Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Beatle album touchstones

Facility with snappy heds? Yup, still got it. Anyway, I was musing on the different albums, and how some fans like some albums more than other fans do, and I wondered if there wasn't a song on each record that made the difference between 'I dig this disc' and 'BEST ALBUM EVER WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!!??!' I mean a specific song, kind of the same song for everybody (in theory), you love it, you love the LP, and if you don't love it, you only like the LP. Hopefully it will become clearer as we go along. I've also got a working hypothesis that there's a second touchstone that makes the difference between 'I dig it' and 'No, really, you can borrow it. Return it whenever.' Let's find out! Warning: I don't think I start making my point until A Hard Day's Night, so bear with me until then.

You gotta love:
There's A Place. If you love this song, I mean really love it, you are a fanatic who would applaud a bag of 2-year-old Julian's poop. It's funny, many people who really love this record point to it as the best chance we have to hear what a Beatle concert would have sounded like, but this isn't the rockingest record.
No, really, you gotta love: Boys. If you can't enjoy the energy on this track, you're really just into the Beatles for the psychedelic stuff.

You gotta love:
Don't Bother Me. If you're willing to buy what George is selling here, this becomes a pretty deep album.
No, really, you gotta love: It Won't Be Long. No album with John singing full-tilt like this can be all bad.

You gotta love:
I Should Have Known Better. If you're not the biggest fan of this song, A Hard Day's Night only has a couple of highlights. A lot of strong middling material, sure, but if you're making a mixtape, you're probably only putting the title track, Can't Buy Me Love, maybe If I Fell on it. But if you love I Should Have Known Better, then you probably love all of side A.
No, really, you gotta love: You Can't Do That. A standout on side B, and a nice close to the album with I'll Be Back.

You gotta love:
Baby's in Black. Because if you're all about this song, it's because of the harmony, and that means you're going to love Eight Days a Week, I Don't Want to Spoil the Party, No Reply, Every Little Thing ...
No, really, you gotta love: No Reply. The missing link between She Loves You and A Day in the Life.

You gotta love:
You're Gonna Lose that Girl. If you can get into this, you can probably get into The Night Before, and suddenly side A is looking really deep, flipping over for Ticket to Ride, and now you're one of the "Help! is really underrated!" people.
No, really, you gotta love: I've Just Seen a Face. If it weren't for the sweet melody and harmony, a lot of people would skip from Ticket to Ride all the way to Yesterday ... and a lot of them probably wouldn't even do that. Though there's only a 10 percent chance of that.

You gotta love:
In My Life. I want to say Run for Your Life, which is a personal favorite, and also shows how the Rubber Soul sound sounds when the writing isn't top-notch, but for sheer numbers, I think they key is In My Life. People who love this song not only really love it but also are predisposed to dig Girl and Michelle (which the stereo remasters were very kind to, by the way), and now you've got a seriously deep LP.
No, really, you gotta love: You Won't See Me. Because if you like that, you like I'm Looking Through You, and of course you like Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood and Nowhere Man anyway, and probably The Word, so now you've got half of the album down. But everyone likes those songs. Is this conceit starting to make sense?

You gotta love:
Good Day Sunshine. I mean, I'm assuming there's no one who doesn't love Revolver, so the divisions are between those who would die for it, those who think it's the best music ever made, those who merely really love it. If you like Good Day Sunshine, you like For No One, and of course you like Eleanor Rigby, and that means you pretty much like everything on the disc.
No, really, you gotta love: And Your Bird Can Sing. Again, there are so many like songs on the record, like Taxman and Doctor Robert -- some worse, some possibly better -- that if you open up this vein, there's plenty of good stuff therein. I mean, I'm just assuming She Said She Said is a given.

You gotta love:
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! Kind of the There's a Place of the middle period. If you love this, then whatever the Beatles are selling, you're buying. And when I say that, I don't mean it's not a good song. I mean that this song is not universally loved, yet it epitomizes their spirit and philosophy, in a way, so if you love this, then the group itself is right in your wheelhouse.
No, really, you gotta love: Getting Better. Tough to keep it going after the first three songs that open the record, but Getting Better gets it done.

You gotta love:
Blue Jay Way. Maybe the most underrated song in the canon? As with the others, if you like this song a lot, the album gets a lot deeper, even if you hate half of Paul's contributions.
No, really, you gotta love: Baby You're a Rich Man. Sort of the latter-half version of a Beatle 'work' song, the songs John and Paul would sit eye-to-eye and write in an hour because they needed three more for the album they would finish recording that week. It's not inspired, but it's the two big kahunas throwing a hook each at the wall, and you know that can't be bad.

You gotta love:
Blackbird. As before, if you count this among your favorites, it joins the roster of standouts from this release: Dear Prudence, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, Helter Skelter, Revolution 1, Back in the U.S.S.R., Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da ... suddenly it's a seriously deep track listing, no?
No, really, you gotta love: Sexy Sadie. Clearly all John's idea, which makes it a poster child for the White Album, but you still hear everyone else's contributions.

You gotta love:
All Together Now. Because if you do, you love at least five of the six originals, and what record has a better hit ratio than that?
No, really, you gotta love: It's All Too Much. Seems like everybody does these days anyway.

You gotta love:
Sun King. This can be an acquired taste, especially if you first listen to the Beatles as a kid, but once you drink the Sun King Kool-Aid, the whole second side is transcendent, and suddenly you're looking down your nose at a side with Come Together, Something, Oh! Darling ...
No, really, you gotta love: You Never Give Me Your Money. If you're not listening to this twice a day, you're missing the whole point of the record.

You gotta love:
Dig a Pony. As with other records, this song has enough sisters -- I Me Mine, I've Got a Feeling -- that you're really opening up Let It Be's world if you're down with it.
No, really, you gotta love: Two of Us. Without this, you probably only like Let It Be and Get Back. Maybe Across the Universe.


Megan said...

I see what you're doing here, and I'm mostly on board. But I don't appreciate the insinuation that lovers of "There's a Place" are poop lovers. Harumph, says I. Perhaps we're actually gourmets. Reconsider this one: maybe it should be "A Taste of Honey." If you love that one, you really CAN listen to the Beatles sing a phone book, wouldn't you say? Also, the fact that PPM sounds like a live Beatles session, and the fact that it features a variety of styles other than straight rock, aren't necessarily facts that cancel each other out, after all. Just saying. I DO love that album (though I love With the Beatles more, and I think it gets less love) for its sheer vivacity.

Also, it's so interesting how we disagree on Sgt. Pepper. I would reverse your two picks entirely. I've got nothing against Getting Better, but I think if you're truly into that one, you're into something at the heart of the album that I can't quite put my finger on. Also not sure if I can agree with you on Mr. Kite's likeness to There's a Place-- people tend to just forget about the latter, whereas no one really forgets the former exactly. Where would you put She's Leaving Home in here, anywhere? That's one of those songs that seems to be a touchstone of Beatle taste to me.

Finally-- I might have to agree with you on AHDN. If you really can't get into I Should Have Known Better, though, it just makes me a little sad. But do you think being a fan of some of the other lesser tracks like Tell Me Why and I'll Cry Instead are somehow looped into fond feelings for ISHKB? They all seem a bit too different to me.... Maybe the exercise works less well here, which just goes to show what a complex album it really is.

A fascinating look, though. Much to think about...

troy said...

Well you should be on board; this is half a rip-off of your album reviews that ran in your absence.

I picked There's a Place instead of A Taste of Honey because some people really LOVE the former. I get your point, though. On Mr. Kite, it's experimental and out of left field, and sort of the poster child for that stretch of the record (She's Leaving Home/Mr. Kite/Within You/64) that isn't rock. And yet Getting Better is rock like much of the rest of the album, which is the case I made for other songs as touchstones. So I can't argue with you, I was just going for something different.

She's Leaving Home might have been a better (as in more representative) example of what I was trying to do, as explained above, but Mr. Kite is the one that jumps out at you. Plus, I grudgingly admire Mr. Kite, so it seems to deserve the credit here over She's Leaving Home.

As for A Hard Day's Night, I obviously didn't explain what I meant clearly. I remember you not being into sports (or possibly just baseball), but maybe you know enough about it to follow this analogy: A track listing is a little like a baseball lineup. You want to have as deep a lineup as possible. If you have a great hitter, you bat him third. If you trade for another great hitter, you bat him fourth. That means the guy you had batting fourth before, he's now batting fifth. The guy batting fifth before would be batting sixth, except you traded for another slugger, so now the other guy's batting seventh, which is cool, because he's way better than the average seven hitter in the league. Pitchers see him come to the plate and think 'Crap! Isn't this the seven slot? This lineup never lets up!'

That's kind of what I was trying to say. Tell Me Why and I'll Cry Instead are good songs no matter what. If you think I Should Have Known Better is 'good,' or 'OK,' it's kind of on that level. But if you love I Should Have Known Better, it elevates the rest of the album; now you're thinking "I really like Tell Me Why, and it's not even my third-favorite song on side A!" Does that make any sense? I call this my Let It Be corollary; my third- and fourth-favorite tracks on that disc have no chance of medaling in competition with other albums.