As 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 Soulby The Beatles
Released: December 3, 1965 (Parlophone) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Studios, London, October-November, 1965
Drive My Car
You Won’t See Me
Think For Yourself
What Goes On
I’m Looking Through You
In My Life
If I Needed Someone
Run For Your Life
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.
“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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.
Their 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.
In 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
The Night Before
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
I Need You
You’re Going to Lose That Girl
Ticket to Ride
It’s Only Love
You Like Me Too Much
Tell Me What You See
I’ve Just Seen a Face
Dizzy Miss Lizzy
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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.
Released 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 Beby The Beatles
Released: May 8, 1970 (Apple) Produced by: Phil Spector & George Martin Recorded: Abbey Road, Twickenham & Apple studios, London, February 1968-April 1970
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Let It Be
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
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.
The 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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1970 albums.
The earliest year we will review on Classic Rock Review will be 1965. But this week we will cheat a little and look at the top moments from the preceding year, 1964, as we part from the 50th Anniversary of that historic rock n’ roll year.
February – April 1964
For the vast amount of rock bands that tour a foreign country for the first time, it is a rather unremarkable event for the people of that country. But on Friday, February 7, 1964, the British band The Beatles were greeted by over three thousand ravenous fans as they touched ground at the then-newly-minted John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. the group’s first stop on their initial American tour was a national television spot on the Ed Sullivan show, which drew over 70 million viewers on Sunday night, February 9th. This touched off a frenzy known as “Beatlemania”, which included an East Coast American tour, two more appearances on the Sullivan show, and climaxed in April, 1964. In consecutive weeks, The Beatles achieved chart dominance, the likes of which have not been equaled before or since. On April 4th they occupied the top five positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with their singles “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, and “Please Please Me”. A week later on April 11th, the group held 14 positions on the that same chart, the highest number of concurrent charting singles by one artist ever. In the wake of this initial Beatlemania, came a flood of copycat artists known as the “British Invasion”.
2. The Who Become “The Who”
When 1964 began, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltry were in a mod group called The Detours, which played gigs at parties, small hotels, and social clubs. In the early part of the year a series of events took place in rapid succession which put in place one of the most dynamic acts in rock history. First, the group became aware of the group “Johnny Devlin and the Detours” and Townshend decided to float a bunch of “joke” names to see if his bandmates took to any. Daltrey chose “The Who” because he thought it had a “pop punch”. In April, the group had a chance encounter with a stand-in drummer for another band called Keith Moon. They were so immediately taken by his aggressive style that they immediately asked Moon to join The Who. Shortly afterward, Townshend was miming some machine gun theatrics when he accidentally broke the head of his guitar on the low ceiling of the stage. Angered by the laughter that ensued, he smashed the instrument on the stage before picking up another guitar and continuing to perform. Townshend would replicate this moment on stage for decades to come.
3. A Hard Day’s Night
July, 1964 Following the frenzied popular success of their arrival in America, the Beatles returned to England and soon achieved an artistic success which rock and pop groups would attempt but fail to replicate for the next half century. A Hard Day’s Night eas a full length film, released on July 6, 1964, which starred the members of the group playing themselves within the frenzy of Beatlemania. A financial and critical success, the film has been ranked as one of the all-time greats of the 20th century. The full length soundtrack of the same name was released on July 10th and was the first Beatles’ album to contain all original music. This album also shows a marked leap in sophistication in the Beatles music with such classics as “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Things We Said Today”, “And I Love Her”, “I Should Have Known Better”, “If I Fell”, and “I’ll Be Back”. John Lennon was the dominate songwriter on this album with George Harrison becoming the first to employ a new 12-string electric guitar which would be very influential to the later sound of the sixties.
4. “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks
July-August, 1964 In July 1964, The Kinks were in IBC Studios in London when guitarist Dave Davies decided to slice the speaker cone of his guitar amp and poke it with a pin, making a natural distortion sound that came to define hard rock for decades to come. While Davies innovation is not disputed, the identity of the guitarist who played lead. Future Deep Purple organist Jon Lord claimed he was at the session and that then-session player Jimmy Page, later of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, played the solo. The Kinks dispute this account and claim Davies handled the lead himself. No matter the case, there is no doubt that this single song, which wa later brought to new heights on Van Halen’s debut album, is one of the greatest single sources of influence in rock history.
5. The Supremes Five Consecutive #1 Hits
Starting in September 1964
While the Beatles completely dominated the pop world during the early part of the year, The Supremes achieved an unprecedented feat in late 1964 into early 1965. Five consecutive singles released by the Motown group – “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Back in My Arms Again” – reached number one on the American pop charts.
6. “The House of the Rising Sun”
May-June, 1964 Group leader Eric Burdon first heard the traditional American song “House of the Rising Sun” when it was performed by folk singer Johnny Handle. He decided to arrangement in a way inspired by Bob Dylan, but with electric instrumentation. The result is a unique and indelible track by The Animals unlike anything else from the early sixties.
7. Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds
Eric Clapton joined the Yardbirds in late 1963 and left the band in early 1965 when he was dissatisfied with their new pop direction. In between was the calendar year 1964, when Clapton led the group to explore and advance the blues foundations which would be adopted by many groups over the coming decades, including several of Clapton’s own vast musical entities.
8. The Rolling Stones Debut Album
April 16, 1964 The most remarkable thing about the Rolling Stones debut album may be just how unremarkable it really is. Recorded in early 1964, the album was self-titled in the UK, while the US version dubbed England’s Newest Hitmakers and was full of blues covers with only one Jagger-Richards original.
9. The Times They Are a-Changin’
January 13, 1964 Ever the prophet, Bob Dylan could not have more aptly named his third album, released right at the beginning of 1964. Like his later 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan performed all instruments and vocals on this album, which his first to feature only original compositions.
Short of careers cut short by tragedy, there are very few times in rock history where a band or artist finished with their greatest work. Abbey Road, the eleventh and final studio album by The Beatles, is one such occasion. Released in October of 1969, This album marks the last true collaboration all four Beatles in the studio with producer George Martin (Let It Be was released in April of 1970, weeks before the Beatles broke up, it was mostly recorded prior to any Abbey Road recording sessions). This final effort with their classic producer and at the studio they would make famous, Abbey Road would go on to tremendous popularity and critical success and become our of the Year for 1969.
It is no secret that the Beatles were going through internal turmoil later in their career. Having lost the glue that held them together, manager Brian Epstein just two years earlier, the band had been going through personal and financial struggles. The strained business relationship was complicated by the addition of John Lennon‘s new love interest, Yoko Ono, who was a constant presence in their recording sessions. During a break in recording in March 1969, Lennon and Ono were married and when Lennon returned from his honeymoon, he approached Paul McCartney with a song he had written about the occasions called “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. The song was immediately recorded without George Harrison or Ringo Starr, who were both away from London when Lennon had his sudden inspiration. With McCartney on piano, bass, and drums, and Lennon on vocals and guitars, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” became the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single, all done without half the group members knowledge or consent. But such was the case for the Beatles in 1969.
Early in the year, The Beatles seemed to be on the road to breaking up during the recording of what would become Let it Be, as each member had started doing solo projects. It was McCartney who approached George Martin and asked him to work with them on another studio album. Martin agreed as long as the band agreed to his strict discipline in the studio and let him have control over the production from start to finish. So, recording began in February 1969 with Martin at the helm as well as all four Beatles at Abbey Road Studio. Some of the early recordings for the Abbey Road sessions included non-album material which would surface elsewhere, such as Harrison’s acoustic demo of “All Things Must Pass” (later on a solo album of the same name), McCartney’s “Come And Get It” (a minor hit for Badfinger in 1970), and “Old Brown Shoe”, an interesting composition by Harrison, used as the B-side for “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. However, as the sessions moved along, the Beatles found their magic formula once again and made the classic Abbey Road music which showcases each member of the band performing at their finest level.
Abbey Roadby The Beatles
Released: September 26, 1969 (Apple) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London, February-August 1969
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun
You Never Give Me Your Money
Mean Mr. Mustard
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
Carry That Weight
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals Paul McCartney – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals George Harrison – Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Piano, Vocals
The album aptly begins with the Lennon led “Come Together” While the title sounds like a lead in to a hippie commune sing along, it is actually has a rougher edge to it with a funky bass, bluesy guitar and sloshy drums. “Come Together” and “Something” were released as a double A-sided single. George Harrison’s, “Something”, is often regarded as Harrison’s finest composition. It is certainly one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. It starts with the line, “Something in the way she moves…” and the music flows right along with that movement. It has a natural, fluid feel to it with the steady bass, beautiful guitar riffs and cricket like sounds that lead into a perfect fade out.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is a duplicitous song. The lyrics describing the antics of a sociopathic serial killer are in stark contrast to the syrupy sweet music. The anvil banging and McCartney’s mischievous vocal delivery add to the effect that this is a children’s song gone awry, but one can’t help but sing along. The next McCartney led song, “Oh Darling” has a completely different style. McCartney’s voice carries the whole thing. This doo-wop inspired song actually has a tinge of Motown in it with the intense, strained vocal and simple accompaniment.
Ringo Starr’s contribution, “Octopus’s Garden” is another childlike fantasy song. Ringo has said it was inspired by a story he had heard about how octopus like to gather shiny objects and make their own little “garden”. This song lightens the mood after the intensity of “Oh Darling” and the black hole that ends side one, “I Want You, She’s So Heavy”. This is a lengthy indulgence that has some interesting parts, a few moments of brilliance and some superb musicianship. That said it carries on for a nearly eight minute decent into repetitive madness.
The second side is where the magic of this album really starts. It opens with the uplifting and fresh sounds of Harrison’s second contribution, the sonic masterpiece, “Here Comes the Sun”. The harmony of vocals and the light, catchy melody capture the feeling of rebirth that comes from a new beginning, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds as winter fades and spring blooms. This, along with the outstanding, “Something” may make this Harrison’s best Beatles album ever. “Because” features a three part harmony tripled in production so it sounds like nine voices over a simple moog synthesizer and harpsichord. The vocals are masterful and the production technique is superb. Beethoven’s, “Moonlight Sonata”, played backwards, inspired the chords of the song.
“You Never Give Me Your Money” drops in perfectly with soft piano chords and dramatic vocals, there is a plethora of music in this piece. The sounds draw you in and the steady drum beat is mesmerizing. The production on this one is masterful as it leads the listener into the medley that is the heart of this production masterpiece. The production of these little vignettes is brilliant in how they blend together into a cohesive story. “Sun King” reprises the triple three part harmonies while, “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” are more upbeat and end in a crash. “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” was inspired by a determined female fan who crawled through a bathroom window of Paul’s home. There is a cool riff going on throughout the song.
With a slight pause in the medley, “Golden Slumbers” rises as another melodramatic McCartney contribution showcasing his knack for making pretty melodies. This abruptly leads to “Carry That Weight”, featuring a reprise of “You Never Give Me Your Money” where Ringo is prominent in the vocal harmonies. Fittingly, it all culminates with “The End”. There is a showcase for each performer here. The guitar parts were done by Paul, John and George and Ringo has his only drum solo as a Beatle. It is a grand finale that brings this album, as well as the Beatles recording days, to an end in grand style.
Abbey Road’s cover, though it appears to be a simple shot of the band walking across the street in single file, has been said to have some clues to the rumored death of Paul McCartney. Paul is walking barefoot in a suit, George is dressed in jeans, much like a gravedigger, Ringo is dressed in similar fashion as an undertaker while John is dressed in white to symbolize a minister. Adding to the intrigue is the license plate on the VW that reads, “28 IF” as Paul would have been 28 if he had lived. Of course, Paul McCartney is not dead, but the “clues” became a fan obsession and the band seemed to have an endless supply of “clues” to egg them on.
Of course, the album was a huge success, reaching the top of the charts in scores of countries as the sixties came to an end. The songs on this album lean on each other much as the Beatles needed to lean on each other to produce the quality and quantity of music they made throughout their career. There are a few outstanding singles, but the medley only shines because they put together pieces of songs that weren’t quite complete on their own and created something unique, special and fleeting as the Beatles rode off into history shortly after Abbey Road was released.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1969 albums.
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 Beatlesby The Beatles
Released: November 22, 1968 (Apple) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI and Trident Studios, London, May-October, 1968
Back In the U.S.S.R.
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
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide…
…Except Me and My Monkey
Long, Long, Long
Cry Baby Cry
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.
After 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.
“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. “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.
The 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!”
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.
Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.
Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.
Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection
Compilations in 1988
With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.
Released on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.
20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. It was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.
Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.
Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.
In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.
There 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.
The 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. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Released: June 1, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – April 1967
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds
Fixing a Hole
She’s Leaving Home
Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Within You Without You
When I’m Sixty-Four
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper’s (Reprise)
A Day in the Life
Magical Mystery Tour
Released: November 27, 1967 (Capitol) Produced by: George Martin Recorded: EMI Sound Studios, London, December 1966 – December 1967
Magical Mystery Tour
The Fool On the Hill
Blue Jay Way
Your Mother Should Know
I Am the Walrus!
Strawberry Fields Forever
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.
The 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.
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.
Aside 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”.
During this time the band also wrote and recorded the bulk of the new material for the upcoming animated film Yellow Submarine (although thatsoundtrack 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. While 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.
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.
The 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.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1967 albums.
At the end of the Beatles last ever live performance (on a London rooftop) John Lennon jokingly said “I hope we passed the audition”. Well, there was actually a time when the band had to pass auditions and the last of these instances happened 50 years ago today, when the band entered Abbey Road Studios for the first time.
Although the actual recordings made that day were nothing spectacular, several events happened that day which would change the course of rock history…
At the very end of The Beatles’ very last live performance, an improvised concert on the roof of a building in January 1969, John Lennon jokingly stated, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” This, of course, was met with laughter at the absurdity of the most popular band in the world having to pass an audition. But there was a time when the Beatles did audition on a regular basis (and didn’t always pass those auditions). The last real audition by the band was held less than seven years prior to that rooftop concert, and they were far from assured whether they would “pass” that one. It was held on June 6, 1962 at what would later be re-named Abbey Road Studios.
That was exactly a half century ago today. On that day, no one involved could have possibly imagined how historically connected this building in London and that shaggy rock band from Liverpool would become. Within 18 months, the Beatles would become the top rock band in the world, remain so until their breakup in 1970, and to this day remain the most popular act ever. This despite the fact that the band completely stopped touring midway through their career, relying solely on their studio recordings to maintain their fame, and these recordings have become legendary. And, with the exception of the Let It Be sessions, every one of the band’s singles, albums, and film soundtracks was recorded at this studio, with the band’s final studio album being a dedication which bore the name Abbey Road. Check out any major publication’s top whatever list of all-time albums and you’re likely to find multiple Beatles albums in the top ten, all of which were likely recorded at this studio.
(SIDE NOTE: Classic Rock Review does not make such lists, but we do extensively review each important album. The Beatles’ Revolver was reviewed last year, with Sgt. Pepper’s and Magical Mystery Tour coming later this summer, while the rest will be scheduled during their respective anniversary years)
The four band members arrived together at what was then known as EMI Studios at 3 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London in a beat-up white van. Although they were four, they weren’t quite yet the “fab four”. The core three members – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison – had been together since 1957 when they went by the name The Quarrymen. Each was a guitarist with vocal abilities and a passion for American rock n roll. The group went through several rotating members in the early years, the most notable being bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, who is credited by many for coming up with the name “Beatles” (although Lennon later contended it was his idea). In 1960, the band landed their first gigs in Hamburg, Germany, but the club owner specifically wanted a five-piece band so they hired drummer Pete Best. When the first Hamburg tour abruptly ended (three band members were deported), Sutcliffe decided to stay with his German girlfriend and attend art school in Hamburg. McCartney moved over to bass and The Beatles were now a quartet of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Best.
After the band unloaded their gear for the session scheduled for 6:00 pm, the studio engineers were dissatisfied with the quality and shape of the amplifiers, especially McCartney’s bass rig. So the session was delayed for about an hour while the crew went down to one of the studio’s famous echo chambers in the basement of the building to retrieve a suitable bass speaker and solder the appropriate inputs. The band members were directed to the building’s canteen where they nervously sipped tea and awaited the call to report to the sound stage. The building itself was already very old at that point. It was built in 1830 as a 9-bedroom townhouse along a footpath that lead to Kilburn Abbey. About a century later, in 1931, it was acquired by the Gramophone Company and converted into recording studios with the first recordings being of the London Symphony Orchestra. The company later amalgamated to form EMI (Electric and Musical Industries) an in 1957 it EMI acquired Capitol Records for distribution in American markets.
Coming into 1962, it appeared to be a promising year for The Beatles. The previous year had seen ever greater success with further Hamburg gigs and a dedicated following back in Liverpool where they frequently headlined The Cavern Club. The band had backed up singer Tony Sheridan (as “The Beat Brothers”) for a single called “My Bonnie” which was making waves in Germany and caught the ear of a local Liverpool record store owner named Brian Epstein, who approached the band with an offer to manage them. Epstein got the band more money for gigs, better clothes, and their first real promise of landing a major record deal.
However, the early part of 1962 had been quite a bummer for the band thus far. They had performed their first major label studio audition for Decca in London on New Year’s Day, recording 15 tracks live. But by February, Decca had turned down the group because (in their infinite wisdom) they had concluded that “guitar music” was on the decline. Then in April the band received the tragic news that their former colleague Stuart Sutcliffe had died suddenly in Hamburg from a brain hemorrhage. All the while, Epstein was using the Decca audition tapes in an attempt to draw some interest from other major labels, but no one was biting. Finally, a producer and A&R man from EMI’s Parlophone label named George Martin gave the green light to audition the band in June.
Although Martin was the type of personality that wasn’t quick to dispose of any possibility, he did not sincerely believe that anything would come of this session. In fact, he had no intention of attending it personally, as he delegated production responsibilities to Ron Richards (the resident “rock n roll” guy). With Norman Smith as engineer, The Beatles started their first Abbey Road recording session at around 7:00 pm that evening.
Now, this article may have thus far built up expectations that something truly magical happened on that day fifty years ago. But the truth is, this Beatles’ session was quite ordinary, even sub-par to the rejected Decca session recordings. In fact, the master tapes were soon destroyed when the record company determined there was nothing of commercial value from these sessions, so there was no “inferno” of musical genius or creativity. But there were several little “sparks” on that day which set the course of music history. The first of these came when the band first performed “Love Me Do”, which Smith recognized as a potential radio hit (in 1962, it was 100% about finding the next “radio hit”). He sent for George Martin down in the canteen and Martin came up to the control room and took over as producer for the rest of the session. The Beatles recorded four songs that night. Aside from “Love Me Do”, there were two more Lennon-McCartney originals; “P.S. I Love You” and “Ask Me Why”, and “Besame Mucho”, an old Latin crooner song that had been covered by The Coasters in 1960.
When the session wrapped up at around 10:00 pm, Martin called the band members into the control room and gave what was later described as a “lecture”. According to Smith;
…he gave them a long lecture about their equipment and what would have to be done about it if they were to become recording artists. They didn’t say a word, they didn’t even nod their heads in agreement. When he finished, George said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’ I remember they all looked at each other for a long while, shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’ That cracked the ice for us…”
Martin, whose specialty to that point was comedy and entertainment, was struck by the personalities, humor, and wit of the band members and within 15 minutes of giving his lecture he had decided to sign the band. However, Martin did have some problems with Pete Best’s drumming and later made it clear to Epstein that he reserved the right to enlist a drummer of his choosing for any future sessions. This final point was another spark from that day which ignited the Beatles’ destiny, as Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison decided to pursue the drummer they wanted all along, Ringo Starr.
Richard Starkey was a bit of a Liverpool legend to the rest of the Beatles. He was a little older, and had actually made some money as the long-time drummer for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Around 1960, it was fashionable for all musicians to have a stage name (Lennon was “Long John”, McCartney was “Paul Rabon”, and George became “Carl Harrison”) and “Ringo Starr” was one of the few who actually kept his permanently. During a time when both bands were playing in Hamburg, Starr actually sat in with The Beatles when Best could not make a couple of gigs. Also, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, did a recording session with Starr at Akustik Studio in Hamburg in October 1960, backing up Hurricanes’ bassist Lu Walters on his cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”. Until Martin’s comments, The Beatles were not bold enough to try and poach Starr from his longtime band, but they decided the time was right to make the move and Starr agreed to join the band so long as he could finish out his committed dates with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In August 1962, Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best as the drummer of The Beatles and the true “fab four” were in place.
The Beatles returned to Liverpool and resumed their regular gigs at the Cavern through the summer of 1962, not returning again to the Abbey Road studios until September. When they did return, there was a bit more turmoil as Martin had booked session drummer Alan White, not realizing that the group had replaced Best in the interim. So it was White who performed on Beatles’ first single “Love Me Do”, with Ringo Starr relegated to playing maracas and tambourine in order to receive pay for the sessions. However, the Beatles did assert themselves that future sessions include Ringo as a permanent member of the band. They also took a stand when Martin went to “Tin Pan Alley” to get them a “hit” song called “How Do You Do It?”. The band did record it, but refused to release it as a single saying they’d “never be able to show their face in Liverpool again”. Ironically, the song was later recorded by another Liverpool group, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and it did reach #1 on the U.K. charts.
Martin would not have to wait long for the Beatles to score their own #1 hit, “Please Please Me”, recorded in November and released in January, 1963. With this rapid success, EMI commissioned the production of the first Beatles’ album. On a single day – February 11, 1963 – the band recorded the bulk of what would become the Please Please Me album. The effect of this goliath session was best captured on the day’s final recording “Twist and Shout”, where Lennon’s voice is torn to shreds from the long day, giving it an unintended edge, which was one of the great happy accidents of rock history. The album was released by late March, and the rest as they say, is history.
Who knows what may have happened if The Beatles did not get that last “audition” on June 6, 1962? They were certainly a talented and determined band, and chances are we’d still be talking about them today anyway. But it is unlikely that the eternal marriage between The Beatles and Abbey Road would have come to be. Pete Best may have been a member of an alternate “fab four” and George Martin may have never realized his calling as rock’s greatest producer. Fortunately, things worked out in the way they were destined.
Also fortunate is the fact that one of the engineers secretly made mono copies of “Love Me Do” and “Besame Mucho” before the master tape from that session was destroyed, historically preserving some of the product of that historic day. This was not revealed until the 1980s, and these two tracks were finally released to the public on Anthology 1 in 1995, giving Pete Best his first ever royalties as a Beatle thirty-three years after the fact.