Wednesday, January 28, 2015
If you're going to draw a line in the Beatles career between their earlier Beatlemania phase when they wore identical suits and sang "Yeah Yeah Yeah oooh" songs on guitars; and their later experimental, long-hair phase, then Rubber Soul is generally thought to be the first album to come from the second period. It still harkens back to the Beatlemania days but there is definitely a looking ahead to the immediate future when the studio became their playground and they could spend weeks producing something they considered a work of art. It's clearly the sound of a two song writers who have almost exhausted their supply of pop tunes and are starting to move into a more serious musical phase.
While it's not quite as good as Revolver, which followed it a few months later, Rubber Soul is still a fantastic piece of pop/rock songwriting and proof that four mop tops from Liverpool could mature into songwriters rivaling anyone else around.
Drive My Car
Throughout their entire career, Paul never stopped being able to write fresh and original rock and roll and Drive My Car is proof that he had developed an uncanny ability to produce incredibly catchy hooks. "Beep Beep a Beep Beep Yeah" was weirdly thrilling back in 1965 and still great today. Paul also plays the guitar solo and could have played all the other instruments. John and Paul were pretty much independent entities in their own right at this point and we should be grateful that they took so long to realise it.
Apparently a song about an affair that John had which he wanted to write about in oblique and obscure terms in order not to alert his wife who he must have thought was incredibly naive. It's John trying to sound like Dylan which apparently annoyed more than flattered Bob who wasn't a fan of being imitated. I read Paul's interpretation of the lyrics in a biography of him recently and have to say I was kind of shocked. According to McCartney it's about a guy who spends the night in a girl's house but because she refuses to have sex with him he burns her house down. I always thought the "I lit a fire" at the end of the song refers to a fireplace but according to Paul it's a premeditated act of arson caused by bottled up sexual frustration. Either way it's a beautiful tune and a fabulous song. But if it's okay with you I'll keep my visual image of a guy lighting a fire in a fireplace instead of burning down a girl's house because she wouldn't let him into her bed.
You Won't See Me
This is the first track on Rubber Soul that takes a new listener by surprise. Those who have never heard Rubber Soul before know the first two tracks but when they encounter track three they can appreciate how good the Beatles really are. By this stage they're not padding their albums with covers from their live act or filler tracks they know aren't as good. You won't see me is a great piece of mature pop writing which is the first indication that the Beatles aren't just collecting songs together, they're making an album.
Rubber Soul doesn't just point The Beatles in new musical directions it also shows an indication of their new lyrical paths. Their earlier songwriting efforts had been mainly about girls and how they were great/unreliable/unobtainable/going out with someone else. Nowhere man is about John's battle with despondency and a lack of purpose. The frantic Beatles existence that he'd been leading for a few years had served to distract him from his unhappiness but the relative relaxed schedule of the Rubber Soul sessions forced him to confront his issues and Nowhere Man is the result. It's a great song and a pointer to more personal and reflective lyrics ahead from its writer.
Think for yourself
George would later become a great songwriter who wasn't just capable of holding his own against the other two he was capable of producing the album's highlight. It wouldn't be long before he would write songs of the standard of Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps but at this point he's nowhere near that level of ability. Think is an okay song but it's nobody's favourite Beatles track and the weakest moment on the album so far.
A John and Paul track and another of those songs which comes as a pleasant surprise to anyone who hasn't heard the album before. It's also a song whose charms increase the more you hear it. I like it a lot more now than I did when I first had Rubber Soul in heavy rotation on my old tape deck. The Word is another pointer towards things to come. Love isn't just something that drives romances now it's a big ideal that John and Paul consider important. They're becoming hippies.
One of those Beatles tracks which appears regularly in playlists for middle of the road, easy listening radio stations. It's a harmless little love ballad which is easy to scoff at but charmingly addictive when you're actually listening to it.
What Goes On
The album's lone clunker. What Goes on is Ringo's vocal contribution to the album and a long way from his finest moment. It's just quirky enough not to be an instant skip in the CD age but it's certainly the lowest moment on the tracklisting.
People might like to think The Beatles are a group of boys singing about teenage things. They want to hold your hand and they keep talking about dances. They seem to have the interests of teen boys at heart. But Girl sounds grown up and almost sleazy. It's definitely a song produced by a bunch of males who aren't talking about girls they met at a dance and want to hold hands with.
I'm looking through you
This is the song I'd probably put up as proof that Rubber Soul is one of the all time great albums. It wasn't a single, it doesn't get the instant recognition that Drive My Car or Michelle gets, it's not likely to appear on a Beatles Best of compilation but it's a fantastic song. If anyone else had written it you'd hear it as a single but because the Beatles were churning out great hits at a constant rate, it's tucked away here as an album track.
In My Life
While so much of Rubber Soul looks forwards to what would come, this gorgeous song looks backwards to what has gone before. It's the most fantastic piece of musical nostalgia in which Lennon recalls those who have touched him in the past. Unlike a lot of Lennon compositions which tend to be personalised to the point where the only people who can really lyrically empathise with them are males who happen to be in love with a girl named Yoko, In My Life is general enough that pretty much anyone who remembers a place and can divide their friends into an "alive" and "not alive" column can feel the song speaks directly to them.
Unlike future recording sessions, which had the luxury of a relaxed time behind them, Rubber Soul had a definite release date in mind and had to be ready in time for the record company to put it out before Christmas. John and Paul didn't have enough songs to fill the track listing and while they could have thrown in a cover it would have felt like a retrograde step. Consequently Wait, a discarded track from the Help sessions was dug out, dusted off and slapped in the middle of side two where it was easier to hide. Wait isn't a terrible song by any stretch of the imagination but you can see why it didn't make the cut the first time around and if John and Paul had been given more songwriting time it wouldn't have made it this time around either.
If I needed someone
George's second songwriting effort on the album is better than his first but still a distance off being as good as the sort of stuff John and Paul were churning out.
Run for your Life
Is this the worst Beatles track ever? Quite possibly, especially when the lyrics are concerned. Its basically about a complete bastard who tries to keep his girlfriend in check with threats of violence. It certainly doesn't sound like the caring and sharing John Lennon that we like to think spends all his time giving peace a chance and imagining things. It's a nasty song without much to redeem the bitterness in the lyrics and it's a huge pity that they chose this as an album closer because it sends the listener away with a unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I advise music fans just discovering the Beatles to focus on the early albums (up to A Hard Day's Night) and the last albums (Abbey Road and Let It Be). The middle albums are not as good, especially Revolver and Rubber Soul."
-That's becoming an increasingly unpopular view, it has to be said
So is Rubber Soul the best Beatles album ever? Or does something else deserve the title? Let me know below
Friday, January 23, 2015
1. What's Going On
2. What's Happening Brother
3. Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)
4. Save the Children
5. God Is Love
6. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
7. Right On
8. Wholy Holy
9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
What's Goin On has without a doubt one of the best stories attached to any album on this countdown. Apparently Marvin Gaye went into the studio to record the title track and produced the Funk Brothers himself. He put down his vocals, mixed the song and then played it to Motown head Berry Gordy. Gordy was a legendary mogul and one of the most powerful people in music. What Gordy said, went and what Gordy said about What's Goin On was not good. He hated it and declared it one of the worst things he'd ever heard. He refused to release it as a single and wanted his label to have nothing to do with it. He certainly didn't want Marvin Gaye, who was a big seller as a singer of love ballads, to waste his time recording anything else like it.
Thankfully What's Goin on had some fans in Motown records and some of Gordy's staff made the single without his permission and took a huge risk by shipping it to record stores. It is quite literally the record that wasn't released, it escaped.
Gordy had no idea that the record he hated so much was available in shops and the first he heard of it was when he was told that it had become Motown's fastest ever selling single. It was a smash hit which prompted Gordy to jump into his car, drive to Gaye's house and demand he go into the studio and record more tracks like it to make a full album.
The result is What's Going On, which is sort of a concept album about how the world has become a nasty place. Gaye wrote it during the Vietnam war, which his brother had just returned from (although he worked as a disc jockey so he probably didn't see the most intense fighting unless you count squabbles over playlists) and he was deeply affected by the social mood at the time. It recounts bad things that are happening, like people treating Vietnam Vets badly and people being addicted to heroin and in an impressive piece for forward thinking, the environment being stuffed up. These things were affecting Marv so he sort of put them together into an album that could be called "Things Marv is upset about and thinks you should be too."
I don't know why it is but I don't get Soul when its tackling social justice issues. I can appreciate it's my fault but I have a very narrow concept of what lyrical subjects are acceptable for Soul music. Love is fine, Soul should sing about love. Sex is good too. Having fun is okay especially when it involves sex and fun. Dying fish is not. There's just something about the death of wildlife that I don't really think works in a soul album. I know this is a blatant prejudice on my part. For some reason I'm happy for folk music and rock and roll to address social issues. When Neil Young and Midnight Oil get angry about injustice I can get behind it. But when Marvin does it just seems weirdly wrong to me. It's possibly in part because Gaye's lyrics don't aren't really especially insightful. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) talks about fish with lots of mercury and pollution and over crowding but doesn't offer any solution, insight or perspective. It's just name checking bad environmental stuff.
What's Going On is a huge album. It's here at number 6 on this countdown and its at number one on a bunch of others, but it doesn't really affect me all that much. I love the opening track which is a beautiful piece of soul. But the rest of the album is an attempt to invoke a mood that I'm just not getting. It doesn't help that Gaye's preferred style of vocalising is in a high falsetto when I prefer a deep baritone in my soul singers. I think Marv has a pure and fantastic voice but it doesn't move me as much as a singer with half his talent singing an octave or two lower.
There are only five albums greater than this one apparently, unless you listen to some other music lists in which case there's nothing that can top it. I'd like to be one of their number but frankly I'm happy to respect Marv and to enjoy the title track if it comes on again but I don't really need to hear him earnestly intone the world's problems in a high falsetto over the sound of strings ever again.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Listening to "What's Going On" is like having a really sexy civics teacher in high school. She can talk all day about police brutality and the civil rights movement; your mind's somewhere else."
-That's a truly brilliant analogy.
So what's going on with you and this album? Let me know below.
Monday, January 19, 2015
1. Rocks Off
2. Rip This Joint
3. Shake Your Hips
4. Casino Boogie
5. Tumbling Dice
6. Sweet Virginia
7. Torn and Frayed
8. Sweet Black Angel
9. Loving Cup
11. Turd on the Run
12. Ventilator Blues
13. I Just Want to See His Face
14. Let It Loose
15. All Down the Line
16. Stop Breaking Down
17. Shine a Light
18. Soul Survivor
If I had a time machine I'd keep ducking back in time and bankrupting the Rolling Stones on a regular basis, because they're a hell of a lot better when they're strapped for cash.
Mick Jagger does rich very well. He uses his money to live well and goes to Lords to watch cricket and has elaborate parties and for a hobby he produces movies. He's earned his considerable fortune and I don't begrudge him it for a second, but he writes better music when he's skint. Jagger with money is comfortable and well off and lacks the drive and push that he had in his youth.
There are lots of artists who you could argue have gone drastically downhill since they got rich, Guns and Roses were young, lean and hungry and wrote Appetite for Destruction, then they became fat, wealthy and bloated and haven't done anything good since. Rock history is full of bands who released a great debut but fell apart when the money started pouring in.
Part of the reason for the Rolling Stones huge success might be that unlike a lot of their contemporaries who stayed rich once they got there, The Stones had a return to near poverty a decade after their career started and were suddenly hungry again.
Bad management decisions and dodgy UK tax laws meant the Rolling Stones started 1972 in an absurd position in which they owed the taxman more money than they actually had. The only way to get out of their position was to get the hell out of the UK and take up residence somewhere else as tax exiles. Consequently the entire band, along with sax player Bobby Keys, decamped to France where they all lived together in a big house playing music and coming up with two albums worth of material in the process.
At least that's the legend. The truth is that the entire band didn't live together because Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bobby Keys and the production team were so strung out on heroin and other drugs at the time that Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts found it hard to be around them and all found other places to be. They showed up for sessions at times but sometimes didn't bother, which meant drums and bass are often played by other people. It's a nice image to think of the whole band together in a basement in France playing music but the truth is more often than- not Bill Wyman was off someone having a nice time and Charlie Watts had gone home to bed while a ramshackle group of musicians staggered around trying not to remember where they'd left their plectrums and tripping over the cables.
The tracks completed in France often required some overdubbing and sometimes rerecording which Jagger supervised in LA later in the year turning the whole "recorded by a band in a French basement" myth a bit of a farce. But it's a good story and what's true is that the band needed some money and couldn't live at home while they earned it.
Part of the charm of Exile is the dual nature of the material. There are tracks which are some of the sleaziest, dirtiest blues ever recorded by English people. Hip Shake and Rocks Off and Turd on the Run and Ventilator Blues sound like a bunch of drug-addled deviants hiding from the taxman in a basement in France. They sound like the sort of songs you need to wash after listening to and you can understand why people would want to let their daughters marry their creators.
But the flipside of that material are the gospel influenced tracks like Soul Survivor, Shine a Light and I just want to See his Face, which Jagger wrote after he and keyboard player (and regular churchgoer) Billy Preston went to a gospel church in LA and felt the need to inject some old time religion in the Stones catalogue. It's almost as if Jagger walked down into the basement of that French house and saw the scene before him (his band passed out with needles in their arm and the only sound coming from a rhythmic atonal toot as Bobby Keys exhaled into the saxophone that was still in his mouth when the heroin kicked in) and thought: we need some redemption.
Exile shouldn't really work. The sleaze of the Richards led sessions in France and the gospel nature of the Jagger led LA sessions should create two sets of tracks that just don't work together. The thing is the really do. They not only complement each other they sound like a perfect, harmonious union. It sounds like a band who have really found themselves and work together as a single unit even though they're actually fragmented and rarely in the same room together.
The end result is one of Rock's most perfect albums. Along with Blonde on Blonde, it's the only Double album on this countdown that doesn't have any bloat or filler. There's no need to resort to sound experiments and there's only one cover on the entire track listing. It's all just fantastic rock and roll with just enough blues, gospel and country infusion to keep everything interesting. It doesn't have as many indisputable hits as the three Stones classics that went before it (after they were released I don't think the Stones played a concert in which they didn't play a track from Let it Bleed, Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers but they could go entire tours without playing anything from Exile) but there's not a bad track on it and every song gets better with time and doesn't wear out its welcome.
Exile on Mainstreet is the last great Stones album. They would have moments from here on in and every album they released had at least something to get excited about but they would never hit these heights again, but then nobody else would either so it's hard to blame them.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "What? They aren't the best rock band in the world. The only rock songs that rock are Start Me Up and Shattered."
-This is why Amazon is pointless as a review system. That exact phrase appears in three separate reviews which are all pretty much identical on Exile. They also appear multiple times in every single Stones album I've encountered and others I've looked up as well. It's clear that some silly person has used copy and paste to put the same review up on every single stones album multiple times with three separate amazon accounts. And yet his one star reviews have the same weighting as someone who has actually heard the album and given it their full consideration.
So do you embrace this album or are you happy to keep it in exile? Let me know below
Monday, January 12, 2015
1. London Calling
2. Brand New Cadillac
3. Jimmy Jazz
5. Rudie Can't Fail
6. Spanish Bombs
7. The Right Profile
8. Lost in the Supermarket
10. The Guns of Brixton
11. Wrong 'Em Boyo
12. Death or Glory
13. Koka Kola
14. The Card Cheat
15. Lover's Rock
16. Four Horsemen
17. I'm Not Down
18. Revolution Rock
19. Train in Vain
The Clash wisely realised that it's all very well playing music with three chords and attitude but it doesn't really work as a long range career. Writing Punk songs isn't hard but after an album or two it sounds like you're just rewriting your old ones. The best punk bands were the ones that had an ability to evolve and develop and the most evolved and developed, and easily the best, punk band of all time was The Clash.
Two years after their debut album, with its simple structure, punk sensibility and loud and shouty attitude, The Clash came up with London Calling, a double album which isn't so far from their debut it sounds like a different band but it's certainly a massive development.
The progression doesn't come in the form of production values. There's a slightly slicker and more polished attitude (and even a sax solo) but it's still recognizably the Clash. It still sounds like the same four guys who tossed out their debut album in a couple of weekends a few years earlier but it sounds like they spent their two years on the road developing their songwriting abilities. Strummer and Jones, even bass player Paul Simonon contributed some fantastic songs that have stood the test of time and lived on long after Punk itself has become a reaction against its own excesses.
The title track has a real tension and urgency which propels it along and makes it sound like the opening of a revolution more than a double album. Spanish Bombs is a jaunty song about the Spanish Civil war and Basque separatists which manages to turn violent killing into a cheery ditty. The Guns of Brixton is driven along by a slinky, snakey bassline which makes sense because it's the first song bass player Paul Simonon ever wrote. You can't imagine most of the first Clash album being covered by anyone other than a punk band but these are all tracks that could be pop hits with only minor tweaking which is reflected in the number of artists who have put out versions of these tracks over the years. In 2006, Piano pop guru Ben Folds recorded a cover of Lost In The Supermarket for a children's movie called Over The Hedge. It wasn't a radical reinvention or rewriting, it was an instantly recognizable cover.
While the big hits on the album contain influences outside of Punk music, there are definitely punk tracks on London Calling, most notably Clampdown which sounds like Punk with a few of the harder edges buffed out. There's also a lot of great punk swagger in the lyrics. My favourite line on the album is definitely... "But I believe in this and it's been tested by research, He, who fucks nuns, will later join the church" ...from Death or Glory, which proves they could write great words as well as catchy tunes.
London Calling is not without it's fair share of bloat. The Right Profile isn't a song it's a line repeated too frequently and padded with a slightly cheesy sounding sax solo. Wrong em Boyo is a misfire attempt to try a ska song (although even if it was a good ska song it would still be terrible, ska is always terrible).
London Calling's biggest issue is that, with the exception of Train in Vain, the album does tend to fall away a bit towards the end. The best songs come in the first disc and the second disc has it's fair share of flat spots. If you were to graph the excitement levels generated by London Calling it would trail away and almost flatline at the end until Train in Vain picks it up again but by then it's almost too late.
London Calling is a great album but unlike the two double albums on either side of it on this countdown it would have made a much better single disc.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "What, you're trying to say that The Clash is right up there with The Vandals, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Sex Pistols?"
-No. No I'm not saying that. I'm saying that they're so, so much better.
So London is calling? Do you answer or let it go through to voicemail? Let me know below.
Monday, January 5, 2015
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
2. Pledging My Time
3. Visions of Johanna
4. One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
5. I Want You
6. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
7. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
8. Just Like a Woman
9. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
10. Temporary Like Achilles
11. Absolutely Sweet Marie
12. 4th Time Around
13. Obviously 5 Believers
14. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
If you twisted my arm, and I mean really twisted my arm to the extent that you locked my wrist in a vice above my head so I was hanging down from the hand and then grabbed my legs and ran around and around in circles until my arm was just a spiralled length of flesh, then I'd be prepared to admit that Blonde on Blonde is my favourite Bob Dylan album of all time. But it would be a more painful admission than the damage you'd just done to one of my extremities.
If you read about Dylan's life in the early sixties, people talk about a guy who wasn't just a songwriter, he was obsessed with songwriting. He was barely ever away from his typewriter and spent his time scribbling notes and generally trying to get the mass of thoughts and ideas in his head into a form he could play for a microphone, an audience or anyone who was passing.
This flurry of activity produced the most prolific run of quality material of any songwriter in history. After including two original compositions on his 1962 debut he released an album of (almost all) original material in 1963, two more in 1964, two more in 1965 and then a double album in 1966. It's no exaggeration to say that in addition to this incredible output he also produced at least a double album's worth of outtakes all of which are worth including on an actual album. We marvel at the amazing output of the Beatles in their short career, and well we should, but the Beatles had three talented songwriters, a lot of covers to bolster their catalogue and put pretty much everything worth hearing onto their albums (ever heard What's the New Mary Jane? Believe me it's proof that their outtakes should have stayed well and truly out).
Coming at the end of such an incredible run of prolific and fruitful songwriting, Blonde on Blonde should be a bit of a dud all things considered. It should have been a scraping of the bottom of a barrel that was already covered in scratch marks. But instead there's an incredible freshness about BOB which makes it sound more like a debut than his seventh album in just over three years.
Rainy Day Women #12 and 35 may not mean much to you as a title and you might swear it's not a song you'd ever heard before but if I told you it was the one that went "Everybody must get stoned" a lot you'd nod and say "Oh yeah that one." Everybody knows it but only Dylan fans seem to know the title which is a pity because it's a great name for a song. Rainy Day Women is a sensational song and the perfect opening to Blonde and Blonde, it's chaotic, all over the place and impenetrably mysterious, exactly like the album it opens.
There are a lot of other highlights on BOB many of which aren't as well known as Rainy Day Women, which at 4 and a half minutes is a nice radio friendly length. Visions of Johanna runs for seven minutes and 33 seconds which means it's far too long for most stations and therefore only usually heard by people who are lucky enough to own a copy of this album. Visions is a beautiful song and features some of Bob's best "stream of consciousness lyrics" which tumble over one another and produce a series of arresting visual images and ideas. It's not just Bob fans who love Visions, those of us who consider ourselves Grateful Dead fans have enjoyed our favourite band performing versions of Johanna for years with Garcia's voice often making the collection of images sound exhausting and tiring. Jerry sings like he's seen all the things Dylan is describing and it's really taken a toll.
Later on in the album Dylan, (and Jerry as well), get Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again and stays there for 7 minutes and by the end of the album he's visiting a Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for over 11 minutes. Johanna, Mobile and Lowlands are all extended songs without a chorus-and-verse structure which rely on a series of images and ideas strung together without an over riding direction or purpose. If anyone else tried them they'd be almost unbearable to listen to but Dylan makes them incredibly captivating and a pleasure to spend time with. He also makes them distinctly different in their own right. All three sound like their own songs and not just different versions of the same writing style. There's no mistaking Visions for Lowlands, they're totally different songs.
Neither of these three magnificent tracks get on the radio much and don't get covered very often (except by jam bands whose audiences consider an 11 minute track to be only medium length at best) but there are other hits on BOB that do. Leopard Skin Pill Box hat is another fantastic piece of Dylan vitriol which you could believe was written about the same woman who inspired Like a Rollin Stone, albeit at a different point in her life journey. It's a vicious verbal assault and I hope whoever he wrote it for remains in total ignorance of the fact and none of her friends have any idea.
Much more friendly is the lovely I want You which is about how Dylan wants someone, he wants them so badly. But at this stage in his life Dylan wasn't writing simple love songs. The chorus might tell us that he wants you (so badly) but the verses include lines like... "Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit, He spoke to me, I took his flute, No, I wasn’t very cute to him, was I?" ...which aren't your typical lovesong lyrics.
Just Like a Woman is one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Dylan has ever written and the fact that he's paired it with one of his most sardonic collections of lyrics make it an extremely arresting song and quite possibly the track that most listeners have going through their head after the album has stopped and they've moved on, it has a habit of finding its way into your head.
While they might not be as famous, there are other radio friendly hits on BOB which deserve to be heard more: Absolutely Sweet Marie, Most likely you'll go your way I'll go mine and One of us must know (Sooner or Later) have all been covered well by other artists and turned into minor hits but they're all great in their original form.
There is only one other double album I can think of (and we'll come to it soon) which is as consistent as Blonde on Blonde. The lesser, filler tracks are all fantastic and there isn't a weak spot on the album. Bob was such an incredible songwriter at the time that he didn't need to resort to experiments, covers or rehashed outtakes to fill the album's running length. He could record a double album of incredible quality with some astonishing lyrics as little as 6 months after his last effort despite being on the road with a heavy schedule. Even if you hate every song on Blonde on Blonde you have to admit, it's an incredible achievement.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This is a great album but who has the time to sit through the 75 minutes of the album and listen to it straight through without skipping??"
-Me. That's who. I do. I know I'm not alone.
So is this your favourite Dylan or does another take the title? Let me know below
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
This used to be my favourite Beatles album. In fact for a while it was probably my favourite album of all time. I listened to it constantly and it became my go to album when I was in that "what do I feel like listening to now?" mood. I always felt like listening to The White Album.
Over the course of years, White has slipped in my estimations. It was first overtaken by Abbey Road and now it's possibly been overtaken by Revolver and Rubber Soul mainly for their solid consistency.
The White Album always had some amazing highs but some terrible and piteous lows. There are definite skip tracks but over the years songs that had some novelty value have worn a bit thin for me. As I've aged the "Good" column has stayed constant but the "Maybe" column has thinned and the "Bad" column has grown slightly longer to accommodate it. As I've moved from enjoying this on a cassette to owning it on CD, where I've had access to a skip function, and finally in a digital format which I can manipulate at will, I've developed less tolerance for Bungalow Bill and his ilk.
(By the way, I know this isn't actually The White Album and is officially called "The Beatles" but it's always the White Album to me)
Back in the USSR
The White Album is lauded for experiments, stylistic changes and general quirkiness but it's supported by good songwriting. Back in the USSR is just a simple and basic rock song which is nothing but an outstanding example of its kind. Despite the fact that it's lyrically a bit controversial for a song recorded in the Cold War, it's bread and butter stuff for the Beatles and it proves that they could do straight ahead rock better than anyone else at the time. (it also proves that they didn't really need Ringo. Their drummer had walked out at the time so Paul played the drums himself and did a great job)
It's often said that The White Album was a compilation of solo tracks recorded by the three Beatles working as their own independent artists, which is true to an extent but overstating the case somewhat. Dear Prudence was written by Lennon who sings lead vocals and plays guitar but Paul plays drums, bass, piano, flügelhorn and also provides percussion overdubs. The idea that the Beatles paths barely crossed during the recording just isn't true. Prudence is beautiful by the way and all the stronger for being a ballad by John that isn't about his mother or Yoko, two subjects he was known to dwell on somewhat.
Glass Onion hasn't made the move from "undecided" to "bad" in the ledge of my mind but it's sort of teetering there. Years of listening have dulled and not heightened its impact and it's become a bit take-or-leave in my mind. The self-referential nature is fun but I'm not sure there's enough at its heart to keep it interesting. There's a limit to how many times you can nod knowingly at "The Walrus was Paul" before the novelty wears off completely.
For many this is not just the worst song on the album, it's the worst song the Beatles ever recorded. John certainly thought so and apparently hated having anything to do with it. I've always kind of liked it. It's disposable silly fun but I have no problem with it. It might be an indication of Paul turning to the light side while John was getting darker in his songwriting, but that balance isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
Wild Honey Pie
Skip this. Seriously. This is just nonsense. It's not part of the album's charm, it's bollocks and while I used to endure it on my tape copy I've barely heard it since I first held the CD in my hands.
The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
This used to be cute. "Hey Bungalow Bill" used to be fun to say but to be honest over the years it's got kind of annoying. It's not just the presence of Yoko (who makes anything that much more irritating) it's just a stupid kind of song with only a faintly catching chorus line to redeem it.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
As I said at the start, the lows are pretty low on this album but the highs are just magnificent. The White Album was the first Beatles release that saw George take "best song" honours and despite facing some stiff competition, he pulls of an absolute winner here. Weeps is in my top five Beatles songs of all time from its opening to Clapton's solo. It's just brilliant. I've always thought it was a huge shame that George never did this song justice when he played it live. In his few tours he either changed the lyrics or added pointless backing vocals and in every instance buggered it up. I'd love a great live version of him singing this masterpiece with a truly weeping solo. Special mention should go to the acoustic demo which is also great, both are worth enjoying.
Happiness is a Warm Gun
This is what happens when John sort of smooshes tunes together to make something that he considered a coherent whole. It works but partly because he's gutsy enough to try it and just manages to pull it off. It's dark which isn't normally a Beatles mood but they manage some how make it a decidedly Beatles shade of darkness.
Martha My Dear
This isn't about Paul's dog, despite what you may have heard. He got the name from the dog but it isn't actually a song about a dog. Which is a pity because if it was it might be more interesting. Martha My Dear is one of those tracks in which the novelty has just worn off. It's kind of pretty I've had enough.
I'm so Tired
Lennon in blues mode, effective but not his finest contribution.
McCartney in pretty mode. And it is very pretty. It's a beautiful little number which is simple but doesn't need to be any more complicated. Just lovely.
I've never really appreciated the Beatles much when they try and do social commentary. There's something about their world statements that just don't connect, almost as if they're trying too hard. It's like they think Dylan does this sort of stuff so they should too. Piggies is definitely George's weakest contribution to the album and far too strained a metaphor to actually say anything worthwhile.
Oh shush Paul. Bungalow Bill and Rocky Racoon should both just sod off together and form a silly character convention far away from this album as far as I'm concerned.
Don't Pass Me By
Ringo writes a song! Go Ring! It's not bad either. I mean it would be a dud if the others had wrote it but Ringo has enough charm to pull it off and it actually works.
Why Don't we Do it In the Road
As simple as Blackbird but not as effective. The Road sounds more like the potential for a great song rather than a great song in its own right. To be honest it sounds like one of the unfinished song fragments that got smooshed together to make the medley on Abbey Road.
It would have been interesting if The Beatles had arranged The White Album into a more conceptual idea rather than a random one. They could have had a rock side, an experimental side, a cutely narrative side and a side that was more low key and acoustic. It would be interesting to hear how I Will would have fit into a side of vinyl that also boasted Blackbird, Julia, Sexy Sadie and Mother Natures son. I suspect they'd actually complement each other well and make the whole thing a more enjoyable listen. It would also mean we could just skip the experimental side altogether after hearing it once.
I will and Julia give us a chance to put a John and Paul acoustic number side by side and see which one comes out strongest. It surprises me to say in this case it's Paul. I Will has a beautiful chorus, verse and bridge while Julia sounds a bit too aimless. I will hangs around in your head after its finished but Julia doesn't.
One of the things I love about Birthday is that it's so fantastically meaningless...
You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
Whenever anyone complains about modern music and says: people don't write good lyrics like they used to I like to point them to this song. The lyrics are something that Paul obviously wrote in a matter of seconds. It's just any old bollocks that entered his head. Fantastic though isn't it? Birthday is just a joyously fabulous song that it's impossible not to like and the fact that the lyrics are rampant tosh don't detract from it for a second.
Yer Blues is just an attempt to write a blues song by someone whose natural musical mode isn't the Blues. Lennon wasn't a fan of Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson like his contemporaries were. He was more of a pop and R&B man than a blues purist. But Yer Blues proves that even if he wasn't soaked in the blues it had rubbed off on him enough to perform some with a fair degree of efficiency. Yer Blues is a fantastic and powerful track that Lennon gives real feeling to. I suppose you don't need to study the blues if you live them.
Mother Nature's Son
Another gentle Paul ballad and a really nice one. His tunes seemed simple but were perfect little pop songs. I've heard this a million times but I'm still more than happy to see it come along again.
Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey
Hot on the heels of While my guitar gently weeps as my favourite song on the album. Monkey isn't long or overblown or drawn out or wasting anyone's time, it just jumps in quick, rips your ears off, belts you around the head a few times and then buggers off. Brilliant stuff. It's often a favourite track for people hearing the album for the first time because it's the most obscure track on the album which is worth hearing. Anyone who puts White on for the first already knows Birthday, Back in the USSR, Weeps etc but this comes as a surprise and an extremely pleasant one at that.
Originally this was a venomous song about The Maharishi but John was persuaded to change the lyrics to tone them down which is why he's singing an angry song about someone named Sadie who is apparently possessed of a certain allure. The end result doesn't really work because it's an angry song that isn't angry and John sounds unconvinced. Shame. It could have been great in its original form.
This is really noisy stuff. It's just intense and shouty and the track to play people if they think the Beatles were just light pop and ballads. It's a song that really makes you happy to be leaping around your room shouting about a fairground attraction. And not many other songs do that.
Long Long Long
Another of those songs whose ideas don't seem to justify its running length. Harrison's weakest contribution to the album
Slow and plodding. Unlike the single version which is faster and infinitely better. The plod version of Revolution is one of the reasons why I don't often bother listening to White all the way through anymore. I wonder how many Vinyl owners never bothered flipping over to side 4.
Paul's love of music hall "granny music" used to annoy Lennon and listening to this it's not hard to see why. It's kind of irritating and doesn't just sound like music hall, it sounds like bad music hall.
Another in a line of "not really worth the full song length" list of songs and definitely a track which has started to grate on my nerves a bit over the years.
Cry Baby Cry
The best song on side 4 which isn't saying much. It's infectious though and sometimes I find it in my head and I've got no idea how it got there (although perhaps it's got something to do with the fact that crying babies have been a part of my life for four years now)
The most infamous Beatles track of them all. Eight minutes of noise collage and sound effects that feels like a lot longer. The fact that Lennon recorded this and Paul didn't want it on the album has enforced the view that John was all about experimenting while Paul was safe and mainstream. The truth is that Paul could experiment as well, he was just clever enough to realise that people didn't need to actually hear it. Is it an interesting idea? Possibly? Does it need to hold up eight minutes of album time? No. No it doesn't.
How many people have missed hearing this track because they turned the album off a few seconds into Revolution 9 knowing that it was unrelenting like that for the next eight minutes? I'm guessing a lot. They weren't really missing a huge amount. Goodnight is too overblown and silly for it's own good.
Like most double albums, there's a good single album somewhere within The White Album and it runs like this:
Back in the USSR
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
I'm so Tired
Mother Natures Son
Everybody's got something to hide
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution (fast version)
That's quite possibly the best Beatles album ever. I also think there would be a lot to be said for an Abbey Road style medley of tracks like Why don't we do it in the road, Glass Onion, Savoy Truffle etc which could exist without their welcome being worn out.
Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I have never understood all the fuss over the Beatles. They couldn't sing, weren't good looking and played the same guitar music over and over that you can't even dance to."
-You have clearly not listened to the album you're actually reviewing. Put down your computer and walk away, you're not qualified to comment.
So is this fantastic or just all white? Let me know below.