle to appear on this track (written about his English sheepdog), which includes nice brass and string arrangements by Martin. “I’m So Tired” is another short masterpiece by Lennon with very emotive vocals masterfully adjusted for differing effects. A direct, first-person account of a sleepless night in India, the unabashed examination of his own fragile state of mind, previews later solo work by Lennon such as Plastic Ono Band. Back to McCartney, with the solo recording of “Blackbird”, a beautiful acoustic solo piece with music based on J.S. Bach’s “Bourrée”. The hypnotizing acoustic, double-tracked vocals and tapping percussion and the guitar make for a pretty and inspirational tune with lyrics inspired by the Civil Rights struggle.

“Piggies” is a Baroque influenced song by Harrison as social commentary on the class system. Originally written in 1966 at his parents’ home, Harrison’s mother provided the line “What they need’s a damn good whacking” while Lennon contributed the line “clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon.” The predominant harpsichord is accompanied by a string quartet, produced by Chris Thomas in Martin’s absence. Ringo Starr“Rocky Raccoon” is a Western saloon type folk song with McCartney on consistent acoustic and lead vocals, Lennon providing harmonica and harmonium, and George Martin adding the nice honky-tonk piano breaks. An actual collaboration between McCartney and Lennon, this storytelling song originated during a three man acoustic jam with folk singer Donovan on retreat in India. “Don’t Pass Me By” is the first composition credited to Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr) and would have made for a good Ringo Starr solo track. Starr also provides an interesting tack piano, accompanied by great bluegrass fiddle playing by guest Jack Fallon. The song was a #1 hit in Denmark in April 1969.

Following his frivolous, minute and a half “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, McCartney provides the retro feeling “I Will”. With much nod towards early Beatles, this song contains a unique arrangement with vocal bass and unconvential percussion. Although simple and short, “I Will” took 67 takes to record. Lennon’s solo ballad “Julia” is a finger-picking acoustic song written for his mother Julia Lennon, who died in car accident when John was 17 years old. The fun celebration rocker “Birthday” starts the album’s third side. One of the rare tracks written in the studio, the song features a catchy blues progression guitar riff augmented by choppy piano.

This third side is where some of the White Album’s weaker spots come to the fore. “Yer Blues” is one of these, as an almost-annoying blues tune with the only redeeming quality being the slight middle jam section that is unfortunately cut short by a return to the repetitive verse. “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” is another marginal song by Lennon, albeit a little more interesting due to its frantic rocking style, complete with groovy late sixties guitars and rudiments. in between these is the pleasant folk diddy “Mother Nature’s Son” by McCartney, the best song on this side. This song completely captures the intended mood with great acoustic riffs and horns ensemble musically and inspired lyrics based on a lecture by the Maharishi. McCartney recorded it “live”, singing and playing acoustic guitar simultaneously with overdubs done later.

John LennonThe four Beatles left India at different times and with different opinions of the Maharishi. Lennon, a t one point a “true believer”, ultimately became the most jaded by the experience and expressed this brilliantly on the song “Sexy Sadie”. starting with an interesting reverbed piano, the song is arranged in manner frequently used by the group Queen a decade later, with lush backing vocal choruses, other parts laden with effects, and a lead guitar lying sharply above the mix. “Helter Skelter” is a style piece, with little substance by McCartney, in a deliberate effort to create a sound as loud and dirty as possible. Still, this became one of the most famous (or infamous) on the album following the Manson family murder spree and its use as title for the subsequent book. After the 18th take, Ringo Starr flung his drum sticks across the studio and screamed, “I got blisters on me fingers!”, included on the stereo mix of the song. Harrison’s “Long, Long, Long” completes side three as a cross between jazz waltz, folk, and psychedelia with good underlying riffs and great drum interludes, but not very cohesive overall. With the topical organ this track sounds like it may have been influenced by Pink Floyd.

And then there is Lennon’s “Revolution”. Originally, a single ten-minute piece comprised of a song proper and an improvised coda, the first part of the song was edited out as “Revolution 1”, a slow acoustic blues number with “shooby-do-wah” vocals and added horns. However, most of the Beatles were unhappy with this version, so a heavier, more upbeat version of “Revolution” was recorded and released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single. Still, Lennon wanted to return to the earlier recording and fought to have “Revolution 1” included on the White Album as well as re-record the avant-garde sound collage as the track “Revolution 9”, using the last six minutes of the original recording as a starting point. With numerous sound effects, tape loops, and overdubs, and virtually no musical melody, the eight and a half minute track is the longest track that the Beatles officially released. McCartney was against including this song on the album and Beatles fans have debated its merits for four and a half decades. In any case, it was a dissatisfying “tour de force” for this otherwise fine musical collection.

The Beatles was quickly followed up by Yellow Submarine less than two months later in January 1969. By then the band had already moved on to their next project, which was eventually released as Let It Be. Despite the unevenness of the music, the controversial inclusions, and the utter lack of promotion, the album became a classic. As McCartney later unapologetically put it, “it’s the bloody Beatles White Album!”

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Cloud Nine by George Harrison

Cloud Nine by George HarrisonAfter a long hiatus from the regular recording process, former Beatle George Harrison teamed up with former Electric Light Orchestra front man Jeff Lynne to produce Cloud Nine. This was Harrison’s tenth solo studio album but his first in five years and his last to be released in his lifetime. The album was a surprise, re-establishing Harrison as a radio pop artist as well as a recipient of much critical acclaim. The album fuses much of  Harrison’s signature sound along with Lynne’s richly produced sonic landscapes (which were themselves derived from late-era Beatles) along with some of the slick rock and synth qualities of contemporary 1980s production.

After the lukewarm reception to his 1982 album Gone Troppo, Harrison grew frustrated with the music business and suspended his recording career. He tried his hand at film making and contributed a few single songs to soundtracks and other artist’s projects. He made a rare public appearance at a tribute to Carl Perkins in late 1985 along with former band mate Ringo Starr and friend Eric Clapton which rekindled his desire to make music again.

Production for Cloud Nine began in late 1986 at Harrison’s home studio in England. Along with Lynne, both Starr and Clapton contributed to the album as well as other major recording artists such as Gary Wright and Elton John, who contributed on piano but not vocals as he was on his own career hiatus recovering from vocal surgery at the time. The end result was a sort of “comeback” album for Harrison, who was well aware of this fact. He inserted many vintage references in the lyrics and musical styles and posed with one of his first guitars, a 1957 Gretsch 6128 Duo Jet, for the cover shot.
 


Cloud Nine by George Harrison
Released: November 2, 1987 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: George Harrison & Jeff Lynne
Recorded: FPSHOT, Oxfordshire, England, January−March 1987
Side One Side Two
Cloud 9
That’s What It Takes
Fish On the Sand
Just For Today
This Is Love
When We Was Fab
Devil’s Radio
Someplace Else
Wreck of the Hesperus
Breath Away from Heaven
Got My Mind Set On You
Primary Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Sitar, Lead Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Vocals
Gary Wright – Piano
Jim Horn – Saxophone
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion

 
Harrison’s slow and steady title song, “Cloud 9”, starts things off in a trance-like fashion with not much real movement musically but with plenty of sonic décor from the signature Harrison slide guitar to sharp and short brass accents. A collaboration with Lynne and Wright called “That’s What It Takes” follows as a more traditional pop song. This song is acoustic and upbeat but with a definite melancholy edge and signature background vocals by Lynne.

“Fish On the Sand” is the album’s first foray into synth-driven music with near programmic bass and drum beat accented by a simple electric riff and some nice chord progressions. “Just For Today” is a minor key piano ballad by Harrison in the fashion usually reserved for ex-band mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney, while “This Is Love” is a pleasant and accessible pop song with great lead guitars and trends towards the song style of the subsequent Traveling Wilburys project. In fact, the original B-side for this single was “Handle w/ Care”, which itself was the lead track and single for Traveling Wilburys.
 

 
The most interesting song on Cloud Nine is “When We Was Fab”, a collaboration between Harrison and Lynne, which has a very ELO edge while making an overt nod to Harrison’s days with the Beatles. It is complete with many string arrangements, Harrison’s slide guitar, rich vocal harmonies and a sitar section at the end of the song. The lyrics make direct references to original Beatles songs as well as inside stories and the song reached the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album’s second side starts with “Devil’s Radio”, a straight out piano-driven rocker with measured guitar interludes and lyrics which express Harrison’s general disdain for the media. “Someplace Else” is a pleasant, acoustic ballad which is a fine listen but contains fairly typical subject matter of melancholy songs. On the contrary, “Wreck of the Hesperus” is an upbeat and fun song with lyrics that invoke various landmarks around the world but the following “Breath Away from Heaven” is an ill-advised, almost painful experiment, which uses many 1980s style synths in its methodical choppiness.
 

 
It is almost a shame that the final song on Harrison’s final solo studio album during his life was written by someone else, as “Got My Mind Set on You” was written by Rudy Clark for James Ray in 1962. But that being said, this is a fun pop song which Harrison performs masterfully and squeezes every ounce of entertainment from this beat-driven simple song. The song features great grawling sax by Jim Horn and it went on to become Harrison’s third and final #1 hit. In fact, as of 2012, “Got My Mind Set on You” was the last #1 hit by any former Beatle.

Although Cloud Nine was the last solo album released in Harrison’s lifetime, it wasn’t his final project and he and Lynne moved on to form The Traveling Wilburys, who released a brilliant debut album in 1988. Harrison spent over a decade on his final album, Brainwashed, released in 2002, a year after his death.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 album.

1987 Images

 

The Beatles in 1967

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Buy Magical Mystery Tour

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThere has never been (nor probably will ever be) a year in which a single band produced so much quality material as The Beatles did during the year 1967. In order to properly pay tribute, we at Classic Rock Review have put together our largest article ever. This includes extensive reviews of both the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour albums along with a look at all the rest of the band’s output from that year  which included recordings for future projects, several promotional videos, a live television special, and their third dedicated film. Unlike our normal album reviews, we look at everything in a strictly chronological order, delving into everything as it came about in sequence. This method works best because so many projects and elements overlapped during the year and only found their proper, permanent place as history unfolded.

Before diving into 1967, it is important to provide the context of the Beatles’ career in 1966. By that time the Beatles had conquered the musical world like no other rock act before, but still things were starting to unravel. There was major controversy over John Lennon‘s “more popular than Jesus” comments, causing the members to need heavy guards everywhere they went and they had nearly lost their lives in the Philippines after offending dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Further, the band was getting tired of the constant touring and frenzied fans and decided to halt touring altogether by the end of the summer of ’66. Despite putting out the brilliant album Revolver, it was under-appreciated in its day and many wondered whether the band was past its peak. All four members decided to take an extended break and decide what to do next. George Harrison took his first trip to India while Lennon starred in the major motion picture How I Won the War. On his way home from a vacation in  America, Paul McCartney came up with the idea of doing an album from the perspective of an alter-ego band.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band reconvened at Abbey Road Studios on November 24, 1966 (Thanksgiving in the USA, but just a normal Thursday in England) to start their new album. That night they recorded one song, a simple folk song by Lennon called “Strawberry Fields Forever”. But ultimately, this song would be anything but simple as it took a total of 45 hours to record,  and this initial version of the song would not even be used. A second version was started at the end of November, this time featuring a mellotron intro by McCartney. The instrument had just been introduced to the band by Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues (who at the time was working at the instrument’s manufacturing factory) and “Strawberry Fields” would become the first song by a major act to use the instrument. It gave this version of the song a surreal element and atmosphere. Still, Lennon thought he could do more with the song and a third distinct version, scored by producer George Martin, including brass, strings, backwards masking, and complex rhythm section led by Ringo Starr and “about 9 or 10 other players.” When Lennon couldn’t decide if he wanted to use the second or third version of the song, the true magic took place. Martin fused the two together, even though version 3 was at a faster tempo and in a higher key, by using two tape machines varying the speed of one. The result is a production masterpiece which blazed the path for the upcoming Sgt. Pepper album.

Ironically, “Strawberry Fields Forever” would not be included on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. It  was released as a “double A” single along with McCartney’s companion piece, “Penny Lane”, at the urging of manager Brian Epstein who wanted a song on the charts. Both songs shared the theme of nostalgia for their early years in Liverpool and both referred to actual locations familiar to all of the Beatles. Although possessing many of the same surreal elements, “Penny Lane” is more sing-songy, like a children’s ballad. It takes a typical suburban scene and turns into something dreamier, like a parade of life. The song has a basic piano melody overlaid by several brass elements and a distinctive piccolo trumpet lead by Dave Mason, who McCartney saw perform on television and commissioned for this song. Although Martin has stated that he believes “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the greatest single ever released by the group, it peaked at #2 on the UK charts.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesSgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Side One Side Two
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Lovely Rita
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesMagical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Side One Side Two
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Flying
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Hello, Goodbye
Strawberry Fields Forever
Penny Lane
Baby You’re a Rich Man
All You Need Is Love
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Mellotron, Harmonica, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Mellotron, Recorder, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Tambala, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

The earliest recording to actually end up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a vaudevillian number called “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which was recorded during the same sessions as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”. Written by McCartney when he was only 16 (about 8 years earlier), the song includes a clarinet trio and sounds like it needs a companion, choreographed stage dance routine to go with it. It was recorded as homage to Paul’s father James McCartney, who actually had turned 64 earlier in 1966.

In early 1967, the Beatles were considering releasing a companion film with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, and recorded a lot of footage of their massive sessions for the song “A Day In the Life” in January and February. The song would be the final track on the album and its crowning jewel as it fused separate compositions by Lennon and McCartney into a singular masterpiece. It starts with Lennon’s folk ballad based on contemporary newspaper articles, accompanied by a strummed acoustic guitar, a bouncy, staccato piano, and great drum fills by Starr. After the initial recordings, Lennon felt like the song needed something more in the middle and McCartney had a short, happy-go-lucky song about his youth which was added. Unsure of how to connect the sections, 24 bars of “empty space” was left on either side of the middle section with assistant engineer Mal Evans counting out the bars on top of a simple, repeating piano. This section was later “filled in” with a building, “orgasmic” orchestral passage, conducted by McCartney and Martin, using 40 players which were later quadriple-tracked to give the effect of an orchestra of 160. The result is perhaps the best Beatles composition ever, ending with the most famous chord in rock history, a single strike played by Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Martin simultaneously on four separate pianos and sustained four over a minute to finish the song and the album.
 

 
Along with “A Day In the Life”, Lennon and McCartney fully collaborated with the duet “She’s Leaving Home”, after reading a newspaper story about a young girl who’d left home and, at the time, was not again found (until many year later). With Martin unavailable to do the score, McCartney enlisted Mike Leander to do the orchestration, including a harp was played by Sheila Bromberg, who became the first female musician to appear on a Beatles record. The song would become one of the last true collaborations by Lennon and McCartney, who constantly worked together during the early years but would each maintain more solo control over future Beatles compositions.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The BeatlesThe title song to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, written by McCartney, is an entertaining albeit tacky song which fits in with the overall image of the album, right down to the cover art which included a montage of of the Beatles’ “heroes” on designed by artist Peter Blake. The song itself has a strong rock presence with a super electric guitar tied together beautifully by a great rock vocal by McCartney, interspersed by many production elements including French horns and audience sounds. The song is reprised later, as a “closing” message just prior to “A Day In the Life”. The opening song segues into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, an entertaining number with a double meaning written by McCartney for Ringo Starr to sing.

McCartney also wrote several other upbeat rock songs for the album including “Lovely Rita”, a literal song about a female traffic warden featuring a piano solo by Martin and “Getting Better”, an optimistic creed featuring some excellent instrumentation. Lennon plays a distinct, choppy guitar, while Harrison adds an Indian tambura part and all Beatles sing fine harmonies throughout. “Fixing a Hole” is a more moderate pop song led by Martin’s harpsichord and Harrison’s double-tracked guitar riffs. McCartney said he wrote the song about the the fans who hung around outside his home day and night.

The Beatles in 1967

Lennon’s compositions on the album were more experimental than McCartney’s. “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” was inspired by a drawing that his young son made in nursery school. The song modulates between musical keys, with Lennon singing a monotone verse over an increasingly complicated underlying arrangement featuring Harrison’s tambura and a counter-melody organ played by McCartney. Although the song has long been associated with “LSD”, the Beatles firmly deny that was ever the intent in this case while openly admitting that drugs influenced other songs. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” contained lyrics which were lifted from an old poster, nearly verbatim. Musically, Lennon wanted a strong carnival atmosphere and this was accomplished by using tape loops from the Abbey Road library, several odd instruments, including a real steam organ and a big bass harmonica, influenced by the sounds on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. On the sarcastic “Good Morning Good Morning”, Lennon did a sonic version of Andy Warhol’s pop art by lifting themes and phrases from television commercials and shows and adding a sequence of animal sounds to the end, with each successive animal being capable of devouring the one before.

George Harrison with a sitarAside from the aforementioned songs excluded for a single release, the only song recorded for Sgt. Pepper’s and not included on the album was Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song”, a protest of the Beatles’ music publishing practice which gave Lennon and McCartney higher royalties to all songs by the band, even those composed by Harrison. With this exclusion, Harrison had only one composition on the album, “Within You Without You”. This song was heavily influenced by the sitar, the virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and Indian music in general. The recording featured several uncredited Indian musicians along with several more session players. Harrison was the only actual Beatle to perform on the song. This was originally written as a 30-minute piece, but was abbreviated to about 5 minutes for the album.

Although Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not released until June 1, 1967, recording had wrapped by mid April and the Beatles dove right into writing and recording new material. Some of these sessions proved fruitless, such as an Abbey Road session on May 7th, where the band “jammed” for over seven hours with little committed to tape and no new material to build on. They also spent several sessions working on “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”, perhaps the weirdest song in the Beatles collection which is only really interesting because it features a saxophone part by Rolling Stone Brian Jones. This song was not released for nearly 3 years when it became the ‘B’ side for the 1970 single “Let It Be”.

Yellow Submarine soundtrackDuring this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although that soundtrack would not be released until January 1969). Along with “Only a Northern Song”, the soundtrack would include The June 1967 recordings “All Together Now”, which McCartney described as a children’s sing-along in the music hall tradition and “It’s All Too Much”, one of the few Beatles songs to be recorded in a studio outside of Abbey Road. Another song written and recorded during that time for Yellow Submarine was “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, a hybrid of two songs which makes heavy use of the clavioline, an unusual instrument. However, this last song was pushed up for release, first as the ‘B’ side to their next single “All You Need Is Love” and later included on the US version of the album Magical Mystery Tour.

“All You Need Is Love” was written specifically for a worldwide television broadcast called Our World, which was the first ever live global television broadcast on June 25, 1967, and was watched by 400 million people worldwide. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song as the United Kingdom’s contribution, requesting a song containing a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. Lennon gladly took up the task and wrote the song in a short time with Martin arranging a live orchestra in the studio for the broadcast with the band accompanied by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor. The result is a simple anthem with the message “nothing else means anything without love”, and the leading indicator for what would be termed the “summer of love”. The single “All You Need Is Love”/”Baby You’re a Rich Man” was released on July 7, 1967 and reached the #1 position in every major country that had a pop chart.

After the live broadcast, the Beatles took much of the rest of the summer off to plan for their next project. In August, all four members of the band traveled to Bangor, Wales to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who they collectively regarded as their spiritual advisor at the time. Brian Epstein death announcementWhile in Wales, the band received the tragic news that their manager Brian Epstein had died from an accidental drug overdose. Later referred to by band members as “the fifth Beatle”, Epstein had forged the band’s image and shaped their early career through all the madness of “Beatlemania”. After the band ceased touring in 1966, Epstein’s role in the band diminished quickly and he began to display erratic behavior and developed chemical dependency. Many music historians would later pin-point this moment, the moment of Epstein’s death, as setting the ultimate course for the band’s eventual breakup.

The band returned to Abbey Road studio on August 22nd to work on material for their next project, a film and score called Magical Mystery Tour. The title came from a song the band recorded back in May, which would serve the same basic purpose as the title song for Sgt. Pepper’s – an introduction for the listener to the adventure they are about to take. This catchy tune contains good effects and production techniques. The songs key lyric, “Roll up, roll up” served the duo purpose of harkening back to the old circus barkers as well as a veiled reference to rolling up a joint. The first song written specifically for Magical Mystery Tour was “Your Mother Should Know”, serving as an old-fashioned dance segment choreographed for the film to the sounds of this song with fine organ interludes. Here McCartney sported a black carnation, different than the rest of the band, which was cited as one of the many clues in the “Paul is dead” conspiracy.

Beatles on bus 1967

The film was made in September in various English locations which were traveled to by the bus carrying the band and cast members. There was no script, as the emphasis was on the “mystery” of what would happen during the tour. Nothing much did, and the band grew increasingly frustrated by fans who began to trail the band along the way. Still, the band made some very interesting music during the fall of 1967. Included here was the cool instrumental “Flying”, featuring a dual guitar by McCartney and Harrison and a mellotron lead by Lennon. This was the only Beatles song credited to all four members of the band. “The Fool On The Hill” is a fine ballad by McCartney, written during a visit back to his father’s house in Liverpool. Lyrically, the song paints a pictures in the mind and fits in perfectly with the music, mainly performed by McCartney. Harrison’s contribution to the album is the surreal “Blue Jay Way”, with creepy, and literal Lyrics.

Lennon later admitted that “I Am the Walrus” was written during an acid trip. It was a combination of three separate songs that Lennon had been working on, with the Walrus being a reference to a Lewis Carroll poem. Lennon also intentionally wrote the most amusing lyrics he could when he was informed that a teacher at his old high school was deciphering Beatle lyrics in one of his classes and found the the whole process absurd. Musically, the song employs many of the techniques started in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with orchestral parts laid on top of a driving electric piano and some fine drumming by Starr.

Magical Mystery Tour by The BeatlesThe band wrote and recorded “Hello Goodbye” as their next single. Lyrically, the song derived from a songwriting demonstration that McCartney gave when he asked the participant to shout out the opposite of what he sang. Musically, it is a throwback to the mop-top pop days of the band, with some fine overdubs of electric guitar and viola. The song reprises with a coda which came about spontaneously in the studio. The single was released in late November and reached #1 in 10 countries.

Magical Mystery Tour was released on December 8, 1967 as a six song double EP in the UK, featuring only the songs recorded specifically for the film. In the US, these songs were combined with the five songs released on singles earlier in the year – “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “All You Need is Love”, “Baby You’re a Rich Man”, and “Hello, Goodbye” – in order to make a full LP, which was later adapted as the official version of the album. Although the album hasn’t received the same critical acclaim as its predecessor, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album is of similar quality when weighted with the quality singles. On December 26th, the Magical Mystery Tour film was screened on the BBC-1 in black and white and promptly savaged by critics, which may have soured some to the fine music of the album.

The Beatles would continue with a few more years of top quality output prior to their breakup in April 1970. However, they would not again reach the phenomenal level they achieved in 1967.

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1967 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1967 albums.

 

Revolver by The Beatles

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Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.


Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
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
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Got To Get You Into My Life by The BeatlesMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.