The appeal of The Beatles’ work is their ever changing style, the experimentation, the boundary pushing and the pure unexpected path they would show us from album to album. In this post I’ll break down what I consider the phases of their career and pick a song from that phase. The song may not be their best or my favorite but will act as a gate to their particular wheelhouse at the time.
The Fab Years
From the second you heard or saw them you knew something was up, something just shifted. They popped from the radio with an exuberance that has yet to be equaled. From I Want To Hold Your Hand to Eight Days A Week the songs from 1963 and 1964 were pieces of youthful innocence with just a taste of cheek thrown in. Hold Me Tight sums up that time and their sound, soon it would all change.
The Look Inside Year: 1965
With Beatlemania still raging, The Beatles found a cohort amongst the madness, Bob Dylan. They both shared a public meteoric rise and the chains that accompany it. They also admired each others’ work, Dylan went electric and The Fabs looked inside. You can hear this new introspective earlier in I’m A Loser but it really blooms in Help! and especially Rubber Soul. Songs like Hide Your Love Away, Tell Me What You See, Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man come from a place not akin to yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s In My Life that represents this phase in its glory. I’m still floored that two twenty four year olds penned such a beautiful song about looking back over a life lived.
Starting with 1966’s Revolver through 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the boys shook off a lot of Fab. The decision to quit touring and concentrate on studio work, and with EMI giving them full reign and unlimited recording time, they rewarded us with music so new and exciting it was if it came from another place and time. Songs like Tomorrow Never Knows, Eleanor Rigby, Taxman, A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and the great A Day In The Life were so different some critics insinuated that it wasn’t really the Beatles, and in a sense they were right. The shot across the bow of this phase was the single Strawberry Fields Forever. It sounded like they recorded a fever dream of John’s and released it on an unsuspecting audience. The shot hit its target square on.
A trip of meditation to India, personal problems and shifting tastes all stewed together brought forth 1968’s The Beatles, forever known as The White Album. A wide collection of songs that were mainly written individually and recorded non-collectively. Martha My Dear is just Paul on every instrument. Paul and John even play drums on a few cuts as Ringo left the band for a few weeks. It is evidence of their talent that even in this poisoned atmosphere they got anything done, much less a two-set magnus opus. While My Guitar Gently Weeps represents this beautiful mess brilliantly in the sense that it is a George song that shines with anything John and Paul wrote at the time. It also features an outside musician in a pivotal role: Eric Clapton plays the lead guitar.
The Get Back Days
Feeling lost and anxious The Beatles decided their next album would be a return to roots. (Note:They began recording this album in 1968, due to the unpleasant process and squabbling over mixes the album was not released until 1970 as Let It Be. Even though it was their last official release, Abbey Road was recored after these sessions.) They decided to venture into a new studio, film the sessions, produce the music themselves and record everything live. So begins the band’s breakup. The Get Back sessions were a disaster. Acrimony ruled, petty arguments were so heated George stormed out and didn’t return for days. What was intended as a filmed reunion of sorts became a public recording of a band in crisis. Not that it doesn’t hold brilliant moments: the rooftop concert, the title track Let It Be, Get Back, and Across The Universe; but it is Two Of Us that shines on their purpose. Here John and Paul sing blissful harmony on a song they wrote together at a time when they were falling apart.
Note: In 2003 a new version of Let It Be was released, Let It Be…Naked. These are the original performances recorded sans Phil Spector audio clutter and wild mixes, this truthfully represents The Get Back Sessions.
One thing about The Beatles, they were self aware. Knowing the troubles and bad feelings of the Get Back Sessions and their unhappiness with the work, they pulled together to do something special. Reconvening at Abbey Road Studios with producer George Martin in 1969, they set out to prove to the public and, more importantly themselves, that they were still The Beatles and still Top o the Pops. They did, they were and they are. First titled Everest, the album Abbey Road is considered by many as their finest hour. The songs are excellent and the performances are as strong as anything they recorded. Something, Come Together, Here Comes The Sun are important canon to their legacy but it is the side two medley that sums up Abbey Road. Their last shout from Everest on their final recording was all anyone could ask for from four young lads from Liverpool. One sweet dream……