In our discussion (to use a euphemism) about the quality of modern rock, several readers dissed the Beatles, one of them even saying, as I recall, that he simply couldn’t bear to listen to them. Now that’s close to a banning offense here, comparable to touting d-gs over cats. The Beatles happen to be the greatest rock group ever, and it’s simply a moral failing not to like them.
But I see that many readers do share my enthusiasm for them, so, as a treat—or punishment, depending on who you are—I’ll present over the next week a selection of some of my favorite Beatles songs. I hope you’ll see that the quality of their music, particularly starting with the “Rubber Soul” album, is immensely higher than anything being produced today. If you claim, as some have, that groups of equally high quality exist today, but simply haven’t been separated from the chaff by the sieve of time, then the onus on you is to name them. If you don’t like the Beatles, well, take a number, get in line, and . . .
But first listen to their music. “A Day in the Life” happens to be my favorite Beatles song, and I was pleased to see that Rolling Stone has put it as #1 on their list of the 100 Greatest Beatles songs. It is, of course from the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which I love but don’t consider their best album (that would be “Revolver”). But the album, which came out in 1967, is dear to me because it was while listening to it that I had an instant conversion to atheism (read the story in the Chicago Tribune here).
As is well known, the song contains different parts that reflect the distinct talents of Lennon and McCartney. Rolling Stone gives some details about its composition, and the Wikipedia link above has others:
Lennon took his lyrical inspiration from the newspapers and his own life: The “lucky man who made the grade” was supposedly Tara Browne, a 21-year-old London aristocrat killed in a December 1966 car wreck, and the film in which “the English army had just won the war” probably referred to Lennon’s own recent acting role in How I Won the War. Lennon really did find a Daily Mail story about 4,000 potholes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire.
Lennon wrote the basic song, but he felt it needed something different for the middle section. McCartney had a brief song fragment handy, the part that begins “Woke up, fell out of bed.” “He was a bit shy about it because I think he thought, ‘It’s already a good song,’” Lennon said. But McCartney also came up with the idea to have classical musicians deliver what Martin called an “orchestral orgasm.” The February 10th session became a festive occasion, with guests like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull and Donovan. The studio was full of balloons; the formally attired orchestra members were given party hats, rubber noses and gorilla paws to wear. Martin and McCartney both conducted the musicians, having them play from the lowest note on their instruments to the highest.
Two weeks later, the Beatles added the last touch: the piano crash that hangs in the air for 53 seconds. Martin had every spare piano in the building hauled down to the Beatles’ studio, where Lennon, McCartney, Ringo Starr, Martin and roadie Mal Evans played the same E-major chord, as engineer Geoff Emerick turned up the faders to catch every last trace. By the end, the levels were up so high that you can hear Starr’s shoe squeak.
Me with my original album from 1967, the one that promoted my loss of faith.