PAST MASTERS (1988) – Ongoing proof of The Beatles as the masters of rock music

Why has this blog spent almost two weeks reviewing old Beatles albums? Click on the above image for the answer!

Our contest to win a free, two-CD edition of Abbey Road ends at midnight tonight (Feb. 9). Click on the above image for contest rules and how to enter. (Surprisingly, we have not had any entrants thus far, so you have a darned good chance of winning!)

(This is our longest-yet entry in our Beatles tribute, so grab a snack and be prepared to sit a while. Are you ready to go? SPLENDID!)

Past Masters – Released Mar. 7, 1988

Following the release of The Beatles’ British studio albums on compact disc in 1987, this compilation offered up the remaining Beatles songs that had been issued (in Britain only) either as singles or as extended-play (EP) discs. Originally released as Volumes 1 and 2, the two discs were reissued as a single collection when the group’s catalog of studio albums was remastered in 2009.

Love Me Do: This was The Beatles’ first stab at recording, and it obviously wasn’t taking any chances: Unadventurous lyrics (the word “love” shows up a few dozen times for lack of better synonyms), and middle-of-the-road singing and playing. A pleasant enough tune, but hardly indicative of the heights to be hit shortly afterwards.

From Me to You: Closer to the unassuming Love Me Do than to the legend-making Please Please Me, but at least it’s a little more lyrically adventurous. As in P.S. I Love You, it again delivers a monologue to the presumably swooning female listener, though the inventory of body parts that need attention (heart, arms, lips) comes close to being cliches.

Thank You Girl: A rare cheery message of thanks from John to his erstwhile listener-lover. Actually, the best version of this song, on the early American Beatles’ Second Album, gooses the song along with great harmonica blasts. Next to that one, any other version doesn’t stand a chance.

She Loves You: Considered unusual for its time for (a) using the device of having the singer “address” the listener (as a heartbroken lover who wants to reconcile with his girl), and (b) all those “yeah, yeah, yeah’s.” With its winning lyrics and pounding rock beat, it’s Beatlemania at its most infectious.

I’ll Get You: The cheery melody and delivery help to overshadow the lyrics, which are just this side of a stalker’s lament (though such sentiments were mostly unheard of in the 1960’s). Still winning for its blooper in the middle, where John sings “I’m gonna change your mind” and Paul sings “I’m gonna make your mind” (whoops!).

I Want to Hold Your Hand: This is the one that put Beatlemania across to an Anglophobic America. Somewhere, surely there were a few listeners who believed that a girl’s hand was the least of The Beatles’ concerns, but the song’s sunny sense of innocence still delivers.

This Boy: Introspective Beatles songs came at a premium at this point in their early career, so females were no doubt swooning at the unerring sensitivity of John Lennon here. The jangly guitar and early use of three-part harmony can’t have hurt, either.

Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand: Things certainly come full circle in Beatleland. The Beatles cut their performing teeth among the drunken sailors and whores in Germany, make it big all over the world, and then choose their most lyrically innocent tune (the one that “sold” them in America) to translate to Teutonic tongue. Some of those Star Club patrons must still be laughing in their beer. Come give me your hand, you hairy stinking Fraulein!

Sie Liebt Dich: The previous song and this version of She Loves You were The Beatles’ sop to their German fans. Ja, ja, ja, we got it already.

Long Tall Sally: Rock-‘n’-roll adrenaline mainlined. The later “live” versions are almost an insult to this untoppable studio version. Pity poor Uncle John.

I Call Your Name: This is not one of The Beatles’ more undersold performances, yet the simplistic, reportage-type lyrics contrast nicely with the pounding guitars that emphasize the theme of an anguished lover who can’t sleep at night. Proof that even early-Beatles work had more to it than met the eye.

Slow Down: Yeah, sure she’s moving way too fast. You mean as opposed to that feverish guitar work? Nice little rocker, though it’s hard to believe any woman could move too fast for The Beatles.

Matchbox: Another great cry-in-your-beer song for Ringo. It’s so unclearly enunciated, though, that for years I thought he was singing “Matchbox holdin’ my clothes,” as though the matchbox was holding his clothes up like suspenders. Oops!

I Feel Fine: After that razor-sharp guitar feedback that starts the song (according to John, the first ever recorded), John could probably have sung the phone book and had the audience in his hand. Flawless delivery really does make us believe the singer feels fine, but maybe it’s because for once, the feeling’s contagious.

She’s a Woman: Paul’s lyrics exalting his woman’s near-sainthood nearly turn this into the rock equivalent of his later, more lachrymose drippings. But the rock-barroom atmosphere saves all.

Bad Boy: Based on John Lennon’s confessions about his school years, this is less a “cover” (of a song by New Orleans R&B singer Larry Williams) than it is autobiography. That in no small way explains John’s gusto in his capturing of a swaggering schoolboy. Now, junior, behave yourself!

Yes It Is: Beautifully bittersweet song about a simple color evoking a complete memory of a lost love, helped in no small part by some exquisite three-part harmony. The Anthology 2 version offers an even more interesting contrast, with an acoustically-inclined John in his most Dylaneque mode this side of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”

I’m Down: “Plastic soul,” mutters Paul McCartney at the end of an early take on this song (captured on Anthology 2). Obviously he got over himself enough to blast the kinks out brilliantly. Little Richard revisited, and revisited pretty darn well, too.

Day Tripper: One of John and Paul’s coy stabs at double-entendre a la Drive My Car. Say, is that “big teaser” that John and Paul are singing, or is it “p***k-teaser”? And are they slurring something that sounds like “one-night stands”? Amazing what passes for risque — these days, this could probably be played on Disney Radio with no problem. The song’s superb guitar-playing, on the other hand, speaks for itself.

We Can Work It Out: A superb example of later John-and-Paul co-writing. Paul’s more combative stance with his erstwhile lover contrasts nicely with John’s more pacific middle bridge of “Life is very short…” (The “unplugged” version of this song, available on Beatles bootlegs, was a real missed bet for Anthology 2 — much more stripped-down, yet just as effective musically.)

Paperback Writer: Great story, great sound. The song’s “narrator” tells how he wants to write paperback books for a living, but based on the guitars and background harmony, he’d be far better off being a rock star. The non-assuming lyrics belie the song’s sound, which blew a few minds at the time of its release and still hold up superbly.

Rain: John Lennon’s lyrics are pseudo-profound in the manner of The Word. (Occasionally, The Beatles were naive enough to believe their given roles as mass entertainment’s messengers.) A far weightier message is delivered in the musicianship, with weirdly jangling guitars, Paul’s great bass, and another oddly perfect use of John’s backward vocals at song’s end.

Lady Madonna: Paul in an Elvis-meets-the-blues mode. A great song about a woman barely getting by (who almost sounds like a lady-of-the-evening from Paul’s description of her). The song’s potential bathos is thwarted by The Fabs doing a mock-horn section in mid-song.

The Inner Light: Of all the Indian-pastiche songs that George foisted upon us, this one is probably the most painful. It might be okay as background muzak at an Indian restaurant, but as a three-minute pop song with preachy lyrics and whiny background, it just grates. Sadly, it’s pretty much a template for George’s later, even more self-indulgent moments on his solo albums.

Hey Jude: A real “beanfest,” as one British music writer put it — a Paul McCartney ego-trip all the way (complete with scat-singing), but a truly worthy one. It’s huge and sprawling and never fails to move one emotionally; when Paul later appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and was asked to sing it at rehearsal, he had to be prompted to remember the lyrics and then proceeded to move all nearby listeners to tears. When you see The Beatles’ original video of the song, you’d never guess it was being performed by a group that was starting to splinter.

Revolution: From that firecracker opening to its feedback closing, one of The Beatles’ all-time best rockers. Much has been made of the Revolution 1 version of the song (on The White Album) where John ambiguously sings, “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out…in.” No ambiguity here — he takes no prisoners. A fiery gem.

Get Back: (previously reviewed as part of the album Let It Be; this “singles” version isn’t significantly different)

Don’t Let Me Down: Another of John’s great “minimalistic” numbers (along the lines of I Want You [She’s So Heavy]). When all John wanted to do was string some rhymes together, the results could be grating (Dig a Pony), but when he put his no-frills sense towards the emotions of anguished love, Beatles greatness occurred. This is one of those instances (although, IMHO, the definitive version can be found on Let It Be…Naked).

The Ballad of John and Yoko: One of John Lennon’s biggest slabs of self-pity, documenting his and Yoko’s travails upon their wedding and much-publicized “Bed-In” honeymoon. John’s comparing himself to a crucified Jesus is, in context, far more tasteless than his innocently-meant “We’re probably bigger than Jesus” remark a few years earlier. The song’s most interesting aspect, other than its sense of irony in the final lyric, is its cut-down production; only John and Paul were available to perform at the time of recording, so Paul doubled on drums.

Old Brown Shoe: Probably one of the few Beatles songs where the Anthology version plays better than the original. This “singles” version plays like a rush job, with George at his most frog-in-the-throat hoarse, giving short shrift to (and in some cases just burying) some thoughtful lyrics. The unadorned version on Anthology 3, by comparison, is downright whimsical.

Across the Universe: This is the originally recorded version of the song, intended as a contribution to a charity LP for the World Wildlife Fund, titled No One’s Gonna Change Our World. This rendition of the song differs from the Let It Be album version in that it begins and ends with the sound of a bird’s fluttering wings (nice) and the harmonies of two groupies (not so nice) who happened to be hanging around Abbey Road Studios when the song was being recorded. For me, at least, their high notes (as requested from them by Paul McCartney) detract from the song’s spartan beauty; I much prefer the subtle choir added to the song by Phil Spector in the album version.

Let It Be: This song, too, differs from the version on the Let It Be album; it is the version that was released as a single. George Harrison did two separate guitar solos for the song’s middle; originally they were intended to be overdubbed together (as though two guitarists were each playing a separate riff), but in the end, one solo went on the single and the other solo ended up on the album. For what it’s worth, I prefer Harrison’s rendition on this single version, as it’s not so heavy-handed.

You Know My Name (Look Up the Number): A “novelty” song a la Yellow Submarine (but with far less point), this is a rambling attempt at comedy that comes off like one of The Beatles’ annual Fan Club recordings that went on too long for its own good. (The song’s title is also nearly all of its lyrics.) Hardly a masterpiece, though we can all be grateful that it wasn’t replaced (on the Let It Be single) with the Fabs’ alternative choice, What’s the New Mary Jane, which eventually surfaced (like a bad case of influenza) on Anthology 3.

What do you think of Past Masters or any of the songs therein? Share your thoughts with us in the “Comments” section below.


This blog entry is being posted on the 56th (!) anniversary of The Beatles’ first, pop-history-making appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Here is a compact and charming summation of that broadcast on its 30th anniversary, reported by Anthony Mason for “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” in 1994.

Tomorrow: We announce the winners (if any!) of our Abbey Road Contest.


ABBEY ROAD (1969) – The Beatles’ valedictory statement

If you’re wondering about this blog’s suddenly suffering from Beatlemania, click on the above image to get some answers!

And enter our contest for a chance to win the 2-CD anniversary edition of Abbey Road! Click on the above image for contest rules.

Abbey Road – Released Sept. 26, 1969

Abbey Road was actually recorded after Let It Be. But The Beatles let the Let It Be tapes fester for so long that Abbey Road made it out of the gate first. Since then, there have been many debates as to whether or not The Fabs and those around them knew that this would be their last album. If you believe that they knew, then this is a pretty amazing way for a group to end their career. In spite of some sputtering here and there, this is Beatles on all cylinders.

Come Together: This is one of those Beatles songs where performance is everything, and it really is beautifully performed…as long as you don’t listen to closely to the lyrics. If this song really is “an exultation to the simultaneous orgasm” (as one British music critic graphically put it), I’d say lyrics such as “Hold you in his armchair, you can feel his disease” are pretty lousy foreplay. Nevertheless, the song has Lennon’s usual great vocals and some stinging guitar work.

Something: Sorry, I know this one put George in the (long-deserved) spotlight, but I think it’s overrated — a little too heart-on-its-sleeve for me. The “official” video for the song, showing each Beatle with his beloved spouse, is even more treacly. Hard to believe that Frank Sinatra got so worked up about lyrics such as “I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe and how.”

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: George and John dismissed this song, respectively, as a “fruity” number “for the grannies to dig,” and there’s not much to add to those assessments. An ostensibly cheery number about a psychotic killer, this was deservedly delivered in full ham by Steve Martin (in his film debut!) in the equally psychotic 1978 movie-musical version of Sgt. Pepper.

Oh! Darling: It might be only a pastiche of ’50s doo-wop songs, but Paul was to get far more trivial in his solo career. Legend has it that he screamed himself hoarse for three days to get the proper sound for this song, and the boy comes through with flying colors here. To be properly noted on any Beatles fan’s catalogue of great rockers.

Octopus’ Garden: The critics poo-poo’d this Ringo number as a sub-Yellow Submarine, but at his best, Ringo and whimsy go hand-in-glove (George proclaimed this one of the best songs on Abbey Road). For the Beatle who gave the least expectations to fans, this is a pretty enjoyable tune, and at least better than some of John and Paul’s worst.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy): Like Hey Jude and George’s later Isn’t It a Pity, a rock epic that goes on far longer and more fascinatingly than it should have a right to. John’s growing need for simplicity in his lyrics — as he told Rolling Stone, when you’re drowning, you don’t make a big speech, you just scream — finds full creative flower here, with an ending that soars to the heavens and then stops in mid-air. Stunning.

Here Comes the Sun: I’m going to go out on a limb here: I know that George Harrison’s contributions to Abbey Road (this song and Something) are what made his late-Beatles-era reputation, but nice as they are, I think they’re a bit too overrated and earnest. For me, he’s trying a little too hard here to sell the sunny optimism. If Paul had written that “Sun, sun, sun, here it comes” bit in the middle, he’d be taken to task for being too saccharine. George deserved his moment in the spotlight, but even a back-burner number like Not Guilty holds up better for me.

Because: The last of the great three-part-harmony “genre” exercised in This Boy and Yes It Is. Hard to believe that these guys were on the verge of a break-up when this was recorded; they never sounded more in tune with each other. The a-cappella version on Anthology 3 is even more intriguing.

You Never Give Me Your Money: This is one of those Beatles songs that seems to tell a story while never quite making sense when you examine the lyrics alone. When the results of this “genre” are bad, they’re really bad (see She Came In Through the Bathroom Window, below), but some great guitar playing and Paul’s shattering vocals carry it off, so that you’re so entranced, you hardly even notice the song ends with a banal nursery rhyme.

Sun King: Short but sweet, a modest but nice evocation of a beautiful sunrise. It plays even better backwards (on the Beatles compilation CD LOVE).

Mean Mr. Mustard: This sounds less like an earthy John Lennon characterization and more like that Monty Python sketch where a bunch of guys sit around coming up with ever more penniless stories about their childhood. He sleeps in a hole in the road? And keeps a ten-pound note up his nose? Would anyone even serve this guy at a local McDonald’s?

Polythene Pam: Not much more than a John Lennon toss-off that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of his books of non-sequitor writing. Still, a well-built woman in a polythene outfit? Works for me.

She Came in through The Bathroom Window: Another free-associational head-scratcher, this one courtesy of Paul for a change. A girl who sucks her thumb and works at fifteen clubs a day?? Sounds like she’ll make someone happy.

Golden Slumbers: Paul’s interesting update of the old lullaby, re-done mainly because he couldn’t read the original’s musical notes. Nicely done just the same, and a perfect kick-off to Abbey Road‘s bittersweet finale.

Carry That Weight: The song never makes it clear just what weight is being carried, but just the same, the…er…full weight of the song really comes across, especially with George Martin’s great production. A worthy part of the breathtaking trilogy that ends the album.

The End: A perfect coda to a near-perfect recording career, providing each member with a chop-displaying solo (even Ringo) before Paul’s simplistically beautiful vocal brings everything to a dreamily flawless close. Darn near makes me cry every time I hear it.

Her Majesty: A 22-second P.S. to get your attention. Just in case you thought the album was done.

Review of the album YELLOW SUBMARINE (1969), and the rules of our ABBEY ROAD Contest

Why our sudden interest in Beatles albums? Click on the above image for a complete explanation!

Yellow Submarine – Released Jan. 13, 1969

In contrast to the acclaim for the lovely animated cartoon of the same name, the soundtrack album for Yellow Submarine was greeted largely with indifference by many critics and Beatles fans (though reaching No. 3 on the record charts ain’t exactly chopped liver). This might have been due to The Beatles’ Capitol Records-like stunt of filling the first side of the album with Beatles tunes, followed by the movie’s instrumentals on Side 2 — and also by the album’s “recycling” of two previous hits to fill out the Beatle-laden side of the album. Heard in retrospect, though, the album is quite enjoyable on its own terms.

(Since this album is such a hybrid, I am going to review its selections a bit differently than before. As I noted, two of the songs come from previous albums, for which I will simply post a link to their previous reviews on this blog. And I am going to review Side 2 as a complete entity of its own.)

Yellow Submarine – (Previously reviewed as part of the album Revolver.)

Only a Northern Song – If you’re listening to this song, you may think George wrote this only to fulfill a contractual obligation, and you’re correct. The Beatles’ “new” musical contributions to the Yellow Submarine film soundtrack are generally regarded as “filler.” This one is no exception (it’s basically tossed-off in the film, too), though the song’s juicy organ line propels it along well enough to give it at least one listen.

All Together Now – The movie’s visuals dress up what is otherwise one of Paul’s weaker lyrical attempts, which is little more than a nursery-rhyme game. (However, it’s also disconcerting to see a G-rated cartoon sporting a song that asks, “Can I take my friend to bed?”) The song works better in retrospect than when you’re actually listening to it.

Hey Bulldog – Another free-associational song from John Lennon, who un-ironically sings “You can talk to me” in the middle of gibberish that makes it quite clear you’d better not have a conversation with him right then. It was originally deleted from the movie, and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s All Too Much – One of George Harrison’s most underrated Beatles songs –probably underrated even by George himself. The song’s glorious kick-off sounds like Harrison’s answer to Lennon’s famed guitar feedback on I Feel Fine; I still get a chill when I hear it. And the lyrics are as delightfully non sequitor as anything Lennon ever dreamed up (“Show me that I’m everywhere/And get me home for tea”). An unsung (so to speak) little gem.

All You Need Is Love – (Previously reviewed as part of the album Magical Mystery Tour.)

Instrumental music composed and conducted by George Martin: Pepperland, Sea of Time, Sea of Holes, Sea of Monsters, March of the Meanies, Pepperland Laid Waste, Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

As previously noted, many Beatles fans shouted “Rip-off!” when they discovered that the soundtrack album’s second side contained nothing but…music from the movie’s soundtrack! But as with any good soundtrack, the movie’s instrumentals hold up quite well on their own, and hearing just the first few bars of any of those selections is enough to draw up nostalgia-tinged memories of the movie. My favorite of all of the selections is March of the Meanies.


How would you like a shot at winning the two-CD 50th-anniversary edition of Abbey Road? If so, please read and follow our contest’s instructions as posted below.

1. Following are five (5) trivia questions related to the album Abbey Road. Read them, and write your answer to each question. (NOTE: Three of the questions are open-ended “multiple choice” and have more than one answer. You need provide only one answer for each of those questions; just be sure that your answer is one of the correct possibilities.)

2. Email your answers to:

Please write “Abbey Road Contest” in the email’s “Subject” section, and be sure to include your name and the email address you wish to use for the contest.

3. The contest ends on Mon., Feb. 10, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time. At that time, I will choose three (3) contest winners based on the order in which the winning entries were sent. You must answer all 5 questions correctly in order to be considered for the contest. (There’s a little device called the Internet that should enable you to find the correct answers.)

4. Here are the prizes for the three winning entrants.

First prize: The two-CD 50th-anniversary edition of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road. (Please note that this is not the album’s deluxe edition that contains several extras, just the two CDs containing the original album and its outtakes.)

Second prize: The 2009 remastered edition of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Please note that this is not the 2017 50th-anniversary edition, just the earlier remastered version.)

Third prize: Steve Turner’s 1994 book The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write – The Stories Behind Every Song. A fascinating read that provides the origin stories for all of the songs that The Beatles “officially” released on their 13 studio albums and the three Anthology collections.

Here are the 5 Abbey Road-related questions that you need to answer correctly.

1. What was the working title for Abbey Road, and what inspired that title? (There are 2 possible correct answers for the second part of this question; I will accept either or both of them.)

2. The cover of Abbey Road inspired the famous “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory. Name two (2) of the clues from the album’s cover which supposedly proved that Paul McCartney was dead. (There are several possible correct answers for this question; please don’t make one up.)

3. What did Frank Sinatra get wrong about George Harrison’s song Something?

4. What song did most of the four Beatles agree was the worst song on Abbey Road?

5. On the back cover photo of Abbey Road is a blurred image of a woman walking through the shot. Most sources indicate that the woman was a passer-by who had no idea she was in the shot. Apart from that, who was the woman believed to be? (Again, there are 2 possible correct answers for this question: I will accept either or both of them.)

Email your entry to us as soon as possible, and good luck!

THE BEATLES (a/k/a “The White Album) (1968) – Beatles at the crossroads

There must be an explanation for all of these recent Beatles album reviews. Click on the above image to get it!

The Beatles (a/k/a “The White Album”) – Released Nov. 22, 1968

(I have previously written a blog entry about “The White Album.” Click here to read it.)

Back in the U.S.S.R.: Another superb rocker from Comrade McCartney. When first released, some left-wingers regarded this song as a crude endorsement of Communism (which, in post-Cold War hindsight, can be seen as Boris Badenov-ish malarkey). It’s really just a stylish pastiche of U.S.-happy songs such as Chuck Berry’s In the U.S.A. and the Beach Boys’ California Girls — though it’s catchy enough on its own to make you wonder if Ukraine girls really do knock you out (in the figurative, non-spy sense). Terrific.

Dear Prudence: Lovely, understated John Lennon song, reportedly inspired by Mia Farrow’s shy sister on John’s trip to India. Decades later, the song was turned into a literal mess in the Beatles-inspired movie musical Across the Universe.

Glass Onion: Like much of the self-referential cinema of the late 1960’s and beyond, this song might not mean much if you don’t get the Beatles references within. That said, the superb musicianship adds more depth to the song than it ultimately deserves. (Just what is a glass onion, anyway?) Not exactly a “goal,” but a pretty good kick at least.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: The story of Desmond and Molly Jones as told via the reggae-pastiche stylings of Paul McCartney. A nice enough song, but to these ears at least, the Anthology 3 version of this song is preferable (despite John’s derisive intro and closing to it), as it is more straightforward, with its cheeriness not so forced.

Wild Honey Pie: Although a later song on this album is titled Honey Pie, this wordless, nearly tuneless oddity has almost nothing to do with it. Instead, it sounds like some hillbillies on an acid trip. Thank heavens The Beatles didn’t do Wild Revolution 9.

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill: John at his acidic best, sarcastically describing a ruthless hunter he observed during his trip to India. This song and the Lennon song that immediately follows on this album make John’s pacifist stand pretty clear, even before he started spending time in bed for peace.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps: George took a quantum leap forward in his songwriting with this tribute to his cherry Gibson. Bluesy wailing at its Beatles best (and it doesn’t hurt to have non-Beatle Eric Clapton backing him up).

Happiness Is a Warm Gun: John said that the song’s title was inspired by a headline on a gun magazine, and if he’d stuck with the gun-as-sexual-metaphor that rapturously closes the song (or even with that and the bluesy middle), the song would have been a total success. But then there’s more of that free-associational stuff at the beginning. (I don’t even want to know what “A soap impression of his wife, which he ate and donated to the National Trust” really means.) Endure the first part and enjoy the rest. (By the way, is that the “bits” that John left uptown, as the lyric sheet says, or is he indulging his misogynist side again?)

Martha My Dear: Paul’s contributions on The White Album are either utterly infectious or utterly annoying. This one is quite the former (addressed to his sheepdog, of all things), with charm to spare.

I’m So Tired: A perfect follow-up to John’s “I’m Only Sleeping” (on Revolver). The song and its delivery really sound as though John has been up for days on end pining for his true love. Excellent.

Blackbird: Paul at his lovely, understated best. According to Paul himself, it was a coded pro-civil-rights message, but its universal appeal makes it a very affecting song — unfortunately, not always in the best way (see the Charles Manson story).

Piggies: One British music writer dismissed this song as “nihilistic and sweeping in its condemnation of approximately half the human race.” I don’t think the song has that much on its mind. Its juxtaposition of “fruity” harpsichord with pig-grunt sound effects seems a minor (if catchy) swipe at upper-class bourgeois. George would get far more preachy in his solo years.

Rocky Raccoon: Another cutesy, old-timey song from Paul — less cloying than Honey Pie, but it doesn’t wear that well after a few listens.

Don’t Pass Me By: Ringo hadn’t gotten too many of his own compositions on Beatles albums at this point; by his own admission, his fellow band members would “go into hysterics” when Ringo would play a self-penned tune that had subconsciously ripped off someone else’s.

This one isn’t especially reminiscent of any songs, except in its cliches. The lyrics are pretty banal when they’re not head-scratching (“You were in a car crash, and you lost your hair”??). Listenable enough, but it probably didn’t make Buck Owens lose any sleep.

Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?: Paul has always wanted to be known as just as much of a rocker as John was. On this one, he tries a little too hard, bleating over and over a single lyric about copulation out in a barren pathway. Eew.

I Will: Ever notice that when Paul is trying a bit too hard to sell his earnestness, he lingers in his upper register? (Listen to Here, There, and Everywhere for the same effect.) That said, this is a lovely song, with just enough sparseness to avoid bathos.

Julia: Another achingly beautiful love song from John Lennon, this one unusual as it would seem to be dedicated to his late mother (named Julia). Potential Oedipal connections notwithstanding, the song is quietly touching and seems almost a bridge between Lennon’s macho-man poses and his later primal-therapy songs (unflinchingly revealed on his great solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band). A low-key gem.

Birthday: If Happy Birthday to You (to which, I believe, Paul McCartney now owns public performance rights) is the Number One birthday song ever, this one heartily qualifies as a close second. With its driving beat and joyous delivery, one hardly needs John’s command to “Dance!” that occurs in the song’s middle (though that’s a nice touch too). One of The Beatles’ all-time great rockers.

Yer Blues: Other than that enigmatic title (yer blues, as opposed to mine?), this one is a pull-no-punches, unrelenting blueser from John, complete with a name-check of his hero Bob Dylan. It’s done even better on John’s Plastic Ono Band album Live Peace in Toronto, though this version is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Mother Nature’s Son: One of Paul’s ballads that has way too much heart on its sleeve. Later covered by John Denver, which gives you an idea of how deadly earnest it is.

Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey: Now, how can you not love a song with a title like that? Producer George Martin once said that The White Album double-set should have been whittled to a single high-quality album, but when asked which numbers should have been cut, Martin couldn’t come up with a final answer. Yo, George, over here!

Sexy Sadie: Another of John Lennon’s priceless character-assassinations, this one of India’s Maharishi who disappointed John when he was found to be putting the make on one of his female followers. Memorably wicked melody and lyrics.

Helter Skelter: John is best remembered as the all-out rocker of the group, but this song (named after a British roller-coaster ride) amply demonstrates Paul’s chops as well. The roller-coaster metaphor is carried perfectly throughout, right up to the fake-fade-out-and-return. I got blisters on my Mp3 player!

Long, Long, Long: Another grating George Harrison tune (They kept George’s song Not Guilty off The White Album and put this one on it instead??). Full of ostensible pining-for-love lyrics that sound boringly whispered by George, with an apocalyptic ending that comes out of nowhere. Very strange indeed.

Revolution 1: This is to Revolution what Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles album, is to Sgt. Pepper, the Bee Gees movie. Compared to the power of the “singles” version, this song is downright namby-pamby, right down to John’s oft-critiqued sentiment “Don’t you know you can count me out…in.” (John often said this yin-yang expression was because he thought he might actually be open to a revolution. Biased Listener says it’s because he couldn’t summon enough energy to sing the song right.) Despite some beefy horns and a blast of a guitar intro, this doesn’t hold a candle to the “real” version.

Honey Pie: Mr. Show-Biz Paulie rears his ugly head again. An old-fashioned ditty about a boy whose girl abandoned him to get into the movies, the song is, like most middle-level Paul, cute but cloying.

Savoy Truffle: Inspired by his friend Eric Clapton’s sweet tooth, George delivers a tribute to junk food that, ironically, is almost as sugary as one of Paul McCartney’s more sappy numbers (and the song even name-checks Paul’s Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da). A wicked solo in the song’s bridge saves it from over-the-top cuteness.

Cry Baby Cry: Another of John Lennon’s blase, let’s-string-random-rhymes-together songs. A perfect prelude to the mishmash that follows it. Can you take me back where I came from?

Revolution 9: Probably the most universally reviled Beatles song ever, and not without reason. Those backwards-tape experiments (Rain, Tomorrow Never Knows) that were so successful, and which made everyone say “This could have been a disaster if done wrong,” obviously made John Lennon go over the top in his supposed aural depiction of a revolution. Among other justifiable criticisms of the song: It’s unlikely that anyone’s revolution will end with a soccer-game crowd yelling “Block that kick!” Not without some individual interesting moments, but proceed at your own risk.

Good Night: In their Beatles book, music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler write, “Only McCartney could get away with this one.” Surprise! It was actually John who wrote this song to accompany Ringo’s somber vocals. The syrupy strings and (in John’s word) “Hollywood” production should give Beatle-rockers every reason on Earth to be mad, except that the song is just too charming. As lullabies go, it’s a beaut. Maybe only Starr could get away with this one.

What do you think of “The White Album” and/or any of its songs? Let your voice be heard in the “Comments” section below.

Coming tomorrow: The soundtrack for the animated film Yellow Submarine.

Also on tomorrow’s blog entry: Look for details on the easiest Beatles contest you will ever enter!

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967) – Weak tea from The Beatles

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Magical Mystery Tour – Released Dec. 8, 1967

After a string of amazing successes, The Beatles hit a wall with their self-directed TV-movie Magical Mystery Tour. Intended to depict a wild bus tour across England, the movie was broadcast on Boxing Day and was savaged by the critics. But while the movie remains a malnourished oddity, the soundtrack is as charming as anything The Fabs ever did.

(NOTE: In Britain, the movie’s soundtrack album initially consisted of two extended-play (EP) discs containing only the songs from the movie. In America, Capitol Records — ever eager to milk the cash cow — consigned the movie’s songs to Side 1 of the album and filled Side 2 with songs from recent Beatles singles. A decade later, in 1976, the British version of the album was revised to coincide with the America version.)

Magical Mystery Tour: An appropriately jaunty tune that certainly promised far more than the movie delivered. The song still plays wonderfully for people who wouldn’t be caught dead watching the movie.

The Fool on the Hill: A very nice “story” song from Paul. The final lyric, where Paul’s voice (as the Fool?) goes from whimsical resignation to bitter anger, adds a nice bit of punctuation that keeps the song from schmaltziness. Lovely flute work, too, especially in the song’s bridge.

Flying: Truly The Beatles’ most modest instrumental, to the point that most American radio stations used it to “fade” to a local newscast. And yet, the fact that they used the same-sounding mellotron as Strawberry Fields Forever on this song constitutes a sort of hubris that makes the song itself stand out, doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it??

Blue Jay Way: Inspired by a trip to Los Angeles, George’s underrated (as always) contribution to the movie’s soundtrack perfect conveys its sense of eerie disorientation. We apologize that the phrase “Don’t be long” gets repeated a few dozen times at song’s end, but maybe that was supposed to add to the confusion.

Your Mother Should Know: The two officially released versions of this song offer a dramatic study in contrasts. The version for the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack is Paul in typical vaudeville mode (as in When I’m Sixty-Four). the version that surfaced on Anthology 2 comes off, frankly, like a neo-Nazi march; when Paul sings “Let’s all get up and dance to a song” in the latter version, he sounds as though he’s ordering the listener to do so at gunpoint.

I Am the Walrus: Most of John Lennon’s free-associational Beatles songs sound like something stuck together to fill studio time. But on this one, John really went out on a surrealistic limb, coming up with outrageous imagery with some of the most fascinating sounds ever in a pop song (heard to best effect in true stereo, as on the latter-day compilation LOVE). A real trip.

Hello Goodbye: Paul has often been taken to task for his trivial lyrics, but this one certainly isn’t any fluffier than the “tomato/tomahto” routine in Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off. And if you can’t enjoy his “hey-la” jig at the end, maybe you should say goodbye.

Strawberry Fields Forever: This one is John Lennon’s real glass onion. Whereas its companion piece — the “double-A-side” song Penny Lane — radiates its own sweet, simple nostalgia, this song is like a multi-layered radio program, creating the atmosphere of a man lost in adulthood and looking for a long-gone place that, if it wasn’t secure in itself, created a feeling of security. And if the song’s aural richness isn’t enough to evoke this atmosphere, there’s the Lennon voice that, as producer George Martin has said, “can still send chills up my spine.” If you want to enjoy the level-by-level creation of this masterpiece, go directly to Anthology 2.

Penny Lane: A lovely (and lovingly nostalgic) counterpoint to John’s Strawberry Fields Forever, a song about an old Liverpool neighborhood, with imagery vivid enough that it really does gets in your ears and eyes.

Baby You’re a Rich Man: How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Beautiful enough, I guess, that you don’t have to write coherent lyrics.

The majority of Beatles music is of meticulously high quality, but then there are a few songs where it seems they just wrote any little thing that came to mind. The song’s cutesy question/answer format, which made for some nice wordplay in With a Little Help from My Friends, doesn’t help a thing here — what does it mean to be “tuned to a natural E,” anyway? What a thing to do!

All You Need Is Love: Grandly touching, especially in its naivete — in 1967, it probably did seem that love was all you’d need to solve the world’s problems. Unfortunately, the later assassination of this song’s writer provided a heavily ironic afterthought. One of John Lennon’s loveliest pieces, nevertheless.

What do you think of Magical Mystery Tour and/or any of its songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Tell us what you think in the “Comments” section below. Next up for review: The White Album.

SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1967) – A splendid time is guaranteed for all

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – released May 26, 1967

The album that rocked pop culture. The psychedelic haze that was once surrounded it has mostly faded, but the superlative music still stands. Paul McCartney once said that the idea of the album was: Rather than having to tour everywhere to perform concerts, The Beatles decided to record their concept of a concert and pass it on to everyone. If so, it’s an epic concert that couldn’t possibly have performed on stage in 1967, as its studio experimentation abounds. And just when you think they’ve finished the concert, they provide an encore that is not to be believed.

(FYI – I have previously written a blog entry about the 50th-anniversary edition of this album. Click here to read it.)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: As the opening salvo of The Beatles’ masterwork, this number is about as unassuming and flawless as you could ask for, echoing the sense of a modest group at a bandstand on a Sunday afternoon. But watch out for those condiments!

With a Little Help from My Friends: It’s easy to dismiss Ringo’s only vocal contribution to this album, but it fits him like a velvet glove. His nonchalant delivery on an otherwise ornate album makes a nice contrast. (Compare it to Peter Frampton’s smirking version in the infamous Sgt. Pepper film.) And Ringo has said that the song’s final note was a killer for him, but as with his expert drumming, he delivers.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: When John Lennon let his “free-association” lyrics get too get carried away, it could be embarrassing (Happiness Is a Warm Gun); here, as in his great Strawberry Fields Forever, it served only to evoke an entire otherworld — in this case, based on a simple drawing his son Julian brought home from school one day. (For my money, the visualization of this song in the Yellow Submarine movie is about as perfect as you could ask for.) For stark contrast, check out the early version of this song on Anthology 2, where John takes his priceless surreal imagery and rattles it off unemotionally, as though he was a railroad porter announcing stops.

It’s Getting Better: Upbeat, yet matter-of-factly so. Nice counterpoint between Paul’s cheery “It’s getting better all the time” and John’s sardonic “It can’t get no worse.” And for once, John sings about his past misogyny while actually admitting to it rather than trying to make it sound romantic.

Fixing a Hole: Paul playing around. It’s an acceptable bit of whimsy, though John did the whole thing better as a solo artist in Watching the Wheels. And one can’t help but think that the song’s lyrical shallowness is what led George Burns (!!) to attempt it as a vaudeville soft-shoe in the ghastly movie version of the Sgt. Pepper album.

She’s Leaving Home: It isn’t quite as successful as Eleanor Rigby at evoking its sense of social problems, but it’s still more tolerable than many later Paul McCartney dips into the tub of bathos. Though I could live without that opening mandolin.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!: “I want to smell the sawdust,” John Lennon supposedly told George Martin upon production of this song. From such modest hopes do great songs grow. From its foggy vocals to its backward calliope yells, this song’s seeming effortlessness lovingly evokes a carnival atmosphere. Even the song’s humble origins on Anthology 2 promise wonderful things

Within You Without You: IMHO, the most dated and dispensable track on the entire album. Like George’s Love You To on Revolver (and more than twice as long as that song), this is George in his sermon-on-the-Indian-mount phase. (It was to get far worse in his early-’70s solo albums, culminating in the downright painful Dark Horse.) The sound byte of harrumphing laughter at song’s end is probably George’s attempt to lighten the load, but it’s about five minutes too late.

(If you must listen to the song, I prefer its slightly spiffed-up version on the later LOVE album.)

When I’m Sixty-Four: Many people have taken Paul McCartney to task for his neo-vaudeville patter songs, but they’re minor gems compared to some of his solo output. This one still manages to charm, maybe in part because Paul himself has actually passed 64. Yes, we still need you.

Lovely Rita: Probably the most underrated number on Sgt. Pepper, Paul’s tale of his ongoing flirtation with a meter maid is still quite charming. It’s Paul at his crowd-pleasing best, helped along by Ringo’s drum stomp and John’s irreverent moans at the end.

Good Morning Good Morning: The Sgt. Pepper album version of this song has been criticized for its ornateness (and justly so — what’s with that bucolic kazoo?). If you want to get the sense of a hurried day followed by feet poised on an ottoman, you might try the unadorned version on Anthology 2.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise):Nice rave-up of the initial version of the song, especially when one knows what’s to come after it.

A Day in the Life: If you want a sense of John Lennon taking random images and forming them into a vision of apocalypse, I believe this is the song for you. And that is a compliment. Hold on to something and listen.

Sgt. Pepper Inner Groove: For those not in the know, if you let your album of Sgt. Pepper play to the very end, you’ll eventually hear a few seconds of laughter and garbled sound. No, that’s not the sound of Capitol Records executives laughing about their exploitation of Beatles product. The Fabs just stuck it on at the end as a little “extra” for their fans. (Very little.) The smarter approach: Listen to A Day in the Life all the way through, give it time to sink in, and then remove it from your CD player before this self-effacing sound ruins the effect.

What do you think of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and/or any of its songs? Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. Next up: Magical Mystery Tour.

REVOLVER (1966) – A shot across the bow of conventional pop music

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Revolver – Released Aug. 5, 1966

It was at this point that The Beatles turned Abbey Road Studios into an aural laboratory, grabbing at every sound they could find and many times creating their own. Whereas their debut album Please Please Me was recorded in a mere 11 hours, Revolver took two-and-a-half months to complete — but when such a masterwork results, who wants to quibble about time?

Taxman: One of The Beatles’ first “big” attempts at social commentary, and it was as roundly castigated by McCartney critics as it was praised by music fans and sociologists. But at least, unlike later such efforts in The Fabs’ solo years, this one is “universal” enough to still be appreciated. The string section, arranged by producer George Martin (and displayed on its own on Anthology 2), is understated and puts the song’s power across as much as its “message” does.

I’m Only Sleeping: John Lennon’s somnabulant delivery and the surreal backwards tapes perfectly dramatize the sense of drowsiness Lennon was after in this song. Even the less elaborate version on Anthology 2 indicates the song’s spirit. Compare this with his more caffeinated sequel I’m So Tired (on The White Album).

Love You To: This song’s raga-rock sound was probably mind-blowing in the 1960’s but doesn’t wear too well. It’s not helped by the mock-profundity of George Harrison’s lyrics, especially the strange advice to “Make love all day long/Make love singing songs.” Presumably, this song was not one of the tunes they were warbling at the verge of climax.

Here, There and Everywhere: As with most of Paul’s efforts on Revolver, this is a nicely understated view of all-encompassing love. Its only debit is Paul’s vocal, which seems to be unnecessarily raised a few octaves — an aural tic that would plague some of his solo songs, where he put on his “sincere” voice to cover up a decided lack of emotion in the writing.

Yellow Submarine: Like many of The Beatles’ creations, this is one of those songs that is more than the sum of its parts. On its own, the song is a nice enough “novelty” tune, with Ringo’s nonchalant warbling and a variety of sound effects creating a neat little mini-radio show. As the theme for an animated film that sums up the peace-and-love era about as superbly as one could hope for, it’s…well, more than just a novelty tune. Either way, it’s pretty enjoyable.

She Said She Said: I know what it’s like to be dead, and it’s somewhat like listening to this song. Paul McCartney often gets knocked for his supposed excesses (e.g., Eleanor Rigby on the same album that sported this attempt at pseudo-profundity), but John Lennon had his moments too. Based on an LSD-inspired comment to John by actor Peter Fonda, this is an all-out attempt at aural psychedelia, and unlike its flip side in Tomorrow Never Knows, it’s more annoying than haunting. A perfect song to clear out the last of the party guests.

Good Day Sunshine: From its opening piano charge, this song is the aural embodiment of a perfect day. Paul’s jaunty piano and vocals, and Ringo’s great drumming, are as close to perfection as a sun-drenched spring day.

And Your Bird Can Sing: When people talk about Paul McCartney’s bass-playing propelling The Beatles’ music, this is a prime example. John’s kiss-off lyrics mesh perfect with Paul’s bass back-up. A perfect song for breaking the lease. The Anthology 2 version is less enchanting, having been recorded under the influence of some substance that makes The Beatles giggle like naughty schoolgirls.

For No One: A nicely unassuming story of a woman who nonchalantly carries on with her life after leaving a relationship in wreckage. Alan Civil’s horn carries the song over the high mark as handily as does George Martin’s keyboard in In My Life. One of Paul McCartney’s finest efforts.

Dr. Robert: Considering the dark origin of the song (it’s based on a pill-pusher acquaintance of John Lennon’s), the song’s theme is more provocative than its final performance. Only the wailing guitar and sinister organ in the song’s bridge hint at the song’s unethical source.

I Want to Tell You: George Harrison’s lyrics still seem at the apprentice stage here, in a continuation of the “Don’t call me, lover, I’ll call you” smugness of If I Needed Someone. But the surrounding accompaniment — the thumping bass, jangly piano, and especially Ringo’s fireworks drumming — transcend the lyrics and lift the song to the higher level Harrison strived for in his Hare Krishna era.

Got to Get You Into My Life: If those beefy horns at the beginning don’t grab you, nothing will. One of Paul’s finest works, with heartfelt lyrics and delivery accompanying some blazing guitarwork to send the listener soaring. Anthology 2‘s version offers the most dramatic contrast possible, with trashy organ back-up, the worst-ever use of Beatles harmonies, and Paul sounding like a bad lounge singer.

Tomorrow Never Knows: As the closing number on this groundbreaking album, it’s a wonder that any stunned listener had the wherewithal to pick up his phonograph needle after record’s end. A mind-blowing collage of John’s remarkable vocals, way-deep lyrics, and apocalyptic aural images. Rock music was never the same after this one. Anthology 1‘s early version of this song is quite a bit fuzzier but shows that John was already on the right track.

RUBBER SOUL (1965) – Phase II in The Beatles’ recording career

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Rubber Soul – Released Dec. 3, 1965

Here’s where things start to get really interesting. The demarcation between The Beatles’ “innocent” pop period and “mature” experimental sound could not be clearer, and pop music was all the richer (and influential) for it. This was their first album since A Hard Day’s Night to contain all-Beatles material, and this album showed that they were ready to blossom in all their self-contained glory.

Drive My Car: This song is the starting gun to The Beatles’ “hallucinogenic” phase, when stimulants began to slow down their “Yeah, yeah, yeah” pulsations to a more thoughtful rhythm. This is a rock-‘n-roll shaggy-dog that builds to a beautiful punchline, with its “Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah!” refrain and some lovely double-entendres zipping the song along like a vintage racer.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown): This famously cryptic song, which John Lennon wrote with the intent of describing an affair of his without his wife realizing it was about him, introduces the sitar to Beatles music. (However, the early version of Anthology 2 is more twangy than hypnotic, all but shrugging its shoulders at song’s end. From this version, one would never guess what a mesmerizing effect this Indian instrument would have on an unsuspecting music world.)

The song, one of a treasure-trove of Lennon’s best, effortlessly conveys the sense of mystery and resignation that entails a one-night stand. Strangely enough, some sources have maintained that the climactic lyric “I lit a fire” refers not to John lighting logs to keep himself warm but to his setting the woman’s house on fire out of spite; I had listened to the song for years and never considered such a thought. You be the judge.

You Won’t See Me: One of Paul McCartney’s more introspective Beatles songs (the lilting sense of rocking notwithstanding), concerning his comments to an unappreciative lover. Is it just me, or does the song’s rhythm deliberately slow down about halfway through — a reference, perhaps, to the slowing effect of the cannabis The Fabs were inhaling at that point?

Nowhere Man: Seen in retrospect, this song serves as either (a) a precursor to Paul McCartney’s The Fool on the Hill or (b) the theme song for Jeremy Hilary Boob (for a generation raised on the Yellow Submarine movie). Either way, the song wears pretty well, philosophically and musically (I always loved that little “ding” in the middle bridge, like an ultra-bright sunset light in a ’60s movie).

Think for Yourself: An early bit of Harrison preachery (it would get far worse in his solo years) saved by a rich tapestry of melody. This song was included on the Yellow Submarine Songtrack CD on the wispiest of pretexts (a single bar of the song was sung a cappella in the movie).

The Word: The word is “Love.” Now that’s all settled. Some soaring guitar work can’t quite disguise the fact that the lyrics are a little too explicit–not in a sexual sense, just that The Beatles’ love songs are far more effective when they’re more oblique. As with most ’60s music, it’s the outright “message” songs that are the most dated.

Michelle: An early bit of overrated McCartney romanticism a la Yesterday, but it holds up a lot better than many of his solo treks into bathos. The most obtrusive part is the nonsense French, which Paul later admitted that he and his buddies used to impress unsuspecting women. One would gather that The Fabs’ French followers are less than appreciative of this.

What Goes On: The very telling writing credit for this song goes to “Lennon/McCartney/Starkey.” Ringo has said that he’d try to write songs early in his career, “and the other guys would go into laughing jags telling me what song I’d rewritten.” Ringo’s first credited stab at songwriting is a logical extension of his connection with whiskey-laced country numbers such as Act Naturally and is more than passable on those terms (with modest metaphors such as “I could feel my future fold” like a bad poker hand). Pretty decent for a guy who could only re-write other people’s songs.

Girl: The Beatles unplugged, and never more beautifully so. John Lennon meticulously understates the pain of a hanger-on female, and the song’s only effects are a simple guitar, a suspiciously pot-sucking-like sound, and the endless “tit-tit-tit” background. (The latter two sounds could have gotten by Capitol Records execs only because they weren’t as in-your-face blatant as a certain butcher cover.) Just plain gorgeous.

I’m Looking Through You: One of Paul’s great metaphors, invisibility as a sign of two-facedness. Notice the barely audible background clapping; what would have been a front-and-center effect in one of their earlier audience-pleasers is buried here, to the same subtle effect as Paul’s bass-playing. (The version released on the American edition of Rubber Soul has an interesting false-start not captured on the British version.)

In My Life: For my money, the single most beautiful song The Beatles laid on tape. John Lennon’s masterfully understated lyrics and delivery mesh with Ringo’s subtle drumming and George Martin’s perfect bridge on the keyboard. A gratifying piece of music at every turn.

Wait: The darker side of early John Lennon songs is its total misogyny and paranoia (You Can’t Do That, Run for Your Life); the far more humanistic side is represented in this song, a slower and more thoughtful version of It Won’t Be Long. The song’s stance — asking his lover to wait for him if at all possible, rather than demanding it — is far more aesthetically satisfying, at least if you’re looking for romance.

If I Needed Someone: Another early George Harrison number where the musicianship far exceeds the quality of the lyrics. The message of this song: I’m already involved with someone, but leave your number and maybe you’ll get sloppy seconds. Unfortunately, it’s a perfect companion piece for this record’s closer (see below) and which stains an otherwise nearly perfect album.

Run for Your Life: It’s inconceivable that the same album that shows off John Lennon’s most thoughtful and romantic notions closes with yet another nasty piece of Lennon woman-hating. “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man” sounds more like the anthem of a generation of stalkers than the work of a master songwriter. One can almost picture the terrified woman running from the crazed singer — which might have been part of the point but wears a little less well in these times.

What do you think of Rubber Soul and/or any of its songs? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Next up: the (IMHO) flawless Revolver.

HELP! (1965) – Mid-level Beatles

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Help! – Released Aug. 6, 1965

Another movie, another soundtrack album. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why The Beatles felt they had hit a rut at this point. A certain type of song was expected of them, and they delivered (and delivered well), but it was indeed a formula — no surprises, for them or for the listener. However, as escapist fare to accompany an escapist movie, the songs work well enough. Happily, the Fabs were not to stay in this familiar mode much longer.

Help!: Hardly anyone — John Lennon included — has ever noticed that he wrote one of his most emotional, heartfelt songs for one of his most frivolous movies. At the time, it was just more Beatle fodder (it even became filler for their Hollywood Bowl song selection), but it shows a songwriter growing beyond simple rhymes and romances. A nice harbinger of future treasures.

The Night Before: More filler for the movie’s soundtrack. A gorgeous melody is wasted on trite how-could-you-string-me-along lyrics. It’s typical of the crossroads at which The Beatles found themselves at this point — the conflict between extending themselves musically and the constant demand to feed the Beatle machine.

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away: At this point in Beatlemania, love probably wasn’t the only thing they wanted to hide away. Nevertheless, John Lennon’s homage to Bob Dylan pays off musically, meshing with his own rapidly developing sense of xenophobia. The Anthology 2 version isn’t hugely different from the final product, though the final flute really seals the deal.

I Need You: Another overlooked George Harrison number, nicely understated and with an early use of the slide guitar that was to become a Harrison favorite.

Another Girl: Another example of an early-Beatles device wearing thin. The junior-high smugness of having another girl on line is parodied in the film in which it’s performed, wherein Paul “strums” a svelte blonde in place of his bass guitar.

You’re Going to Lose That Girl: John explores the same junior-high-romance cliches that Paul did on the previous number. But this one at least has more meat musically, goosed along by John’s vocals (and dig that crazy bongo!).

Ticket to Ride: It’s a minor point, but still, funny how nobody ever noticed this song’s subtle reference to cohabitation. It might be the most daring thing on the entire soundtrack. Otherwise, it’s another middle-period song with more bite melodically than lyrically.

Act Naturally: Definitely the only time that The Beatles’ and Buck Owens’ galaxies crossed paths. Still, with Ringo winning unexpected acclaim for his acting in A Hard Day’s Night, this country tune is only a perfect fit for him. Not-bad guitar-twanging, either.

It’s Only Love: In typical botched fashion, this was released on the Help! album in Britain but held aside by Capitol Records for the American version of Rubber Soul. Yet musically, it sounds more like a Rubber Soul outtake than does any of the other middle-of-the-road stuff from Help!. Here we finally get a taste of John Lennon, the ever-flowering songwriter who can no longer sit still for moon/June lyricism. The twangy background guitar is far removed from any musical esoterica on Help!, too.

You Like Me Too Much: One of George’s early efforts, this one starts out in a Lennon pseudo-posturing mode but has him caving in to humanism at the end. Worth listening to just for the nifty beginning, middle, and end piano riffs.

Tell Me What You See: I see a Beatles for Sale holdover, full of forced cheerfulness. The musical background is far too good for these I-yam-what-I-yam lyrics.

I’ve Just Seen a Face: Like John’s It’s Only Love, this Paul number was recorded for the British version of Help! but held back by those stingy Capitol Records execs for the American version of Rubber Soul. And again, it fits, as these two are two sides of the same coin and are both the musical stand-outs from the middle period. Paul’s jaunty vocals and guitar-playing suggest new musical ground, soon to be beautifully developed.

Yesterday: “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, England, opportunity knocks!” jeers George mockingly in the Anthology 2 intro to a live version of this song. It’s been noted that this is the first Beatles recording to use strings and to not use the other Beatles in performance, as though that’s a virtue. As with most of Paul’s bathos, it’s unassuming when served in small doses, but strange that the man who complained about strings gone haywire on the final version of The Long and Winding Road was so string-quartet-happy here. Of course, to millions of orgiastic females and a few old-time singers who finally “got” The Beatles, all of this mattered little.

Dizzy Miss Lizzie: The final “cover” version on The Beatles’ official recordings, and it certainly goes out with a bang. Forget the live versions; when John sings this on Help!, he really does seem to be in a fever.

(One final note: It’s well-known that Capitol Records milked their Beatles product for all it was worth, and their version of the Help! soundtrack is a perfect example. Capitol’s Help! used only the Beatles songs that actually appeared in the film, and then they filled up the rest of the record with instrumentals from the movie. But as cynical as that move appears at first glance, I actually like the non-Beatles compositions [by Ken Thorne]. Thorne does some sly variations on old Beatles tunes such as A Hard Day’s Night. The soundtrack also features generous use of the sitar, an instrument that was little-known or -used in pop music at that time and which certainly got George Harrison’s attention.)

What do you think of Help! or any of its individual songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Feel free to share your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. Next up: The turning-point album Rubber Soul.

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964) – The soundtrack of an era

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A Hard Day’s Night – Released July 10, 1964

Once again, The Beatles defy expectations and conquer another medium when A Hard Day’s Night — expected by critics to be another brainless jukebox musical — turns out to be one of the most charming movie comedies ever made, overflowing with great wit and memorable melodies. The soundtrack album (at least in Britain) featured the movie’s songs, followed by six more tunes of equally high quality.

A Hard Day’s Night: That opening guitar rush is irresistible. As in the glorious movie for which this served as theme song, it’s Beatlemania captured in a nutshell: frenzied, rapturous rock-‘n’-roll. Just try to ignore its sway.

I Should Have Known Better: Musically, it’s not much different from the movie theme song that inspired its existence. But then, it shares all of that movie’s and theme’s virtues as well.

(Two trivia notes: If you’re lucky enough to find the old Apple “hits” album Hey Jude [The Beatles Again], it has a version that is practically identical, save for a guitar fluff in the opening four bars. Nobody ever did explain where they got that take.)

(Also, the American version of the Help! movie soundtrack has a charming, sitar-flavored version of their previous movie theme; it’s titled Another Hard Day’s Night and is an Indian-sounding pastiche of both songs. If only The Inner Light was as tuneful.)

If I Fell: John and Paul go for the oldest trick in the book: Playing the naive, sensitive lover who needs for his new girlfriend to help him to understand what real love really is. Oh, well, it obviously worked, didn’t it?

I’m Happy Just to Dance with You: Another lead-vocal bone thrown to George by John and Paul. He does a nice job, but heck, on A Hard Day’s Night they could have given a vocal to George Martin and pulled it off. A great dance number, just the same.

And I Love Her: The boundless optimism of A Hard Day’s Night happily overshadows the fact that, save for the title song, every single song written for and used in the film contains the word “I” or “me” in its title. This love song is a prime example, extremely appealing musically but stopping just this side of a classic Freudian case of narcissism.

Tell Me Why: Surely one of the cheeriest love-gone-wrong songs ever recorded. As with most early-Beatles works, the superb musicianship and unflagging rhythm sweep along the unquestioning listener, but how is such a harrowing lyric carried off with such smiling faces in the movie, anyway?

Can’t Buy Me Love: “I don’t care too much for money,” sings the man whose publishing royalties eventually made him one of the richest men on Earth. Still, as sops to love-stricken fans go, this is one of Paul’s jauntiest. The early version of the song, captured on Anthology 1, is even more fascinating, with Paul in even higher octaves than in the final version.

Any Time at All: Another joyous work. Some seemingly unintended elements — the skeletal piano work, Paul’s chiming in on the refrain — drive the song along nicely, too.

I’ll Cry Instead: The beginning of John Lennon’s more introspective lyrics, for anyone who cares to look. Behind the usual driving beat and bouncing guitar work hides the man with “a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet.” Happily(?), John didn’t remain in this submerge-the-sad-lyrics-in-happy-music phase forever.

Things We Said Today: One of Paul McCartney’s most nicely understated songs, about romantic memories recalled in less romantic times. Only the Hard Day’s Night version carries the full beauty of this song; the two “live” versions (on The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and Live at the BBC) cut the song short and derive it of its haunting power.

When I Get Home: Judging from the orgiastic vocal delivery on the refrain, this will not be a typical “How was your day, dear?”-type conversation.

You Can’t Do That: Far more unfortunate than the Beatles songs laced with drug references and incomprehensible lyrics are the tunes that are mainlined with early Lennon misogyny, of which this song is a prime example. The lyrics indicate that the singer’s girl is to talk to no other male except him–perhaps not the most enlightened message to be sending to your screaming female fans. Stranger still is the way these lyrics are delivered with a cheery, smiling face (as seen in the Hard Day’s Night outtake shown in the “making of” documentary of this movie), as though nothing untoward was being sung. It’s a chilling precursor to The Police’s Every Breath You Take two decades later.

I’ll Be Back: The Anthology 1 early takes on this song showed that the jauntiness of the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack just wouldn’t cut it for a more thoughtful approach. The final version nailed it beautifully.

What do you think of A Hard Day’s Night and/or any of its songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. Coming tomorrow: Beatles for Sale.