April 8 – The Turntable Talk, Part 6 – The Final Groove

Today wrap up the first instalment of a new feature at A Sound Day, which we hope to run from time to time throughout the year – Turntable Talk. In it over the past week, 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?”

Thank you all for reading these pieces this week, we hope you enjoyed the Turntable Talk. Thanks to Paul, Lisa, Keith, Max and Deke for taking the time to weigh in on why the Beatles are still relevant today.

I think the other writers got most of the relevant points. The Fab Four constantly changed their sound and led the way rather than followed trends. They had the good fortune of being surrounded by good people who guided their career well, like manager Brian Epstein and super-producer George Martin. All four of them were great musicians, and they strove to get better along the way. There were at very least three truly great song-writers in the group – John, Paul and George, and while Ringo might not have been at their level, he wasn’t a half-bad writer himself. For a long time, John and Paul at least kept their egos in check and worked well together (although many now see that they perhaps kept George from showing his true potential until late in their run). And they were prolific – 13 albums in about seven years plus lots of standalone singles too!

I add a few more thoughts to it. They were video pioneers. Not only did they make movies (but so too did Elvis years before them) but when they decided to quit touring, they were savvy enough to make promotional clips – what we’d now call “videos” – to show on variety shows and in record stores. Some of them were quite ahead of their time in the effects too, and soon other British stars like T-Rex, David Bowie and Roxy Music would do the same (years before North American artists seemed to take up the idea) but really, The Beatles were the first to embrace that whole-heartedly. Now, we may or may not think MTV and the video-age was a great thing (a possible topic down the road!) , but there’s no denying that videos really shaped the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s – would Madonna, ZZ Top or Duran Duran been as huge as they were had they not made videos and had an audience of millions tuning in to them? Doubtful, just as its doubtful we’d have arrived at that point when we did if the Beatles weren’t doing clips for “Paperback Writer” and “Strawberry Fields” over a decade earlier.

And that leads to another point – they decided to really get into videos when they decided to quit touring. That in itself was kind of revolutionary for a rock group. Most bands made their names back then largely by touring relentlessly. To decide to not do so at the peak of their popularity was more than bold, it was paradigm-shaking. Doing that let them spend a lot more time in the studio and make the masterpieces like Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road… after all, they had all the time in the world and nowhere to go, so why not take time really crafting something outstanding? Not to mention, with no thought of having to do the songs in concert, it let them really experiment with sound effects, over-dubbing and all those good things that would be very hard to reproduce on stage with just two guitars, a bass and drums. The idea of being a studio-only band never swept the music world, but some of the great records of the ’70s and ’80s came from bands that had the same sort of M.O. – Steely Dan, Alan Parsons Project , late-period XTC and so on. There’s certainly something to be said for the thrill of live music and seeing your favorite musicians play, but there’s always room for the mysterious craftsmen who plug away at making fantastic music that will never come to a stage near you. And the Beatles were the first to really dare to do so.

And, one more thing. Although the Beatles only were a going concern of note for about seven years (and about nine if you include the Berlin/Cavern Club years), they didn’t disappear when they broke up. Far from it. Between the end of the Beatles and the end of 1981, they tallied 35 more top 10 songs in the States, collectively, 13 of them #1s. If we looked as them as still-the-Beatles instead of four separate entities, it would be fair to say they dominated the ’70s even more than Elton or the Bee Gees did. And a number of those songs were pretty good too, ones that would have fit into the Beatles canon quite nicely – “Photograph”, “What is Life?”, “My Sweet Lord”, “Imagine,” “Starting Over,” “Live and Let Die,” “Maybe I’m Amazed”…and on and on. It seems fair to say from about 1964 through ’81, no other artists so shaped and dominated popular music. There is a reason so much good pop and rock music of the past few decades – the well-written, well-played songs – are described as “Beatlesque.”

All of those things help explain it, but really, it comes down to one thing doesn’t it? They simply created a lot of great music. End of discussion.

April 7 – The Turntable Talk, Part 5 – Exiting On A High Note

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 look north to Derek, aka Deke, from my old home province of Ontario. He’s in a city on “the big lake they call Gichi-gummee” and is the man to look to for info on hard rock, ’70s classic rock or heavy metal, not to mention his city’s live music history. Find him at Thunder Bay Rocks. We recommend you checking it out! Here’s his thoughts on the Beatles last days:

I am probably in the total minority here but for me Let It Be is my favourite Beatles album. Sure, the album had two huge Paul McCartney hits that being the title track as well as ‘The Long And Winding Road,’ which don’t get me wrong, are great Macca tracks… but there are other gems on this album too. Ones that are often forgotten about but on the flip side are some fine Lennon/McCartney compositions.

One of those tracks is the opener ‘Two of Us’ which has the Fab Four jamming on the acoustics and has a decent pace. Isn’t it  amazing that an acoustic tune opens the album? I like the fact that Paul and John trade off vocals. Lennon and McCartney have of course their fair share in writing some killer tunes in the likes of ‘Dig A Pony,’ the totally jamming ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, as well as the mighty classic, all time great track ‘Get Back’ which ends the album.

George Harrison by this time always had to muscle his couple of tracks onto the records, and as always George delivers a couple of great ones also in the form of ‘I Me Mine‘ and ‘For You Blue’.

What is even more impressive is Ringo Starr gets two share songwriting credits with McCartney/Lennon in the form of ‘Dig It’ and ‘Maggie Mae’. Considering both tracks are a combined ninety seconds that’s not huge but a credit is a credit.

I was just telling Max (at Power Pop) the other day that about a month ago I finally got around to grabbing a copy of  Let It Be on vinyl and when I gave it a spin it brought a smile to my face. So, for me,  it is indeed my go to when I need a Beatles fix.

April 6 – The Turntable Talk, Part 4 – We Could Still Be Talking About Them In 100 Years

Today we continue our 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 have Max, from the Power Pop blog. Although based near Nashville, Max writes daily about great rock and pop songs from the ’50s through the ’90s and at times, some of the great TV of that era as well. We recommend you checking it out! Max writes:

So why are The Beatles still popular with older and younger generations? Their influence seems never-ending. It’s as though they have never left. There are other bands that left a legacy but nothing like the footprint of the Beatles.

The Beatles shaped culture instead of following it. Society changed after that appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. They cast such a large net in music compared to everyone else. They influenced everything from rock, folk-rock, power pop, psychedelia, progressive rock, and heavy metal. They practically invented the thought or image of a rock band. They moved passed that and have become a huge part of the culture they helped create.

The Beatle’s breakup was announced in 1970. Many rumors flew that they might regroup through the years but that ended on December 8, 1980, in New York with the assassination of John Lennon.

Through the seventies, the Beatles were still quite popular with the Red and Blue greatest-hits albums released in the early seventies. The greatest hits album Rock and Roll Music (terrible silver cover) was released in 1976. Capitol released “Got To Get You In My Life” as a single off of the album and it peaked at #1 in Canada and #7 in the Billboard 100 in 1976. This was 10 years after it was released as an album track on Revolver.

I bought my first Beatle album (Hey Jude) in 1975 when I was 8 and then bought the Rock and Roll Music album. So, I was a 2nd generation Beatles fan and there were many of us. The solo Beatles dominated the charts to the mid-seventies. After 1975 they had hits but not as many as before. Beatles’ popularity waned in the mid to late 70s when the “newer/ younger” generations considered the Beatles as belonging to their parents. Many youngsters believed Led Zeppelin, Queen, and all newer bands would replace the Beatles in scope and success.

Everything changed when Lennon was murdered. A newer generation heard the music. Their popularity would go up and down but with the first Beatle CDs released in 1987…again another generation heard the Beatles. Sgt Pepper was re-released 20 years after the original and it went to number one.

What really cemented them in the public’s mind happened on November 20, 1995. The Beatles Anthology CDs were released, and the documentary was viewed during prime time on ABC. Since then, they have never left. On November 13, 2000, they released the compilation album “1” which was the best-selling album of the decade worldwide. The Beatles were also the largest selling band between 2000-2010. In 2009 The Beatles Rock Band game came out and…yet another generation found their music. One was my son who was born in 2000.

Between 2010-2020 they remixed and reissued many of their classic albums with 50th-anniversary editions. The Get Back film by Peter Jackson is the latest project that has thrust them in the spotlight again…but really, they have never left.

The bottom line for their staying power is their music. The songwriting was outstanding. Even the early music was something new. They used minor chords, and different rhythms, along with harmonizing over the top. I’m not going to go into musical theory, but they never repeated themselves. Every album stands on its own.  John Lennon’s rhythm guitar was quirky and inventive, George Harrison brought in a Chet Atkins style along with jazz chords, Paul brought bass playing to a new level, and Ringo was a left-hander that played right-handed with an open high hat. The main thing was the songwriting, quality, and quantity that is rarely if ever seen.

Bob Dylan: “Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid.”

They rarely included their singles on albums. Most bands used singles to sell albums, but The Beatles treated both formats as different entities. Songs that weren’t released as singles include “Norwegian Wood”, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, “With A Little Help From My Friends”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”,” All My Loving”, “A Day In The Life”, “Back In The USSR”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Helter Skelter”, “Michele”, “The Night Before”, and one of the most popular Beatles song “Here Comes The Sun”, and many more. Any other band would have released these songs as singles but with the Beatles…they were just album cuts. That is how deep their songwriting was at the time, and from 1966 onward George was contributing to the quality as well. George developed into a great songwriter in an impossible situation of being with two of the best in history.

They had more of a variety than many others. They were rockers in Hamburg and The Cavern. They were pop stars in the Beatlemania years. They were rock-folk-pop in the middle period of Rubber Soul and Revolver. They were Psychedelic rockers during the Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour era. Then they went back to their roots and were rockers again with the “White Album” and Let It Be. Abbey Road saw them perfecting their craft in all genres. They knew when to make an exit…while still on top.

They broke up because they outgrew each other and were together constantly, much like brothers. John, Paul, and George grew up together in Liverpool and they knew Ringo well early on. They were never made to stay together like the Stones. The Stones developed a business/brand attitude, but the Beatles were more of a family and things were more personal.

They were not this clean polite band that Brian Epstein and the press created. In fact, the Stones and Beatles’ images should have been reversed… but to make it…they had to clean up to get through the international door. After they did, the door was open for all others. They did however speak of whatever was on their mind. They said things stars just didn’t say, even in the early days. There was something honest about them that is still there to this day.

They were symmetrical… John brought in Paul, Paul brought in George, and George brought in Ringo.

Their story adds depth to their legacy. The odds of them finding Brian Epstein, George Martin, Stuart Sutcliffe, and everyone on the way was nearly zero. If one key person would have would have gone the other way…the story would not be the same or had not happened.

In a hundred years…the question will still be asked… why are the Beatles still relevant?

A couple of videos to leave you with –  New bands on the importance of The Beatles   Even Motorhead Were Fans

 

 

 

 

April 5 – The Turntable Talk, Part 3 – You Say You Don’t Know The Beatles

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.”

Something

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.

Yesterday

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.

Hey Jude

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.

In Conclusion

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.

 

April 4 – The Turntable Talk, Part 2 – Disney Doc Introducing The Beatles To New Ears

Today we continue our 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 turn to Lisa in Michigan, over at Tao Talk. a thought-provoking pot pourri of stories about topics ranging from music and movies to social issues to gardening. We recommend you checking it out!

As a child who was born at the end of the 1950s, I was blessed to have access to a record player and albums of both children’s classics (e.g. Bambi, Peter and the Wolf, Puff the Magic Dragon) and contemporary music. I remember while listening to albums, I would scrutinize the album covers. One modern album was, Introducing… The Beatles, released in January, 1964. Examining the album cover right now again, I remember thinking some of the Fab Four’s Fingers were missing and being concerned. Looking back it seems as if my total being was absorbed while listening to each tune as if it were a mini-operetta; each one a world in a child’s mind, with the celestial harmonies, the answering guitars, bass and drums, all working together to tell their stories. 

Where virtually all of those early albums fell by the wayside as other popular tunes and artists replaced them, The Beatles remained traveling companions. Just as research has shown how baby ducks “imprint” on any moving figure and consider the figure their parents, I believe Beatles music may have been what my young, developing musical sense imprinted on, where my actual parents became more detached environmental shaping agents.

It seemed as if the boys were always on the radio. Was there ever a time when one song or another wasn’t getting air play? If there was, I don’t remember it. The big hit I remember from the second album was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Ah the sweet joy, “…and when I touch you I feel happy inside.” Does it get any better than that? Their music continued as a familiar friend, even as it became more sophisticated and polished as time went on. The big shift for me was Abbey Road, released in 1969. By then my folks had divorced and my mom and us kids had moved into a new neighborhood. The earth shaker for me was, “Come Together.” Was this the same band I’d imprinted on and followed unquestioningly? Something about the song seemed less dreamy and more sharp-edged. To a child whose life was already in turmoil, the musical shift was disquieting. Maybe it helped me wake up and realize I wasn’t in a kindergartner’s world anymore and that there were more hard-edged truths I’d have to face.

Get Back,” on Let it Be, released in 1970, was another hard-edged tune for me. The lyrics seemed a little mean-spirited. After recently seeing the 3-part Peter Jackson documentary, Get Back, I understand now why they were, but at the time, the song seemed to carry me ever further away from my childhood.

When I got to an age where I was able to earn money babysitting (our family was poor and there was no such thing as allowance!) I began to buy my own albums. (My first two albums purchased were Jesus Christ Superstar and The Sesame Street Album.) I was blessed to babysit for a couple where the dad was an audiophile and had The White Album. He worked third shift and so was sleeping while I babysat. When the kids went out to play I put on the headphones and listened to his many wonderful albums, including that one, where I learned most of the lyrics and every other sound on it (except for the last two songs on side 4.) Again, it transported me back to the mini-operettas of my kindergartnerhood. Doing a mighty time jump between then and 2018, when I started blogging at WordPress, I found two Beatles Super fans, Hans of slicethelife and Max of Powerpopblog and started to get into them in a big way again. For a while, Hans was covering them as albums and as singles in his posts, and I learned so much along the way about them. Also around this time, which is when I retired from my job and had a lot more time on my hands, I learned about the priceless resource of my local library and its inter-library loan feature. Soon I was borrowing dozens of CDs, including most of The Beatles discography, which allowed me to become acquainted even more with their music.

Finally, getting to Dave’s questions, why do they remain popular and relevant even today, so many years later than when they began? Their music ignited something back then in a time in the world where civil liberties and other sexual liberation were being expanded along with musical horizons. How many were, like I was, imprinted upon their harmonic gestalt?

When the band split up after Get Back, they may have ended as a musical unit, but each of their notes went on and each blossomed in their own way. 

Over the years, with the vast expansion of digital music sharing, it feels like we are all in a time machine, where we can go musically wherever we want to. We aren’t dependent on whatever the radio deems listen-worthy or what our pocketbooks can afford. Liberal and free youtube, spotify, pandora, etc. streaming music gives younger people a chance to instantly access the old gold that is The Beatles. With, Get Back showing the intimate songwriting process and bonding these four shared and choosing to broadcast it on Disney+ even the youngest viewers are also able to be imprinted by their music.

The bottom line for me personally as to why The Beatles remain popular and relevant is that their music stands the test of time. It is as alive and fresh as it was the day it was created.

April 3 – The Turntable Talk : Part 1, Why We Are Still Talking About The Beatles

 

Today we start 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 start with Paul over at Once Upon A Time in The 70s. Paul’s one of two people that put that one together, a fun site that looks back at the sights and sounds of the 1970s from a British  perspective. We recommend you checking it out!

 

I’ve no idea how many Beatle’s covers exist, but when you consider there are over 1,600 versions of the song ‘Yesterday’ then you’ve got to imagine there’s a fair few kicking around.

Everyone from Alvin & the Chipmunks to Frank Zappa have had a go at covering a Beatles song, which is hardly surprising given how many standards they’ve written. I grew up in the 60s and started getting into music at the turn of the decade just as the Beatles were heading towards their long and winding road. Truth be told I didn’t really appreciate the genius of the Beatles until I’d gone through my Glam Rock, Funk, and Yacht Rock phases, but I got there eventually and learned to appreciate how talented and ground-breaking they truly were.

The fact then that there are so few Fab Four covers in my music library is an anomaly to me.

For that reason, I decided to take a deep dive into the world of Beatles covers in the expectation that there would be plenty of overlooked gems that I’d missed over the years.

And that’s how I came to spend an afternoon recently crunching through Apple Music & Spotify looking for treasures, and I’ve got to tell you it was a long afternoon.


As an example, I love Aretha Franklin and I love ‘The Fool on The Hill’ so I had high expectations when I came across Aretha’s version, but it left me underwhelmed as did a lot of the Beatles covers I listened to.

One ‘new find’ I’m excited to share was a version of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by Todd Rundgren, which went straight into my list of Top 10 Beatles covers, shared below in no particular order.


As mentioned previously, there are so many Beatles covers so I’m sure there will be a few notable omissions in people’s eyes, for which I apologise in advance…. but like they say ‘beauty is in the ear of the beholder’


1)
Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett – Pickett makes the song his own with his rasping vocals, a great Muscle Shoals arrangement and the introduction of a young Duane Allman who marks his recording debut with a blistering guitar solo.

2) We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder – An upbeat version featuring a fuzzy clavinet intro and a trademark Stevie harmonica solo. Recorded in 1970 when Stevie was on the cusp of greatness and ably backed by the ubiquitous Funk Brothers.

3) With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker – A rare case of a Beatles cover being better than the original, a fact endorsed by McCartney himself. Cocker took this breezy Ringo Starr version from Sgt Pepper and turned it into a soul anthem featuring another cameo from a guitar great, the legendary Jimmy Page.

And of course, this song reminds us all of the fabulous ‘The Wonder Years’

4) Got to Get You into My Life by Earth Wind & Fire – Recorded for the Robert Stigwood backed Sgt Pepper project in 1978. The movie bombed and the soundtrack was a flop, but this cover, given the full EW&F treatment with their potent horn section front and centre, was head and shoulders above the rest of the Beatle covers.

5) Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by The Marmalade – I was 10 when this was released and didn’t realize it was a Beatles cover till several years later. The Marmalade were a local band, so we were all proud to see them reach number one in the UK. It won’t make many Beatles top 10 lists but it’s a great little pop song.

6) Dear Prudence by Siouxsie & The Banshees – At the time, it was a shock that these post punk darlings would go anywhere near a Beatles song but with Robert Smith from the Cure on board they took this White Album track and made it their own.

7) Strawberry Fields Forever by Todd Rundgren – No stranger to a recording studio you get the impression that producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Rundgren had a lot of fun capturing the 60’s psychedelic vibe on this recording.

8) In My Life by Johnny Cash – The subject matter and the fact that this was one of Cash’s last recordings makes this Rick Rubin stripped-down version even more poignant.

9) Eleanor Rigby by Aretha Franklin – I knew the Queen of Soul would come good. A Beatles classic given the full Aretha treatment. She certainly takes this version to church.

10) Come and Get It by Badfinger – A bit of a cheat, as technically Badfinger released this McCartney penned song first, but I agree with those who say that it was probably ‘the best unreleased Beatles recording’

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5HL42k0u5ax0khNIXF1yi6?si=059163c0b5984161

March 25 – Sound Of Wings Sped Up Charts

You can let critics get to you and try to adjust to their criticisms. Or you can just have a bit of fun with them and dig in. Paul McCartney decided to opt for the latter with his Wings release Wings At the Speed Of Sound, released this day in 1976.

For three or four years, many critics had complained that McCartney was only writing love songs which were light-weight and bits of fluff, and that his “band” Wings was really not a bad at all but just a vehicle for his own self-indulgent ideas. So for his sixth post-Beatles album (of which, it was the third labeled “Wings”, with two being “Paul McCartney And Wings” and one just being “Paul McCartney” ) he decided to make this an absolute band effort. And write the most lightweight love songs yet.

He and the band recorded it at Abbey Road Studios, like so many of his great recordings before. However, this time around there was no John, George or Ringo around him, nor a George Martin producing. Nevertheless, Wings were no slouches (particularly ex-Moody Blue Denny Laine) and by the Bicentennial year, Paul had learned a thing or two about working the soundboards and he produced the record by himself.

To make sure people got the message that Wings was a band, not just a fictitious entity in McC’s imagination, he let each of the other members sing at least one of the song and take part in writing some of the tunes. Laine wrote and did lead vocals on “Time to Hide” and sang “The Note You Never Wrote”. drummer Joe English took the mic for “Must Do Something About It”, Jimmy McCulloch added “Wino Junko” and Paul’s wife Linda wrote and sang the ode to the joys of domestic duties, “Cook of the House.”

Adding to the band effect was the fact that not only did Linda play keyboards, McCulloch and Laine both played bass and guitars on various tracks. Still, it was Paul who led the way, playing bass of course, but also guitars on some songs, piano on others and singing the majority of the songs on the 46-minute work. that included the two hit singles, “Let ‘Em In” and “Silly Love Songs”.

Of course critics loved to hate both. “Let ’em In” was probably the silliest, most meaningless song he’d done since “Uncle Albert”… I mean, the whole song revolves around someone knocking on the door and him asking you to let them in. Not exactly “Year of the Cat” or “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. But it was a fun little single and it rose to #2 in their homeland and #3 in North America and earned him yet another gold single from the States.

Silly Love Songs” took on the criticisms head-on. “People have been doing love songs forever…I like ’em, other people like ’em and there’s a lot of people I love. I’m lucky…’you’ may call them silly but what’s wrong with that?” Nothing apparently. The song was a smash, the #1 song of the year in the U.S. in fact, making Paul the first person to have a year-end best-seller with two different acts. (The Beatles had two such songs, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964 and “Hey Jude” in ’68.)

It all got the album to #1 in the U.S. for seven weeks, and also to #1 in Canada where it was the second-biggest album of the year behind Frampton Comes Alive.

Were the critics appeased? Hardly. In general they doubled-down on their criticisms. Rolling Stone panned it, and later on Q gave it a measly 1-star. Allmusic rated it lowly too, at 2-stars. They noted that it was a “full band effort (which) ironically winds up considerably less cohesive” than past works and suggesting Paul was “resting on his laurels”, although complimenting “Beware My Love” (the “best-written song”) and the “bit of charm” in Linda’s song.

Wings hot streak continued through the year, critics notwithstanding. They were touring North America to great success and later in the year put out the million-selling live album, Wings Over America.

February 25 – The Bright Light That Was The Dark Horse

The “Quiet Beatle” was born 79 years ago today, so in honor of that, we look at some thoughts about George Harrison…and from George himself.

Ringo Starr, after George’s death in 2001: “George was a best friend of mine. I loved him very much and will miss him very greatly.”

Paul McCartney, at same time: “He was a lovely guy and a very brave man, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He (was) really just my baby brother.”

Peter Asher, friend of the Beatles and record producer : “(he was) an extraordinary composer and wildly skilled, inventive guitarist; a brilliant and remarkable man. He combined some of the virtues of an English country gentleman – civility, good humor and a certain traditionalism – with a profound fascination with other cultures.”

Tom Petty, bandmate of George’s in the Traveling Wilbury’s : “He just had a way of getting right to the business of finding the right thing to play. That was part of the Beatle magic.”

Jeff Lynne of E.L.O and the Traveling Wilburys, upon their first real meeting: “He invited me over and we got on great. One of the first things he asked was ‘do you want to go on holiday?’..So, we went on a holiday to Australia, and then we came back and…made Cloud 9.

Eric Clapton : “A lot of times during our relationship, I found it very difficult to communicate my feelings towards George – my love for him as a musician, as a friend and a brother…because we skated around stuff” (presumably like how Eric pursued George’s wife Pattie for years.)

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones: “George was an artist, but he was also a…craftsman. When you listen to his songs, you’re aware of how much went into it. George crafted his stuff very, very carefully.”

New York Times after his death: “Some of his best compositions, like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Something’ stand alone in the Beatles canon for their introspective beauty” and he “created the concept of the all-star charity rock concert.”

The Guardian: “the most handsome but under-rated Beatle…seemed stranded on the far side of the stage, even if he was the best musician and the motor of the band.”

Olivia Harrison, his widow: “He often said ‘everything else can wait but the search for God cannot’ and ‘love one another.'”

And a few words from the man himself:

In 1980 – “I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t want to go out to the clubs partying.”

We’re now the results of our past actions. In the future, we’ll be the result of the actions we’re performing now.”

Quiet words of wisdom from the quiet Beatle.

February 13 – Beatles Made Two Spots Tourist Destinations With One Record

Pop music took a quantum leap forward on this day in 1967 with The Beatles introducing us to their developing artistry that would soon flourish on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band. The teaser was two of their best-loved songs released on one 7” single: “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Officially it was a “double A-side record” although most charts considered “Penny Lane” the real “single.” The single was the band’s answer to pressure to keep putting out radio hits while in the (by their standards) lengthy stretch between the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper… albums.

The record displayed the increasingly separated writing styles of the lead duo – McCartney’s more straight-forward pop sensibilities on “Penny Lane” compared to Lennon’s more experimental, polarizing sounds, as heard on “Strawberry Fields Forever.” However, both were revolutionary for the time in content and delivery. Both songs ushered in the real-psychedelic period for the band, which in turn was largely responsible for the public “turning on” to that whole sound so characteristic of the late-’60s. And they recorded promotional clips for both songs… music videos in more modern parlance. The videos were premiered just before the record came out, in the U.S. on Ed Sullivan and at home on Top of the Pops.

As “out there” as the songs seemed, they were based on memories of the pair’s childhood and youth in Liverpool (albeit as seen through a rearview mirror made of LSD). Penny Lane was a real street in Liverpool. McCartney remembered “it was really a place that John and I knew…I’d get a bus to his house and I’d have to change at Penny Lane (an important bus staging place in the city)…so we often hung out at that terminus.” Many of the people mentioned in the song are based on characters Paul knew when young. Likewise, Strawberry Fields was a park just outside of Liverpool where young John attended a number of garden parties.

Although Tim Sheridan of Mojo suggests “Strawberry Fields Forever” is “perhaps the greatest work of the psychedelic era” and Rolling Stone have “Penny Lane” on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all-time, not everyone was as enthused when the single came out, particularly in their homeland. The NME wrote befuddedly “the most unusual and way-out single The Beatles have yet produced. Quite honestly, I don’t know what to make of it.” The Daily Mail was blunter in their panning of it: “What’s happening to the Beatles? They have become contemplative, secretive, exclusive and excluded.” Over here, reaction was a bit better, especially from Time magazine, which said “they have bridged the heretofore gap between rock and classical…to achieve the most compellingly original sounds heard in pop music.” Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was said to wearily complain “they did it already- what I wanted to do with Smile” when he heard “Strawberry Fields Forever” the first time.

Most of their fans, of course, loved it. The single hit #1 in Canada and in the U.S. “Penny Lane” became their 14th chart-topper, with “Strawberry Fields Forever” getting to #8. In the UK, it hit #2…not bad, but the first one of theirs since “Please Please Me’ not to get to #1. Those who didn’t get the 7” record were able to buy both songs late the same year as they were tacked onto the Magical Mystery Tour album.

Lennon said “Strawberry Fields Forever” was his best work within the Beatles, and he demanded they cut several versions of it to put together the best possible single. A discarded version was put on their Atnhology 2 compilation in the ’90s. Fittingly, a memorial for Lennon in New York’s Central Park is named “Strawberry Field.”

January 30 – You Saw The Movie, 53 Years Ago Was The Real Thing

To borrow from another popular group of the day, The Doors, “this is the end.” Or almost for the 1960s musical kings, The Beatles. If you happened to be in London this day in 1969, around Seville Row, and looked up, you would have seen the Fab Four playing a 40-minute concert up on the roof of their non-descript five-storey Apple Records office. Or, more likely, you probably saw them do that in last year’s well-reviewed documentary, Get Back

It was the first time they’d played together in public for over two years and would turn out to be their last public performance. They were still doing well commercially, with the “White Album” selling huge quantities but critics were starting to question their creativity and direction and the band had gotten to the point they could barely stand each other. Behind the scenes, Yoko Ono’s presence with John was irritating the others and the death of manager Brian Epstein had left them feeling a little adrift.

They had an idea to use the song “Get Back” as a nucleus for a straight-ahead, live rock album but their time together working on that was according to George Harrison “the low of all-time” and he actually quit the band for several days before being cajoled back with the help of Billy Preston (who is the only non-Beatle to ever get credited with co-writing one of their originals, “Get Back.”) Plans to perform a show to record and introduce new material at on a cruise ship or at an African ampitheatre in the desert fell through, resulting in them donning fur coats and playing the set in 45-degree windy weather on their roof. As well as “Get Back” they introduced songs “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Dig A Pony” to the sometimes confused people below. They perhaps might have played longer but London bobbies (police) were trying to get them to shut down due to noise complaints…and given how cold it was, they didn’t seem to complain that much!

Fans looking for the building  will be disappointed to find that Apple Records headquarters are now an Abercrombie and Fitch store. They won’t be disappointed to find that “Don’t Let Me Down”, a popular new song they performed in the set that wasn’t on Let It Be (unlike “Get Back”) is now readily available online and on Beatles compilation albums. And recently, the entire concert has been released to streaming services.