Part 45 of a series that will run throughout 2013 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
I debated whether I should really tackle an album by The Beatles – probably the most popular and biggest band of all time (sorry Rolling Stones fans). I 1st became obsessed with all things Lennon while still barely into my teens and the sickness has only progressed from there (I even developed an appreciation for Mr. Lennon’s 3 Amigos over the years). When I was 1st getting interested in buying albums by The Beatles a family friend advised me that the cut off for acceptable records was Rubber Soul (the thought was that this was the end of the soft “tea” era / prior to the lads moving on to harder, mind altering “tea”). Of course, I ignored all such conservative rationale and spent all of my paper route money on every CD by the band (that’s about 13 LP’s and 2 odds ‘n’ sods collections for a span of 7 years). I love every record, but I have to admit – Rubber Soul still remains my favorite.
The album was released on December 3rd, 1965. It represents a stunning progression from the previous records. It sounds influenced by their peers (Bob Dylan & The Byrds, primarily) while also displaying a depth in the lyrics that were before only hinted at. World weary words sung by men in their mid 20’s with arguably the most cohesive music they had released to that point. Psychedelic vibes are for the most part non-existent on this record – this bridges the early “boy band” vibe of the earlier records to the harder edged records that would be released during the latter half of the 60’s. The album was another #1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and spent 42 weeks on the British charts and 59 weeks on the American charts. The music marries the pop oriented song structures of the earlier records to the folk rock that The Byrds had already perfected. Surreal imagery abounded in the words and listeners were treated to the 1st Ringo Starr song on a Beatles record. What does that leave you with? Absolute perfection.
There are places I remember…(album breakdown)
Drive My Car – a bluesy rocker with shared lead vocals with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It is a light-hearted opener compared to some of the tracks that follow, but it serves as a memorable opener. The chorus of “Baby you can drive my car / And maybe I love you / Beep beep’m beep beep yeah” will get stuck in your head for days after listening.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) – a song notable for introducing George Harrison’s sitar for the first time, backing John Lennon’s intentionally obscure story of an affair that he may (or may not) have had. The sitar allows the music to transcend traditional folk, giving the song an otherworldly vibe. Ringo’s percussion is subtle but effective. Of course Lennon’s vocals are perfectly suited to his story, building up drama as the story progresses. “She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere / So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair”
You Won’t See Me – McCartney on vocals, joined by the others on the chorus. The lyrics are fairly straightforward, telling the tale of youthful unrequited affection. Almost a throwback to the earlier records, it is an agreeable mid paced rocker. Key lyrics:
When I call you up
Your line’s engaged
I have had enough
So act your age
We have lost the time
That was so hard to find
And I will lose my mind
If you won’t see me (You won’t see me)
Nowhere Man – This track somewhat recalls “We Can Work It Out” in how it is structured. Features harmony vocals – Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Emotive guitar solo sometimes get overlooked in favor of the memorable chorus. The lyrics show signs of a world-weariness that 1st started to crop up with Help. “Doesn’t have a point of view / Knows not where he’s going to / Isn’t he a bit like you and me”
Think For Yourself – A George Harrison penned tune, also features Harrison on vocals. Nasty vocals on the chorus, if you read the lyrics just a bit you realize this just might be one of the meaner spirited songs that Harrison penned. It is all married to mid-tempo rock ‘n’ roll song that sounds of its time. Key lyrics:
I left you far behind
The ruins of the life that you have in mind
And though you still can’t see
I know your mind’s made up
You’re gonna cause more misery
Do what you want to do
And go where you’re going to
Think for yourself
Cos I won’t be there with you
The Word – this was my favorite song by The Beatles and some days it still is. The rhythm section carries the tune, one of the finest backbeat performances by Ringo Starr ever. Vocals are shared by Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. The vocals reach into a higher register over the last-minute or so and it is quickly followed by a sinister organ solo. The beat never, ever lets up. A very unique song in the massive discography by the band. Key lyrics:
Say the word and you’ll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?
It’s so fine, it’s sunshine
It’s the word, love
Michelle – One of McCartney’s finest songs even if no one can really sing along when he briefly sings in French. Over a mostly acoustic backing he conveys longing, heartbreak, and love with simple affectations of his voice. When he sings “I need to, I need to, I need to” there is no doubting the sincerity of his urgency. Muted electric guitar solo fades in with about 20 seconds left and just as quickly fades away, leaving the listener to reflect on a mini masterpiece.
What Goes On – Ringo on lead vocals and he has a writing credit as well (along with Lennon-McCartney). As a wannabe mod / punk in my youth I typically hit track forward on this one to be honest. Age is a funny thing though, and it has become a minor delight for me. Ringo’s strengths are used effectively and it is a country-ish folk delight. “What goes on in your heart? / What goes on in your mind? / You are tearing me apart / When you treat me so unkind”
Girl – Lennon’s answer to McCartney’s “Michelle”. Conventional wisdom holds that Paul’s song is the stronger of the two, but I love both equally. The song builds from a weary lament to a 50’s do-wop kind of catharsis – complete with the band chanting “tit” in the background which I’ve been told is a slang word for the mammary gland. Liam Gallagher’s post-Oasis band Beady Eye even offer up a tribute of sorts on the cover of their record coming out in June of 2013. Anyway this is a brilliant folk based track with vintage Lennon lyrics / vocals.
When I think of all the times I’ve tried so hard to leave her
She will turn to me and start to cry
And she promises the earth to me
And I believe her
After all this times I don’t know why
I’m Looking Through You – Chiming guitars open up the tune, really showing the influence The Byrds had on this phase of The Beatles. This is mostly McCartney’s show and the song builds from a simple folk-pop song to an all out rock ‘n’ roll song during the chorus. McCartney uses his amazing rocker voice during the last 10 seconds or so, giving a nice fade out to this track.
In My Life – A song that seems like it was somehow channeled through these young lads, the lyrics seem like they come from wise old men. The famous “harpsichord” solo was achieved by having producer George Martin play the piano recorded at half speed – when it was played back at full speed, it created the effect. It can’t be understated – the vocals by Lennon & McCartney are incredible, the drums are stunning – everything just works perfectly. Johnny Cash recorded a version of this track near the end of his life that offers up an understanding of the lyrics that comes with having lived a long life. Key lyrics:
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
Wait – This late album track sometimes gets overlooked when people discuss this album and that’s a shame. The weakest part of the track (for me) is the chorus, but the strong build up to it makes it worthwhile. McCartney and Lennon trade verses with the percussion sounding like something off of a hip-hop record (no joke).
If I Needed Someone – A George Harrison song that is one of his strongest. Harmony vocals, strong percussive backing. The chorus is a sing-a-long explosion of emotion before finally fading away in wordless sighs. Key lyrics:
If I had some more time to spend
Then I guess I’d be with you my friend
If I needed someone
Had you come some other day
Then it might not have been like this
But you see now I’m too much in love
Run For Your Life – a little machismo from Beatle John. Earlier he described his affair, but he contradicts himself in this song by telling any girl who cheats on him what he would do to her. Isn’t that the beauty of John Lennon? It retains the folk backing with an amazing Lennon vocal performance. Melodic guitar solo halfway though before the track returns with another verse describing Lennon’s jealousy issues. Perfect way to end the album.
Well I know that I’m a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can’t spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end ah little girl
It is almost absurd to suggest that the readers of this blog don’t own this record, but if you don’t – go buy it right now. It is a great starting point if you’ve avoided The Beatles because of how hyped up they’ve been (it’s been 50 years now, may as well jump in). I do love all the critically acclaimed records, don’t get me wrong. I just like this (also critically acclaimed) record the best. Join me next time as I discuss a classic out of Philadelphia, PA – The Dead Milkmen’s Big Lizard In My Backyard.