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THE BEATLES

The Beatles

 

Proto-Prog

4.15 | 526 ratings

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Kotro
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Sexy maharishis and flaming ashtrays

I've never been much of a Beatles fan. I always found them to be excellent pop songwriters, but at times inconsistent and not really producers of masterpieces. Even their apparent breakthroughs in music never seemed to impress me as much, in comparison to what the Beach Boys were doing. Plus I couldn't get past all of that cheesy pop they put out every once in a while. And yet, after the personally disappointing beat-psychedelic pop of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the band seemed to get in touch with raw emotions for the first time, perhaps as a result of their retreat in India, but most likely because of growing dissention in the band. It is amusing, however, that coming from India the band got back to work with a bag of musical ideas. from the States. That's right, there is not a bloody sitar in sight, only electric and acoustic guitars aplenty, and inspirations from 30's dance-hall music, John Cage, the blues and The Beach Boys.

In fact, the boys who gave us such great pop music are honoured in the album opener, Back In The U.S.S.R., along with obvious not to Chuck Berry. The groove and harmonies are typical BB, but the Beatles rock a bit more, featuring some great electric guitar work, a feature that goes into the following song, Dear Prudence, a groovy ballad also featuring a great drum and bass line. The grooviness is also captured in the third track, Glass Onion, a Beatles song mocking the Beatles. Features the use of orchestral instrumentation in the background, lurking behind the dominating guitar, bass and drums that drive the song forward. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is quite a shift from the more rocking style with which the album opened. It sounds almost like a carnival soundtrack, very merry but with the potential to be quite annoying in case of overexposure. It does not, however, reach the annoying levels of early 20's sounding country song Wild Honey Pie, a small piece that serves as an intro to The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill - featuring (quite discernible) vocals from Yoko Ono, on a track that would not sound out of place in a sing-along- on-the-bus-as-we-make-way-for-a-camping-trip-kind-of-song. Just as all the clapping near the end is beginning to annoy, the song is swiftly cut to make way for the next one. After a whole bunch of Lennon and/or McCartney songs, we are treated to the first Harrison-penned song of the album - and what a contribution it is! While My Guitar Gently Weeps is probably one of the most memorable songs from this album, and rightly so. George's fledging vocals and guest star Eric Clapton's fingers in the guitar give this song an aura of warm despair and immortality. And it rocks, too. Just as much as the grim Lennon song that follows, Happiness Is A Warm Gun - Lennon would soon find that out for himself. History apart, it is an excellent track, moody and dark, and immensely rich in rhythm changes, from folk ballad to blues to psychedelia all in just under 2 minutes and 44 seconds. After the depressing note that ended Side One we are forced too seek comfort - no one knows who really is Martha My Dear, but she is well remembered in this lovely song which begins as another take on 30's music-hall to then turn into a pop with a classical twist song, featuring the use of a brass ensemble. I'm So Tired is a return to the melancholic rock of Lennon which really drenches this album. Then there is the classic McCartney acoustic ballad Blackbird. We are then once more presented with a genius contribution from Harrison, this time in the form of the two minute baroque-sounding social satire Piggies. Rocky Raccoon is a wild western-flavoured song, both in theme and music. Next up we get Ringo's first writing credit - and it is, surprisingly, a very good one: Don't Pass Me By features excellent vocals and violin playing, in a sort of folkish jig song. Why Don't We Do It In The Road is a small piano-driven blues by Paul, pretty standard, but amusing all the same, courtesy of McCartney's raucous vocals - so different from his next track, the romantic ballad I Will.The first disc ends in this mellow tone, with John Lennon's elegy to his mother, Julia, another small (as most of the songs on this album) acoustic ballad.

Tea break. Damn, this is one long Beatles album - but oh so fun! Movin'on.

Birthday opens Side 3 in the same way as the album opener - a fast paced Rock n'Roll track, featuring some heavy guitar riffs and excellent drumming. The heavy intro does not stop here as it's followed by the heavy blues track Yer Blues, another Lennon track where he should be more careful about what he said. Four minutes of pretty standard anger-drenched blues-rock. It is followed by Blackbird part 2. Sorry, I mean Mother Nature's Son, another folky ballad by Macca. Rock n'Roll returns to scene, again by the hand of Lennon, in the form of Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me & My Monkey. John pens another one with Sexy Sadie, a soft rockin' groovy track with a nice beat and lush arrangements. Next up is Paul trying to be funny, and failing miserably - Helter Skelter has been immensely praised over the years, but the image I get from hearing it is of small boys with big guns. Paul can hardly sing in tone, with all the effort he makes to simply be loud. The drums are completely out of place, beating in such a slow rhythm as opposite to the guitar riff. There are indeed some good electric guitar licks and interesting vocal harmonies. But overall it's just too cacophonic and disorderly, a kind of music that the Beatles simply weren't cut out to produce. Best moment? Ringo's hilarious line I've got blisters on my fingers!. I am thus grateful for the peace that ensues in the form of Long Long Long, Side 3 closer by George Harrison. Some see it as perfectly superfluous, others as one of the most underrated Beatles track - I fall somewhere in the middle, finding it an excellent ballad and a good balance for the previous track, but something easily topped by the Beatles and Harrison himself. Flipping the record we are greeted by a call for change - Revolution 1 opens Side 4 with a typical blues electric guitar lick and sound effects. John sings calmly in-between occasional power chords and orchestral bursts. Honey Pie is another Paul trip into early 20th century music, in a very well executed music-hall jazz kind of song. Harrison's final songwriting credit of the album is Savoy Truffle, a personal favourite, a crazy piece of music, groovy, orchestral, jazzy and bluesy all at the same time, featuring excellent vocals, electric guitar, saxophones and electric piano. Cry Baby Cry is another mid-tempo soft-rock track, ending 2 and a half minutes into it for an non-credited Macca song. After Paul failed attempt at hard-rock , we are treated to John failed attempt at experimental music - rather than a real composition, Revolution 9 is more of a long collage of pre-recorded sounds - orchestras, crowds, movies, studio chatter and other random and assorted recordings, all glued together with no apparent order. I'm not so keen on the track by itself, but it's simply a great weird piece to include in the album, especially towards the ending, and especially before the closing lullaby Good Night, penned by Lennon, sung by Ringo, and featuring extremely lush orchestral arrangements courtesy of George Martin. I simply love the way the chaos of Revolution 9 flows into this lovely and orderly piece, and I just can't imagine them ever played apart.

So, why is this the best Beatles album? First off, its more of a rock album than anything they did before, which for my taste is an important feature. John Lennon's song are especially noteworthy in that aspect, in the same way Paul McCartney excels in his ballads and songs his granny would enjoy, but not so much on his rockers. Harrison pens four songs, and all four are among the best of the album (makes me wish he had even more). Even Ringo has a memorable contribution. Being the longest Beatles album, it could also have a lot of space taken by useless filler - and yet it doesn't: not all songs are brilliant (some are far from it), but there is not a single one I would like to see scratched from the album. It's a big, ridiculously diverse album, but at the same time quite consistent, which is quite remarkable given its structure and all the ill-feeling among the members of the band (in fact, among the entire Beatles machine) at the time. It's their most honest and down-to-earth album, and that is probably the reason for why it shines among their entire discography.

Kotro | 4/5 |

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