5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!
I feel extremely fortunate to have grown up with The Beatles. We needed them when they came to the U.S. in 1964. Our President had been shot down the previous November in graphic fashion, plunging the nation into mourning. The Beatles gave us back our optimism and hope. When I saw them on "The Ed Sullivan Show," they were charismatic, electric, original, and above all, magical. I came to know them better than my own kin: John the witty one, Paul the pretty one, George the quiet one, and Ringo the nice one. I listened intently as they progressed from the straightforward pop of "Love Me Do," to the psychedelia of "I am the Walrus" -- and I shed a tear when they reached "The Long and Winding Road."
I'm certain that without The Beatles popular music as we know it wouldn't exist. No Dead. No Doors. No Traffic. No Crosby, no Stills, no Nash. No catharsis the moment I heard Mike Harrison of Spooky Tooth growl his way through their version of "I am the Walrus." The Beatles expanded the horizons of the 45 r.p.m. pop song by adding orchestras, tape loops, and multi-tracking while crafting lyrics that touched the mind as well as the heart. I fear that without The Beatles we'd still be listening to cocktail lounge music by Frankie Laine (providing he and his raccoon toupee were still alive), country corn by Homer and Jethro, or two minute teenager in love ditties by Fabian.
My favorite Beatles album is their self titled L.P. released in 1968. The group reset the bar (again) by releasing not one, but two records, thereby making the double album a required litmus test for every would-be legend that followed. Despite the simple white cover with only the group's name embossed in the corner as an identifier, "The White Album" was the quartet's most elaborate, challenging, and eclectic effort, the moneymaker that sealed their immortality. "The White Album's" upgrade is so succinct, it's like hearing the songs for the first time. The sound has been power washed clean. You want more cowbell? The fire alarm cowbell in "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey" remains desperate, but has been tamed to match Macca's bullish bass and George's sharp as a sabre licks. Now the overall frenzied effect won't give you a headache. The horns in "Ob-la-di-Ob-la-da" are more festive; George's haunted vocal in "Long, Long, Long" has a more delicate tone that's serves as ying to Ringo's menacing yang drum blows; and John's raw, raving vocal, Ringo's rolling rhythm, Paul's fatty bass foundation and George's king bee solo give "Yer Blues" a newfound sense of urgency. There are dozens of other bits that have been tweaked to perfection, like the "bang-bang-shoot-shoot" background vocals in "Happiness is a Warm Gun" or Paul's happy-go-lucky oompah arrangement and dancing piano in "Martha My Dear," his ode to his faithful sheep dog. And Clapton freaks will Cream at Slowhand's legerdemain as he makes his guitar wail in "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Okay, Yoko's childlike yapping is more evident in "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," (which is still a fun song despite her intrusion). I still hate Paul's bad acid vocal shieker "Helter Skelter," and a dozen more remixes can't disguise the fact that "Revolution 9" is eight plus minutes of tape loop terrorism. The Beatles began to fracture during "The White Album's" long gestation period, maturing into four separate artists jockeying for studio time. They evolved, becoming John the raving revolutionary; Paul, the pop practitioner; George the gesticulating guru, and Ringo the reluctant romantic. The competition between John and Paul in particular pushed the group to create some of their most memorable music.
One of the reasons I cherish "The White Album" is because its home to my favorite Beatles track, "Dear Prudence," John Lennon's gentle homage to Mia Farrow's sister. When the group made its much publicized transcendental pilgrimage to India to find spiritual enlightenment under the guidance of the Maharishi Yogi, Prudence spent the majority of her stay in her room, prompting the normally non-sentimental Lennon to pen the line, "Dear Prudence won't you come out to play." If Lennon's serene singing and soothing rhythm guitar lick doesn't entice you, then the heavenly back up vocals and the dominant drumming will. (It's been rumored for years that it's Paul McCartney smashing the cymbals on "Dear Prudence" and not Ringo. Ringo had quit the band during the album's early sessions when "Prudence" wad recorded, only to return two weeks later. I tend to believe Lennon's angry assertion that Macca's backtrack was wiped upon Ringo's return, but Beatlemaniacs may notice some extra giddy up on the snare.)
The reason I cherish "Dear Prudence" is because it's linked to a number of my childhood memories. I remember going away to Boy Scout camp in upstate New York at the age of twelve, petrified I'd wind up eating tree bark and squealing like a pig. (Okay "Deliverance" wasn't out yet, but I think you get the inference.) The first day there I heard someone strumming a guitar, singing, "Dear Prudence, open up your eyes. Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies." A group of grubby scouts gathered round and sang along in harmonic bliss. Thanks to "Dear Prudence," I soon realized I had friends in the wilderness that had my back. Forty years later, that same guitar player and I wound up together in a band - singing Beatle songs.
"Dear Prudence" also figured prominently in my so called early love life. I sang it at an eighth grade assembly for a girl I had a crush on who everyone knew by her more modern middle name of Mindy, rather than her matronly moniker. The song went over well but the sentiment didn't, and I got a cease and desist request from Prudence (aka Mindy) regarding further dedications. But every time I hear John, Paul and George join together like an angelic chorus to sing "Look around round round" I see "Mindy's sun kissed profile and I feel my temperature rise. Nowadays the memory stoked by "Dear Prudence" isn't so much about Mindy as it is about recapturing the zest for life and love I had 40 years ago.
As for the mono versus stereo issue...Yes, The Beatles' first half dozen albums were recorded in mono when few households had a stereo. My problem with mono is its flat one dimensional sound. Songs in mono come across as a block of sound, so much so you might think one of your speakers isn't functioning. So fear not the stereo mixes of the albums up to "Rubber Soul"; the separation is excellent, making the Fab Four sound as if they're in the room playing just for you.
Just for kicks, here are my fave Fab Four albums:
1) The White Album... You know why.
2) Rubber Soul - The boys grow up, dishing out heavenly harmonies and producing songs with mature storylines (adultery in Norwegian Wood, jealousy in "Run for Your Life," inner peace in "The Word," and they even show how worldly they've become by singing in French ("Michelle").
3) Beatles for Sale - A well rounded step forward that preceded "Rubber Soul." Songs about the drawbacks of stardom subtly set to music ("I'm a Loser," "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party") some melancholy thoughts ("I'll Follow the Sun"), killer Carl Perkins covers ("Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby," "Honey Don't"), and Ringo's delirious intro to "What You're Doing," one of Paul's few pessimistic moments.
4) Let it Be - The break up, set to music, with Lennon launching into his lexicon for "I Dig a Pony," and playing a slippery slide for George's Tiny Pan Alley treasure "For You Blue." Lennon and Macca weren't talking, but they could still create sparks ("I've Got a Feeling," "One After 909"). Plus two heartbreaking songs about growing and growing apart ("Two of Us," "The Long and Winding Road").
5) Magical Mystery Tour - Graced with three of Lennon's super psyche standards: "I am the Walrus," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Baby You're a Rich Man."
Still wondering how good The Beatles' are? The week after the remasters were released the #1 album in the country was..."Abbey Road." Number two? "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band." The third fastest selling album? "The White Album." Yeah, yeah, yeah.
If you like music, don't let The Beatles' reissues pass you by. Having been some days in preparation a splendid time is guaranteed for all.