Man, I don’t know if anyone was ever on a more consistent creative high than John Lennon in 1964.
He chiefly wrote 10 out of 13 tracks on the A Hard Day’s Night album, and he likely considered the simple, stolen harmonica-laden “I Should Have Known Better” an afterthought. “It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he told Playboy in 1980.
Had it been written a year earlier, it likely would have appeared as the A-side to the band’s third or fourth single, but “I Should Have Known Better” still got a lot of attention as the B-side to “A Hard Day’s Night” and a feature spot in the film of the same name.
There are a lot of narratives in the Beatles’ story that have evolved in the last 20 years or so of me being a fan.
George Harrison has gone from John and Paul’s “little brother” to every indie artist’s favorite Beatle–“Here Comes the Sun” is by far the band’s most-played track on Spotify. And there used to be a longstanding and seemingly impenetrable perception that the secret to the Lennon/McCartney partnership was that John was the raw, honest pessimist, while Paul was the sunny optimist. Never mind that John was the one who plastered “War is Over (If You Want It)” billboards around the world and Paul was the one who reacted to his own mother’s death by lamenting that the family was doomed without her nurse’s salary.
The biggest shift I think I’ve seen though is that, when I first started diving into their music, all the books I read and fans that I talked to were pumped about Sgt. Pepper. This was the record that changed the Beatles, that changed music, that changed the world. It was an insurmountable apex of an album and I couldn’t wait to hear it.
That was Christmas 2000. A few months earlier, for my birthday, my sister gave me a copy of Revolver, an album that got way less attention but absolutely eclipsed Pepper in every way. (Well, minus one way–George Harrison’s token Indian song on Revolver is the dreary “Love You To” which I ranked all the way at #194. Pepper‘s “Within You Without You” is equally dreary but hasn’t appeared on the countdown yet.) It blew my mind that Sgt. Pepper was so hailed and Revolver seemed like an afterthought.
But things started to change. As more and more “best albums of all time” lists popped up, critics seemed to appreciate the pop craftsmanship and variety packed into Revolver‘s 35 minutes. Aside from the sprawling double White Album, it’s the most diverse and eclectic set of songs the band ever issued.
“For No One” is a lovely, morose song about the end of Paul’s relationship with Jane Asher, bound to pull on the heart strings. Though it possesses some of Paul’s trademark vagueness and distance–directing the emotional lyrics towards the listener rather than towards himself–it’s one of the most mature, poetic pieces in the Beatles’ catalog.
There are a lot of reasons why the Beatles were so great–I mean, you put four talented, innovative musicians together and you’re bound to get impressive results no matter what–but one factor that really elevated them was the way they embraced competition. Their rivalry with the Rolling Stones inspired both bands to up their games, but the Beatles were confident enough to actually donate a(n admittedly lousy) song across enemy battle lines. Even within the group itself, Lennon and McCartney’s constant urge to outdo the other fueled a slew of hits.
We’re currently living in a world overcome by a virus that has disrupted every component of our lives, racial injustice and unrest, and the threat of a Kanye West presidency. Let’s not sugarcoat it: things are awfully bleak. Nobody really knew how to cope.
And then on July 23, Taylor Swift announced the imminent release of her new album, Folklore, and it served as a reminder that it really is getting better all the time.
That’s right, I’m using a Taylor Swift album as an excuse for being too lazy to write an entry for the last two months.
Krispy Kreme donuts. The “Mr. Plow” episode of The Simpsons. The Beatles’ harmonies.
“What are three things that are pretty great, Alex?”
For all the division in our society in modern times, I think we as a collective can agree that all of those things are all quite exceptional. (Four if you count Alex Trebek.) I don’t know if it’s possible to gush too much about how amazing the Beatles’ harmonies were, but over the course of their seven-year recording career, John, Paul, and George united in three-part harmony just three times. “This Boy” was the earliest and best–I’ve never liked the maudlin “Yes It Is,” and “Because” is gorgeous, but the longing, impassioned “This Boy” is the greatest Smokey Robinson song he never wrote.
When pressed to name my top five Beatles albums, the list is fairly standard, minus the absence of the overrated Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. At the top is the White Album, perhaps for sheer volume more than pound-for-pound quality. The next three, in order, are Abbey Road, Revolver, and Rubber Soul. These four constitute perhaps the band’s most experimental, risk-taking works, so naturally rounding out the top five is A Hard Day’s Night, in all its “if Beatlemania ain’t broke, don’t fix it” glory.
For their third album, the Beatles were in no mood to rewrite the rulebook that had led to such incredible international success. But in between the release of predecessor With the Beatles and recording its follow-up, something happened: Continue reading “#78: Any Time at All”→
There’s a certain joy and comfort in discovering that someone else shares an uncommon habit or preference of yours. When I find a person who also acknowledges that cereal is far superior without milk, I know I’ve found an ally who will pick up a spoon and go to war with me.
Is this the world’s first emo song? Add in some Cookie Monster screams and apply a bit of black eyeliner to John Lennon and “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” becomes the greatest prom anthem of the early 2010s. Well, I guess you may need to de-twang it about 75% first, but the point stands.
Let’s get one thing out of the way regarding “Twist and Shout”: if those opening moments don’t instantly instill a desire within you to hijack a German parade, I don’t think I want to know you.
And if hearing “Stuck in the Middle With You” doesn’t immediately compel you to cut off someone’s ear, we need to talk.
If memory serves me, my initial interest in seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was because of the Beatles connection, and it became my second favorite movie of all time and I recreated Ferris’s day off shortly after moving to Chicago, so I owe a lot to “Twist and Shout.” And to think, Continue reading “#81: Twist and Shout”→