Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Music Review - The Beatles - The Beatles

And now kids we arrive at The White Album a double album which I shall attempt to ingest whole because I'm just that way.

About one year earlier they had recorded their magnum opus, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album so "magnum opus" that it's name can even today be used in place of "magnum opus." So how do you follow up something like that? The best songs from the album immediately following (Magical Mystery Tour, in case you weren't following along closely) were songs written and recorded while they were making Sgt. Peppers so now it's back to the studio. Except egos are starting to grow and the urge to fly on one's own is growing stronger.

Instead of letting the band take a breather and a break and a chance to make their solo albums the record company herded them back into the studio. The result is a heavily fragmented album containing more than a few solo songs. Following this album they tried to heal some wounds and recapture the magic and fun of their early years (Let It Be) and then realizing that it was over decides to go out in style (Abby Road). But I'm getting ahead of myself. As a kid I didn't know anything about album order and band arguments or anything. All I had was the music.

My favorite songs were on the first disc, though the second is not without charm. Though I had many favorites, top of the heap was probably "Martha My Dear", so much so that I eventually learned how to play the first thirty seconds or so on the piano. Sheer muscle memory... can't apply it to anything else but at least I can dust this off for an impressive "Guitar Center" moment. I especially like the chuffing strings! And speaking of "Guitar Center", my GC song is "Blackbird" which I learned to play compliments of a "Learn to Play The Beatles" CD-Rom. Again, it's impressive but complete muscle memory. Hey everyone! I can fingerpick... on just this one song. It's sad, really.

I dig the swooping bass line of "Dear Prudence" which shows that McCartney is still experimenting with inventive bass lines and "Glass Onion" is odd and kooky with many references to other Beatles songs, a kind of "Walrus" sequel. "Wild Honey Pie" and "Revolution 9", while not favorites, exhibit the "anything goes" feel of the album and are thus essential... for the skip button. I was rather keen on "Bungalow Bill" and "Rocky Raccoon"* as a child but that affection has waned. On the other hand "I'm So Tired" has grown in my admiration, especially when we have an infant on the premises. The beautifully mournful "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was and remains a personal favorite.

At this point I find myself saying "I like that one. And this one. Oh, and don't forget that one." Suck it up or quit reading.

"Happiness is a Warm Gun" is a mish-mash of three different songs and it's angular weirdness and loopy Lennon lyrics still find a cherished home in my heart even though it still confuses me. Another favorite, then and now, is "Piggies" with its harpsichord, string quartet, and twisted nursery rhyme feel. I was around twelve when I learned that Manson liked this song, thanks to the movie Helter Skelter. I was pretty much unsupervised in my television viewing choices.

That's about it for the first album, or at least the songs I enjoy.

The second platter opens with the raucous "Birthday", a fun little number to play on the bass. The first song I really liked on this platter, though, is "Sexy Sadie" I never understood the song growing up because the title had nothing to do with the lyrics but later found out that it was originally titled Maharishi", a disappointed, disillusioned song against the Indian yogi they had been studying under. "Helter Skelter" also had a large number of plays, foreshadowing my continuing love of heavy yet melodic music. Is there a pig stuck in the bass guitar? This "loudest song ever" is immediately followed by the subdued Harrison penned "Long, Long, Long", a skipper in my youth but one I've come to appreciate more as it fits well with All Things Must Pass. "Honey Pie" always made me smile, a music hall styled song that reminded me greatly of "When I'm 64." The electric piano and raunchy horns of "Savory Truffle" made for a tasty treat on the ears** both then and now. Maybe this song with inspire me to dust off my studio gear and record a Fluid Imbiber cover... The chorus of the simple yet endearing "Cry Baby Cry" is frequently on my mind when I'm surrounded by crying children and is the last great song on this double album. And no, I didn't listen to all of "Revolution 9" while writing this review. Much like genealogies in the Bible, it's good enough to hear it once and then skip over it.

* I had no idea who Gideon was but Rocky Raccoon sounded like a cartoon character so I liked it.

** Yeah, sorry about that but it was such low hanging fruit I had to go for it.

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