Today we continue a new feature at A Sound Day, which we hope to run from time to time throughout the year – Turntable Talk. In it, we’ve invited several other ardent music fans and bloggers to discuss one topic. To start off, a timely one : “The Beatles : why are we still talking about them 50(+) years on?”
It seems that The Beatles are more in the news and public’s eye now than they have been in decades, with the release of the Get Back documentary last year. But, then again, they never really went away. So we’ve got a group of fellow fans to discuss what it is about the Beatles that makes them stay relevant, decade after decade. Today, we get a Nostalgic Italian’s thoughts on the Fab Four, courtesy Keith. Keith’s a guy who knows music inside and out, having worked as a radio DJ for years and his site often looks back on that, and other things we remember fondly from decades gone by. We recommend you checking it out! Keith ponders how to describe the Beatles to someone unfamiliar with them:
Since I started this blog four years ago, I have wanted to write a blog about the Beatles. Outside of a few “mentions” and a couple guest blogs from my buddy Max, I have just never tackled a Beatles blog. So let me tell you how I was finally “forced” to write about the boys from Liverpool.
Of the many blogs I follow, many of them are musically oriented. One of those is A Sound Day.
Dave reached out to a few of us and had an idea for a monthly blog topic. The topic would be music oriented and geared toward something that we’d all be familiar with. Each of us will write on that and it will be featured on his blog. The first topic suggested was “The Beatles – why are we talking about them 50 (+) years on?”
With that being a “base” to start with, we were given the option to write about (1) why they are still relevant (2) why they remain popular (3) is their popularity justified, etc… The Beatles themselves was the “prompt” and we can veer off how we want to. That being said, the questions that Dave presented are among many “sub” topics that I have in my notebook (Beatles Cover Songs, Songs covered by the Beatles, Favorite album, Top 10 favorites, etc…)
I have to admit, I had a difficult time trying to decide what angle I was going to go with. Then I began to think, “What if someone was unfamiliar with The Beatles? How would I introduce that person to their music? If I could only pick 10 of their songs to give an overall picture of the group, what would they be?” I made a list. This blog will reflect that list.
Before I go on, let me say that I hate my list! I cannot even begin to tell you how much I struggled to narrow it down to 10 songs that encompassed what I felt expressed why the Beatles were so fantastic. Oh, the songs that I cut from my list! There are SO many fantastic songs, and no doubt, you will question why certain ones are not on this list. I found myself questioning that, too.
After editing, re-editing, adding and removing songs, and editing again, I finally said “This is the list. No going back.” Like it or not, here are the 10 songs that I chose to introduce someone to the Fab Four:
I Saw Her Standing There
This has always been one of my favorite tracks. Paul’s “1-2-3-4” count off into the driving guitar grabs me every time. It was the first track of their first album – what a way to start an album! After all the years, I was still playing this at weddings and parties when I was DJing and it always filled the dance floor.
The story goes that Paul saw a teenage gal dancing the Twist at a dance and that event was the basis for this song. It is hard not to tap your foot as you listen to this one. (Side note: I feel the guitar solo in this song is kind of lame. The boys were still quite young at this time. Compare this solo with solos from songs just three years later and you can get a feel for just how far they came musically.)
If I Fell
When I think of the Beatles, I think of their harmonies. As I tried to pick songs, I tried to find one that showcased some of those harmonies. In a Playboy interview in 1984, Paul said “If I Fell” was recorded during “our close-harmony period.”
John called this his “first attempt at a ballad proper.” As a music guy, I love the chord changes in this song. Simple chords, diminished chords, and some ninth chords are all featured in the song. It is simple, yet complex.
On a personal note, after my divorce, I heard this song on the Beatles channel on Sirius XM just as my wife and I were starting to date. I related to these lyrics. Who isn’t scared about starting a new relationship after being hurt by someone?
Got To Get You Into My Life
Brian Epstein wrote in his 1964 autobiography that the Beatles were turned down by Decca Records. He was told “guitar groups are on their way out.” I chose this song because it shows that they were more than just a guitar group. This was the first time the group ever used a horn section in one of their songs.
Paul admits that the song is an ode to marijuana. That is certainly not why it made my list. I’ll be honest, I never would have guessed that. I always heard it as a guy wanting a girl. I guess I’m just dumb. I chose it because, as a horn player, I loved the brass in it.
I’ll Follow The Sun
The song is credited to both Lennon and McCartney as writers, but the truth is that Paul wrote it. He remembered, “I wrote that in my front parlour in Forthlin Road. I was about 16. ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ was one of those very early ones. I seem to remember writing it just after I’d had the flu and I had that cigarette. I remember standing in the parlour, with my guitar, looking out through the lace curtains of the window, and writing that one.”
He said that the group was always ready to sound different. They didn’t want to get into a place where all their songs sounded the same. This one certainly was a very different sound. I love the guitar work in this one. It is beautiful. This is another song that features some good Paul/John harmonies.
Eight Days A Week
This is a song that never left my list. It has always been one of my top Beatles songs. It’s a feel good song. I love the message of this song – There aren’t enough days in a week to show how much he cares about his love.
This was the group’s second #1 song in the U.S. It is just a solid Beatles pop song. It’s hard NOT to like it. There are varying stories as to how they came up with the title. Some sources say it was a “Ringoism,” something Ringo said that struck a chord with John and Paul. Another source says that Paul was in a car and he asked the chauffeur how he was. The driver supposedly replied, “working hard – working eight days a week.”
It is one of many Beatles songs that features “hand clapping.”
While the bulk of the Beatles songs were penned by Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison was responsible for writing some fantastic songs. A perfect example is Something. It is what some call “the perfect love song.” Frank Sinatra (who never really had a lot of nice things to say about the Beatles) even called it “the greatest love song of the past 50 years.”
George says he wrote it “on the piano while we were making The White Album. I had a break while Paul was doing some overdubbing so I went into an empty studio and began to write. that’s really all there is to it, except the middle took some time to sort out.” George actually gave the song to Joe Cocker a year before they cut it.
The song was George’s first single and first number 1. It has been covered by many artists, and George has said that his favorite cover was done by James Brown!
A Hard Day’s Night
This song had to be on my list. Musicologist Alan Pollack says that this song “arguably holds a place within the upper echelon of the Beatles catalog.”
According to A Hard Day’s Write, Ringo is quoted as saying, “I came up with the phrase ‘a hard day’s night.’ It just came out. We went to do a job and we worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came out, still thinking it was day and said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ looked around, saw that it was dark and added…’ ‘s night.”
There is a lesson in this song – If you work hard, romantic and domestic bliss will follow.
This song gets me from that opening chord! It’s also one of the great cowbell songs of our time!
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
This one is another George Harrison composition. Some have called this his greatest song. To me, this is a great example of just how mature the group had become in 4 years. The guitar work in this song is fantastic (Eric Clapton appears on the song). I love the interplay between the piano and high hat cymbal in the intro.
When I worked in Classic Rock, someone played me a clip of a comedian (can’t remember who) who goes off on classic rock radio. He says that there are more classic rock songs that “Stairway to Heaven,” “Layla,” and “While My Guitar gently Weeps.” This is funny, but it is a good example of just how popular this song is with music fans.
This song has the distinction of being covered by more artists than any other song in history. Paul calls it his “most successful song” and says that it is “amazing that it came to me in a dream.” Paul stated that he had the melody from the dream but didn’t have the words – so he “blocked it out with ‘Scrambled Eggs’.”
The sheer beauty of this song is in the arrangement. It is Paul, a guitar and a string quartet – and it works. It is hard to imagine it any other way (despite the countless covers). When Paul played it for the group, Ringo said it didn’t need any drums and John and George said it didn’t need any more guitar, and from there, it became the first “solo” song.
Fun Fact: The four members of the string quartet had never played together as a group before they played on the session.
Right up until the time I was ready to start writing, the final question I had was – “Let it Be” or “Hey Jude”? Which one do I include? In the end, “Hey Jude” won out because it is sort of an anthem. It is a stand alone Beatles song. It’s like none other.
At 7 minutes long, it is what radio people called a “bathroom song.” Before the days of automation, DJ’s had to start a new record when one ended. Today, computers do that for them and they can walk away from the computer or studio for 10 minutes at a time as long as they didn’t have to talk. Back in the day, though, that wasn’t the case.
If you really stop and think about it, the song itself is only three minutes long. The last four minutes is just a refrain and fade out. The end of the record is longer than the song itself!
The song was written by Paul for John Lennon’s son Julian, who was then 5 years old. He was upset about his father and mother getting a divorce. It was written to help console him. Julian said, “It’s hard to imagine that this man was thinking about me and my life so much that he wrote a song about me…If I’m in a bar and the song comes on the radio, I still get goose pimples.”
I was dead set on “Let it Be” being the final song, until I listened back to both. Hey Jude is more “Beatles” to me, in that we have great lyrics, great instrumentation, and great harmonies. Let It Be, almost falls into that “solo” status, as it is pretty much Paul.
After writing on these 10 songs, I looked back over my initial list of like 50 songs. It makes me sad that I didn’t include some of them. Others, I had on the list just because I liked them. Should I have added a Ringo vocal song? There were some good ones, but … no.
So back to Dave’s question: “The Beatles – why are we talking about them 50 (+) years on?”
Their stuff from 1964 still sounds fresh and stands out. People still request their songs, sing along with their songs, and dance to their songs! Movies are being made about them (Yesterday, Get Back). Their albums still sell. They have their own Sirius XM channel. The only answer I can come up with is “Because they are THAT good.”
Thanks, Dave for allowing me to take part in this! I look forward to reading the other posts from you and my music blogger friends.