Society often feels obligated to turn its nose up to entertainment aimed at children. People are consistently amazed by the way Pixar produces films that appeal to young and old alike, as though it’s an impossible feat. And yes, there are plenty of shows and movies developed by hacks and cynics that insult the intelligence of audiences of all ages by assuming that the only way to appeal to kids (and get their parents to open their wallets) is through loud, colorful, repetitive, and downright annoying content totally void of substance.
But look at the recent burst of Mr. Rogers nostalgia and appreciation, or how Sesame Street has brought on guests that kids probably don’t recognize without sacrificing the show’s core values (exhibit A: “Furry Happy Monsters”). A sense of sincerity is all it takes to Continue reading “#93: All Together Now”
FADE IN: A LIVERPOOL SCHOOLYARD, 1955.
A group of teenage ruffians, among them PAUL McCARTNEY, decked in nice cardigans and donning loosened ties, puff on cigarettes as they practice a new insult-based game they recently discovered.
RUFFIAN #1: Yo momma’s so fat, when she weighs herself, the scale says “To Be Continued”!
RUFFIAN #2: Yo momma’s so dumb, she asked what’s the number for 999!*
PAUL McCARTNEY: Yo momma’s so old, she Continue reading “#94: Your Mother Should Know”
How is it that a song titled “Misery” is one of the most musically joyful songs in the Beatles’ catalog? Clocking in at under two minutes, this delightful little ditty features John and Paul singing in unison the entire time, and was recorded during the marathon Please Please Me session in which John audibly really needs to blow his nose.
Nothing special, this one, but Continue reading “#95: Misery”
Writing about “Rocky Raccoon” is an inevitably losing proposition. Because no matter what jokes or elementary level of music criticism I’m able to produce, it will not be one iota as good as the lyrics to “Rocky Raccoon.” This is the most clever song the Beatles ever released. Meanwhile, a lot of folks in the media consider my other Beatles write-ups better than the songs themselves. For more info, read the cover story of next month’s Deaf Life magazine.
Let’s look at the characters we meet in “Rocky Raccoon”: Continue reading “#96: Rocky Raccoon”
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing John Lennon, AKA the greatest troll in rock ‘n’ roll. As the Beatles’ lyrics became more…shall we say, obtuse, listeners were determined to interpret what the hell the band–well, let’s be frank and just call Lennon out, because he was the culprit–was talking about. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1963? I think I understand. “I Am the Walrus, goo goo g’joob” four years later? Slightly less clear.
Considering what a rock icon Lennon is, it’s borderline bizarre how he approached popular music as a listener. He didn’t like seeing his favorite artists in concert, because live performances never exactly replicated the familiar sound of the records he loved. He also couldn’t fathom why fans would be compelled enough to analyze his lyrics. Why can’t they just turn off their minds and enjoy the music?
So John Lennon got an idea! An awful idea! John Lennon got a wonderful, awful idea!
“I know just what to do,” he said with Continue reading “#97: Glass Onion”
For a guy who maintains a very consistent and particular public persona, Paul McCartney surprisingly often lets his freak flag fly on record. Truth be told, they typically end up becoming some of my favorite songs of his, which probably says more about me than it does about Paul’s willingness to get weird. We all love “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Band on the Run,” but my McCartney collection would be incomplete without oddball gems like “Temporary Secretary,” “Monkberry Moon Delight,” and “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose.”
Maybe the earliest evidence of Paul’s musical wild side is 1967’s “Fixing a Hole,” an eerie slice of psychedelia with lyrics that sound especially deep and thought-provoking at first but it turns out that, once again, Paul is just singing about Continue reading “#98: Fixing a Hole”
I really want to make the case here that “Tell Me What You See” is a lost Beatles masterpiece that deserves more attention. I really want to, but I can’t. It’s a filler track. But it’s a personal favorite. (Well, a 99th favorite.) One of those songs that I rarely seek out, but any time it pops up on shuffle or I’m listening to Help! I smile and think, “Yeah, I like this one.”
It’s pretty charming right out of the gate, with calming percussion and meek, wistful lyrics. As much as I normally Continue reading “#99: Tell Me What You See”
It’s hard to argue that a band that sold over 85 million albums worldwide, were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on their first year of eligibility, and rivaled U2 as the biggest stadium draw of the 90s could possibly be underrated…but I’m going to do it anyway. After their 2011 breakup, R.E.M.’s legacy has been largely minimized, despite a remarkably consistent 30-year career boasting some of the most iconic songs in rock history. Their impact and influence is still apparent when listening to modern acts like Cloud Nothings and Vampire Weekend, but save for the melancholy “Sweetness Follows” showing up in an episode of 13 Reasons Why, there’s a sadly all-too-real concern that new audiences are not discovering R.E.M. and the band will become a footnote outside of mandolin enthusiast circles and overly optimistic karaoke singers attempting to master the speedy “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
You’ll only get the “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” part right and you know it.
While they seem determined to preserve their legacy and brush off any reunion chatter, R.E.M. have consistently offered up 25th anniversary packages for each of their albums (although their incredible debut EP Chronic Town and b-sides compilation Dead Letter Office have been unjustly ignored in this campaign), and what began as two-disc sets featuring the remastered original album plus a live show or demos has evolved into the mammoth Monster package: five CDs and a Blu-Ray, including the aforementioned remaster and both demos and a full concert from the era, as well as an unprecedented remix of the entire record, all packaged in a 76-page book with expansive liner notes and photos. Seems a bit excessive for an album that Continue reading “Understanding the Frequency: A Celebration of R.E.M.’s Monster”
For a couple of months in 1967 and 1968, the Beatles had a running joke/strategy that they were dumping lesser tracks in order to fulfill contractual requirements for the movie Yellow Submarine. But aside from “Only a Northern Song” (incidentally, the lowest-ranking solo George Harrison composition on the countdown), they actually gave the filmmakers some unique and high-quality tracks, from the kid-friendly “All Together Now” to the unsettling rocker “Hey Bulldog” to the feedback-laden proto-grunge of “It’s All Too Much.”
We enter the top 100 with the second George Harrison track in a row, and this lengthy, psychedelic anthem is unlike anything else in the Beatles’ catalog. With loud, shredding guitars, a surprisingly gentle vocal, a possibly superfluous brass section (I go back and forth), and a chaotic organ part, there is a lot to unpack here. The elephant in the room is that Continue reading “#100: It’s All Too Much”
As discussed in the last entry, “Ask Me Why,” the Beatles weren’t always completely cutting-edge, but more often than not, they were wearing a Chuck Berry or R&B influence on their sleeves. “If I Needed Someone” is a rare case where they imitated a contemporary, as the track probably shares a bit too much in common with the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney.” But if you’re going to copy another band, you could do a lot worse than the Byrds (insert obligatory R.E.M. shoutout here).
“Just as the Byrds were influenced by the Beatles, we were influenced by the Byrds,” George Harrison admitted, and it’s clear from the first jangly note of this oddly ambivalent love song. Along with his other Rubber Soul contribution, this is the first Continue reading “#101: If I Needed Someone”