Blogging the Beatles 34/35: A Collection of Beatles Oldies and Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas single…and more

Saying “no” for the first time in years must have come as a deep relief to the Beatles.

By the end of 1966, two versions of the band existed. On the one hand, there was the happy-go-lucky, plucky, mop-topped foursome seen by the media and the fans. They were the boys with the quick wit and the catchy and simple pop songs everyone knew and loved. They were the boys seen in A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and the American cartoon series. On the other hand…they were four utterly exhausted young men, four professional musicians stuck in an unending purgatory of inane press questions, and surrounded by mindless screaming fans who couldn’t hear a damn note they played anyway. They were a band recording songs miles away from the simplicity of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, songs they couldn’t play live because they were too complex (not to mention the fans still wanted “She Loves You” three years on). They were desperate to move on, before they became sad caricatures of themselves.

By the fall of 1966, they’d had enough. They stopped touring, passed up a large number of public appearances (and willingly provided their “promotional films” for a reasonable price instead), and, to top it all off, decided not to record a second album for the year. Brian Epstein was understandably frustrated and worried, but in the end he accepted the truth that his charges had simply had enough. With this, Epstein, George Martin, and the band all agreed that they would at least put something out for the Christmas season, and EMI decided on a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. It would only be released in the UK and created primarily to ensure that a majority of the group’s songs and singles were available in the UK, including the rarity “Bad Boy” (only released on the US album Beatles VI in 1965 at that point).

In effect, there would be no new releases for the band, at least not until 1967, with a single in February and a new album in June. It was an extremely risky move for any band, but they felt their sanity and their health was worth that risk.

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Album: A Collection of Beatles’ Oldies
Released: 9 December 1966

This production was a relatively quick gathering of hits from the past three years, with just a bit of tweaking. The album was to be released in both mono and stereo (just like the previous albums), and considering that all the UK singles to this point had been released only in mono, this called for five of the tracks to quickly be remixed into stereo. This job was given to George Martin, who worked on them over four days (31 October, 7 November, 8 November, and 10 November), with nary a Beatle in sight. The earlier tracks proved to be a bit trickier–many of the 1963 tracks had been recorded on two-track, which necessitated a “fake stereo” remix of “She Loves You” (the original master had been destroyed, so engineer Geoff Emerick created one by placing the low end frequencies on the left and the high end frequencies on the right) and a sort-of-stereo remix of “From Me to You” (the two-track tape divided, music on the left and the vocals on the right). The others were tidied up, and by the last day everything was good to go.

Side A
Track 1: She Loves You
From the single, originally released 23 August 1963.
Track 2: From Me to You
From the single, originally released 11 April 1963.
Track 3: We Can Work It Out
From the ‘Day Tripper’/’We Can Work It Out’ single, originally released 12 March 1965.
Track 4: Help!
From the single, originally released 23 July 1965, and the album Help!, originally released 6 August 1965.
Track 5: Michelle
From the album Rubber Soul, originally released 3 December 1965.
Track 6: Yesterday
From the album Help!, originally released 6 August 1965.
Track 7: I Feel Fine
From the single, originally released 27 November 1964.
Track 8: Yellow Submarine
From the ‘Yellow Submarine’/’Eleanor Rigby’ single and the album Revolver, both originally released 5 August 1966.

Side B
Track 1: Can’t Buy Me Love
From the single, originally released 20 March 1964, and the album A Hard Day’s Night, originally released 10 July 1964.
Track 2: Bad Boy
The sole “new” track, at least in the UK. This Larry Williams original was recorded the same night (10 May 1965) as another Williams track, “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”. In an extremely rare move, this song was recorded specifically for the American market, who were at this time still creating their own Beatle discography separate from the official UK one. They’d figured the cover might show up on a UK EP sometime later, but never surfaced until this compilation. It’s one of their many pre-fame covers, and so they were able to record it quickly (seven takes of a two and a half minute song, plus overdubbed vocals).
Track 3: Day Tripper
From the ‘Day Tripper’/’We Can Work It Out’ single.
Track 4: A Hard Day’s Night
From the single, and the album A Hard Day’s Night, both originally released 10 July 1964.
Track 5: Ticket to Ride
From the single, originally released 9 April 1965, and the album Help!, originally released 6 August 1965.
Track 6: Paperback Writer
From the single, originally released 10 June 1966.
Track 7: Eleanor Rigby
From the ‘Yellow Submarine’/’Eleanor Rigby’ single and the album Revolver, both originally released 5 August 1966.
Track 8: I Want to Hold Your Hand
From the single, originally released 29 November 1963.


All in all, a quick release for the always-busy fourth quarter, but for a band that had only been recording professionally for just shy of four years, it was an excellent cross-section of their many and varying sounds over that time.  In retrospect, it’s also a great overview of what would be the first half of the Beatles’ main output:  well-crafted and catchy pop, interspersed with the occasional stroke of early genius.

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Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas
Released to the Beatles’ Official Fan Club: 16 December 1966

This was quite a change from their previous Christmas releases, and quite possibly their most enjoyable. Instead of being semi-written by their press secretary Tony Barrow, the boys took it upon themselves to write ten short and silly pantomimes–a long-standing British holiday tradition of short and often humorous skits and music put on for family or audiences. The band had done their fair share of them over the years, both with family and with the Christmas shows they’d put on at the Hammersmith Odeon. Recorded not at Abbey Road but in the basement studio of their music publishing office, Dick James Music, it contains a few short original songs similar to old vaudeville tunes interspersed with equally short (and often unresolved!) skits. The end result is nearly seven minutes of comic absurdity and silliness.

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It may have seemed to the public that the band had decided to take the rest of the year off, but in reality they remained busy, just on their own terms. It just so happened that they were now in between recording contracts–the previous one had been fulfilled by the singles and the Collection album–and a new one would not arrive until late January 1967, so they did not need to write or record a thing if they didn’t want to. They were at a crossroads–they were no longer a touring band, they had no pressing projects, and their music had evolved beyond anyone’s expectations. They were truly at a point where they could do whatever they wanted.

Once all recording was done for Revolver and the last tour was finished, the four went their separate ways to contemplate their next moves.

John took up director Richard Lester’s offer to take a role in his next film, How I Won the War, and filming took place between 6 September and 6 November (a week in West Germany, and the rest of the time in southern Spain). He shocked the world and got an army-regulation haircut and was given a pair of round-framed National Health glasses for the role of Private Gripweed. The hair quickly grew out after filming, but the glasses became a signature look and to this day are still sometimes referred to as “Lennon specs”. Of course, the schedule of a film production is often long and sometimes quite boring, with a lot of standing around, and not much to do when one is not needed. John of course spent his evenings reading and visiting friends, and writing music. It was here that he would write what would be their next single and take the band into a new and uncharted direction.

Paul, in the meantime, kept busy with friends and family. Earlier in the year he’d purchased and moved into a house on Cavendish Avenue in London, conveniently a few blocks away from Abbey Road Studios, and not too far from Mick Jagger’s house in Regent’s Park. In addition to this, now that he’d gotten his own place, he found himself immersed in art. In late 1965 and early 1966 he’d helped friends open up the Indica Gallery in London, and to decorate his new house he’d started purchasing artworks. He found himself fascinated by Belgian surrealist René Magritte and purchased a few of his paintings, including one of an apple–which would, in a year or so down the line, be the inspiration for their next venture, Apple Corps. And lastly, in late November he had tapped Epstein’s production company for a possible movie scoring project. Out of that came the score for The Family Way, a Hayley Mills drama-comedy based on the 1963 play All In Good Time. The music itself was recorded by George Martin with an orchestra, but one can definitely hear McCartneyisms in the soundtrack. Much of the incidental music contains simple passages that don’t amount to too much, but the recurring theme, later dubbed “Love In the Open Air” for a single release, has Paul writing a haunting yet beautiful theme that could fit easily alongside “For No One” or “In My Life”. [Interestingly, this soundtrack is often not considered the first solo Beatle release, as Paul only scored it but did does not appear on the record.]

George, on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted to do with his spare time. Since hearing the Indian music played during the restaurant scene in Help!, he’d become fascinated not only with the music but the culture. In early September he flew to India to study the sitar, as well as learn Yoga and philosophy. The journey would be a pivotal one, as it would change his whole outlook on life and become an extremely spiritual person until his passing in 2001. It would also deeply affect his songwriting, which he felt had been stuck in stasis for years (not to mention stifled by his bandmates John and Paul), and had only begun to truly bloom on Revolver. Upon return, his songs would still be overshadowed by the others, but they would be much stronger and more confident. By 1968 he would have his own movie to score (the trippy misfire Wonderwall), and by 1970 he would have a double album’s worth of songs ready to release to wild acclaim.

Ringo, of course, decided to do little but stay with his family in Surrey for the time they spent apart. It may have been the least adventurous thing to do, but given their schedule since they began years ago, I would most likely have chosen the same thing!

By the time they reconvened on 24 November, they began recording that song John had written in Spain, and kick off a new phase of their recording career.

Next Up: The “Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” single and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Blogging the Beatles 31/32/33: “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single, Revolver, and “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby” single

It had certainly been one hell of a ride for the Beatles in the few years they’d been a professional (and prolific) band with hit singles and albums. Considering their auspicious debut in the autumn of 1962, the two albums a year, the non-album singles, concerts, television and radio appearances, and two feature films, they’d done all this with rarely any time to unwind. It was a runaway train with way too many people at the switch, and something was due to go catastrophically wrong sometime soon. If they were going to continue as a band, the four boys would definitely need to gain some personal control pretty damn quick.

It seemed that the first half of 1966 would be relatively calm and pretty much the same as it had the last two years–go out on tour, do the usual media appearances, and somehow squeeze the recording of an album in there. This time they gave themselves some breathing room: three full months of vacation! From January to April, the public at large saw neither hide nor moptopped hair of the band. This time is for the most part unchronicled, but most biographies have the four going their separate ways and doing their own thing: John living at his home in Weybridge and weighing his future with Cynthia and son Julian; Paul with his on-again, off-again relationship with Jane Asher, George thinking about his future (and near the end of the year, post-tour, heading over to India to expand his knowledge of Indian music), and Ringo mainly hanging with family and everyone else. It was only three months, but it was a much needed escape from the nonstop insanity they could barely escape. By 6 April they were back in the studio, ready to record their next album. As they had no feature film to shoot this time out, they could afford to take their time on this, and they gave themselves a good two and a half months on this project, recording up until 21 June.

From there, they would go on yet another globe-trotting tour until August. They had not told anyone this (and had only mentioned it to the closest members of their inner circle), but at this point they had already decided that this was going to be their last ever tour, at least until further notice. It had ceased being fun for them. More often than not, they had little idea of what city they were in, given that they had become their own prisoners, locked up in hotels night after night. More importantly, the technology of live rock music had not caught up with the clamoring fans at this point; their amplifiers barely reached over the ear-splitting din of thousands of screaming teenagers. They’d admitted as much that their musicianship had faltered to the point of substandard because they couldn’t hear themselves play half the time. Even the ever-jovial John had become outright nasty at times on the tours, yelling at the crowd to shut up–not that they could hear him, of course.

But unhinged fans and the nonexistence of upgraded equipment weren’t the only problems during this touring season. In early April, John had been speaking with a journalist friend, Maureen Cleave, about music and life in general, and John relished this as an intelligent interview–instead of the ridiculously silly questions they were always hit with (about their hair, what kind of drinks they like–the same silly and inane questions they’d heard since 1963!), he was given a platform to talk about real things–what did he feel about the world in general? At that point, he’d been reading a lot about religion (more on this later), and he’d uttered the (in)famous words “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now.” An off-the-cuff statement to be sure, but he hadn’t meant that as a slur at all; he’d meant that his fans were more excited and involved with popular media (and the Beatles in particular) than they were about religion. It has been published in the London Evening Standard soon after, with very little fanfare. It wasn’t until late July, that Datebook, a US teen magazine, reprinted the quote and blew it into a major scandal. The resulting outcry led to record banning and burning, angry fans (particularly in specific areas of the US). John later recanted and explained himself, but the damage had been done. Many of their remaining US dates were hit with suspiciously “accidental” problems such as lack of canopy during an outdoor show, locked gates at terminals, and halfhearted security.

That wasn’t all; in June they had played their only shows in Japan, a five-show/three-day event at Nippon Budokan–at that time a sacred arena only reserved for judo matches, which caused a major flap there. Their next show was on 4 July in the Philippines, which ended up a complete fiasco: they’d publicly been invited to visit President Marcos and a number of young fans at the Palace–which they had no prior knowledge of until the last minute–and had refused to commit due to it being scheduled under an hour before showtime. This was perceived as a slight against the country, and the government made sure their remaining time in the country was as hellish as possible. They’d been charged with not paying income taxes from the show’s receipts (which the promoter was currently withholding); the security that was to escort them from the hotel to the airport had curiously been withdrawn; the airport manager had refused to give them assistance; authorities had conveniently “lost” the records of the band arriving, thus making them potential illegal immigrants. And after all was said and done and the band and entourage had finally lifted off, the government sent out a Parthian shot to the press stating that the Beatles had meant no slight to the First Lady at all. By far, one of the worst touring experiences of any band, ever.

By the time they finished playing their last ever show in front of a paying audience at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 31 August, George (supposedly) said it best as their plane took off: “Well, that’s it. I’m not a Beatle anymore.” They had had enough.

It was time to become a full-fledged studio band.

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Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “Paperback Writer”/”Rain”
Released: 10 June 1966

The band’s latest recording sessions in 1966 continued the sonic exploration and invention they’d begun with the Rubber Soul sessions the year before, moving further into uncharted territories. They weren’t so much given carte blanche in the studio, as much as they’d just gone ahead and done it without asking to see if they could get away with it. April had been quite the month for inventing new sounds, and on the 14th and 16th of that month they worked on what would become their next non-album single. They’d stretched the boundaries lyrically and musically with their previous single “We Can Work It Out” with its multiple segments and changing time signatures, but now they began playing with sonic changes–variable speed, pumped up bass lines, and even reversed tape. This single would be the gateway to an all-new Beatles sound that would far outpace not just their previous efforts, but those of their peers.

Side A: Paperback Writer
The new Beatle sound invites us in with a glorious multilayered a capella vocal from Paul, John and George, and kicked into high gear with Ringo’s incredibly fast-paced drumming (listen closely to his high-hat triplets between the third and fourth beat) and a stellar riff from Paul that repeats throughout the song. There’s some question as to whether that’s also Paul on the bass (session worker Ian McDonald claims that’s Paul on bass and George on guitar, but session pictures show the opposite), but regardless, the bass line is the key here. Story goes that John had once questioned a few people as to why the bass guitar in a certain Wilson Pickett song sounded so much more up front than any Beatles track to that date, and this particular sound was the result. Historically, the bass at that time was mixed relatively low to avoid the stylus on record players from jumping from the vibrations, but thanks to a recent acquisition of equipment by EMI that could create louder and deeper master recordings, they were able to punch up the low end. The result was the first Beatles single mixed louder than anything they’d previously done.

Also of note is the link above to the official visual for the song–the band had previously toyed with proto-music videos in 1965, but they had all been shot on video with very little thought to quality or expense. With this song and its flipside, however, they’d hired director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to shoot visuals on film. The end result was a new unexpected visual for music at the time–in color and in higher definition, in a real setting instead of on a prefabricated stage. As they had decided not to tour anymore and would cut down considerably on media appearances, they had decided this would be the best form of promotion from here on in.

Side B: Rain
This stunning b-side has all sorts of interesting tricks up its sleeve, starting with its speed, of all things. Deep into their growing love for studio experimentation, they found that slowing tracks down often gave their songs a fuller, beefier sound (especially with the guitars–that low note just past the breakdown is one hell of a great gut-punch), and it’s quite evident on this track. The backing track was recorded nearly a half-step up and slowed down at normal speed, while John’s vocal was recorded at a slower speed to play faster in playback. There’s also the well-documented first appearance of a backwards recording in a Beatles song, the first line of the first verse inserted in backwards at the end of the song. Ringo often stated this was one of his personal favorites they recorded, and it’s not hard to see why–he shows quite a masterful sense of timing here, not just with the opening beats (that first double-hit is on the upbeat) but with the breakdown near the end of the song.

[Note: There were three promotional films shot for this–one is in color at Chiswick House, and two takes in black and white in an otherwise darkened studio. The version I’ve linked to here was shown during the Anthology TV series, and is an edit of all three.]

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Album: Revolver
Released: 5 August 1966

This album was destined from the start to be unlike any other album out there. They had always kept their public appearances and their personal creations separate, always aiming to write and record music on their own terms and not others’. With very few exceptions–the written-to-order “A Hard Day’s Night” and the occasional song written specifically for another performer–they catered only to their own whims. This was especially important as all four were uniquely and actively creative in their own ways, and were always keen on trying something new…especially if it hadn’t been done before by anyone else. Setting the tone for the entire sessions, the first track recorded would sound unlike anything else out there at the time. And given that they’d only recorded “She Loves You” just shy of three years previous, it was indeed a step in a direction no one else would have expected of the band at all.

The album set the standard for electric guitar-based rock, inspired thousands of musicians, consistently reaches a high placing in any “best albums of all time” charts, and is often touted as the top favorite Beatles album of many fans (including myself). The whole album is bursting with creativity, even down to the collage-and-drawing cover done by their Hamburg friend Klaus Voormann. There’s also the introduction of a new recording technique–artificial double-tracking, or ADT–which would automatically double-track their vocals, leaving the laborious task of double-tracking themselves to the tape operator. In short, the vocals would be slightly altered by an oscillator and thus creating a second, perfectly-matched vocal line that would fill out the vocal delivery. It’s an album full of classic Beatle moments, fresh new ideas, and hardly a weak filler song in the bunch. It’s a record so perfect for the band that even the four members considered it one of their best achievements.

Side A

Track 1: Taxman
The album starts out with the first of three Harrison tunes, this time a clever (and literal) dig at the price of fame. It’s an incredibly tight recording–so tight it sounds sparse, full of clipped notes and short, harsh guitar fills with sixth and ninth chords, and a scathing attack of a guitar solo. It was recorded a few weeks into the new sessions (started 21 April and finished sometime later), and while it doesn’t contain any real experimentation, it does benefit from the new louder sound mixing. This turned into a fan favorite many years down the road, to the point that The Jam “borrowed” the sound for their single “Start!” in 1980.

Track 2: Eleanor Rigby
Paul’s first track is a hauntingly beautiful ballad that, like “Yesterday”, features only himself on vocals (with John and George only contributing to the “ahh look at all the lonely people” chorus), but bypasses that song on a number of levels. While the former song is a sad lament, this is a bleak character study of missed opportunities and, yes, lonely people–another example of songwriting they’d never tried before. George Martin scored the string octet (four violins, two violas and two cellos), giving the song a baroque feel. Interestingly it was agreed by not just Paul and Martin but the session musicians that playing sans vibrato gave the track an even sadder feel. [Another one of my top favorite tracks of theirs for quite a few reasons!]

Track 3: I’m Only Sleeping
This trippy song of John’s is another good example of his writing a song about nothing…but in this case, it’s inspired by his purposely doing nothing. The three month respite had seen him do little but hang out in his Weybridge home, watching television, napping, and doing little else (aside from some recreational drug use), and it was a blessedly needed change from the frenetic pace of the last few years. In retrospect, this could be a parallel to his much later solo song “Watching the Wheels”–the theme is nearly the same, dismissing the nonstop movement of society and instead accepting his own leisurely pace. Of note here is another appearance of reversed recording–this time it’s Paul and George noodling around in the studio to create a backwards guitar solo.

[In another example of always finding something new every time I listen to this band, I always thought that sound at exactly 2:00 in was Paul or John making an odd noise in the studio, but it’s actually Paul yawning!]

Track 4: Love You To
George returns with a second track, and his first song directly inspired by his growing love for Indian music. Recorded in a single evening, it features George as the sole Beatle on nearly the entire track; Ringo is present on tambourine and Paul provided early takes on backing vocals (which did not make the final mix). Nearly everything else is played and sung by George alone, with only session musician Anil Bhagwat playing the tabla. It’s a phenomenal track that mixes the mystical sound of Indian instruments (a gorgeous alap intro holds the song for a full half minute before everything else joins in) with a distinctly English electric guitar providing counterpoint. Certainly an incredible step from three years previous when he wrote “Don’t Bother Me”.

Track 5: Here, There and Everywhere
As Rubber Soul inspired Brian Wilson to record the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, thus Pet Sounds inspired Paul to write this gentle but gorgeous ballad. It’s surprisingly simple all around–its lyrics harken back to their early love songs, and the vocal delivery is merely a shifting triad chord (the first, third and fifth notes in an octave). But its simplicity is what gives it its charm–it’s a beautifully crafted and timeless pop gem that could have been released at any point in time and still work. Both Paul and John considered this one of their top favorite Beatle tracks.

Track 6: Yellow Submarine
Ringo’s vocal turn this time out is an absolutely charming and lovable song written by Paul and John, specifically for him. This time out it’s an imaginative song of fantasy, a story of living in a fanciful submarine where everyone could come and live and play. Paul had envisioned it as an old fisherman telling tall tales to a youngster–the original version (found on the b-side of the “Real Love” single) has an spoken word introduction that captures the feel of nautical adventures. Even the recording itself sounds like a party–there’s whooshing waves, burbling bubbles, fleet calls, steamship noises, marching feet, clanging chains and a singalong at the end, all recorded 1 June. It might by a silly and slight song, but it’s still loved by many, and would be used as the theme (musically and plotwise) to their next film a few years later.

Track 7: She Said She Said
Another trippy song from John, this time a track inspired not just by LSD but by a strange poolside conversation he and George had had with actor Peter Fonda back in August of 1965. Multiple sources offer varying versions of what happened that day other than that nearly everyone had gotten wasted on the drug, and that Fonda had been saying increasingly weird things that alternately fascinated and bothered the band. This track is nearly a throwaway, as it had been hastily written and ended up being the last thing recorded for the sessions when they realized they were one song short.

Side B

Track 1: Good Day Sunshine
Paul opens up the second side with an upbeat vaudevillian-style pop song partly inspired by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream”. While John might sing about sleeping, Paul prefers the great outdoors here, ready to take a lovely walk in the park. It’s a relatively sparse sing, with Paul on piano and bass, and Ringo on drums–George and John do not play on this song, only offering backing vocals. At the time, this was considered one of the quickest Beatle songs put to tape; after a number of taped but uncounted run-throughs, they recorded three takes of the backing track and chose Take 1 as the best, then sprinkled a few overdubs here and there over the following days. Of note is George Martin’s honky-tonk piano solo, recorded at a slower speed to make it sound peppier.

Track 2: And Your Bird Can Sing
There’s some speculation as to what (or who) this song of John’s is really about, but that’s secondary to what is probably some of the best guitar playing of the Beatles career up to this point. George and Paul play in tandem here, releasing a wonderfully chiming riff that opens the song and punctuates each verse, and comes to a ringing coda on an unexpected note. It’s an incredibly fun song that might not be about anything at all–so much so that the Anthology version has John and Paul breaking up into hysterics as they try to lay down vocals.

Track 3: For No One
As if to counterpoint the upbeat qualities of the two previous songs, Paul comes back with another ballad, this one a bitter take on a relationship nearing its end. The entire song sounds fragile: the high piano is doubled by an equally high clavichord (both played by Paul), with Ringo providing slight percussion duties. Session player Alan Civil plays a delicate French horn passage (Paul had heard him play on the radio a few nights previous and felt it would be a perfect fit) that’s both uplifting and melancholy at the same time. This one isn’t so much a song about regret, as it is about acceptance and relief, and enduring the pain.

Track 4: Doctor Robert
One thing can be said about John’s mid-era Beatles songs–he was able to write about something (or in this case, someone) in his life and hide it in plain sight. In this case, it’s a fun, lightweight pop song with innocuous lyrics about a doctor with the ability to make you feel better no matter what the ailment (and in reality, a paean to one or more people they knew who supplied them with drugs). The lyrics are very typical of the British folk movement, short melodramatic vignettes about one person or another, so if you weren’t aware of the band’s recreational drug use at the time, it would fit in perfectly alongside “Yellow Submarine” as nothing more than fluff.

Track 5: I Want to Tell You
George’s third offering is a fabulous piece of subtlety–on the surface it sounds like a man in love at a loss for words, but the further you go, the song is really about the inability to truly express one’s thoughts and emotions, fighting for the right words to say that may or may not be there. To expand on the frustration in the lyrics, George “created” a new chord at the end of each verse, hitting an E-flat 7th chord with an F thrown in to give it a noticeable dissonance. It’s not just the chords, either; the drums are loud and loose, as is Paul’s piano playing, giving the mix a somewhat slippery feeling…making it just that much harder to grasp whatever it is George is trying to say.

Track 6: Got to Get You Into My Life
This could very well be yet another drug-inspired song (Paul, in his book Many Years from Now, casually mentions that it’s about marijuana), but musically, it’s a fabulous and energetic homage to the sounds of Tamla Motown soul. Three trumpets and two tenor saxophones almost take center stage on this song, miked with the pickups inside the bells, that it comes out as one impressive wall of noise. It took them some time to figure out exactly how they wanted this one to sound, as they’d recorded the main backing tracks on 7 April, but didn’t get around to adding the horns and vocals until 17 June. In turn, ended up an excellent and well-loved pop tune.

Track 7: Tomorrow Never Knows
It’s hard to find the best words for this track, as it’s considered one of the biggest defining moments in the Beatles catalogue. It’s just on the verge of avant-garde, just shy of being an Indian raga, and still manages to be a full-fledged rock song the likes of which no one had ever heard before. Inspired by the recent books on religion John was reading at the time, he came up with this absolutely stunning track. The first thing you hear is the droning tamboura, dizzily pulling you into a wild ride of metaphysical lyrics, a tape-looped jungle of unearthly sound effects, and some of the most unbridled instrument playing and sound production they’d ever put to tape. John’s voice is filtered through a rotating Leslie speaker on the last verse, Ringo beats the hell out of his kit with a jilted beat, Paul hammers on the bass and provides a reversed guitar solo, and George doubles himself on sitar. It’s just shy of three minutes long and never leaves the key of C, but it’s one hell of a ride. And consider this: the track was recorded on the first day of the Revolver sessions…a mere three years after they recorded “She Loves You”. For quite obvious reasons, this song is considered one a top favorite of quite a number of fans–including myself, of course–simply because it’s one of those songs that leaves you completely speechless.

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Revolver can easily be considered the start of the next phase of the Beatles discography. While it might bear some slight resemblance to its predecessor–songs like “Doctor Robert” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” fit quite nicely on the US album Yesterday and Today alongside the singles and Rubber Soul tracks on that album–it remains its own entity as well. While the previous album was more acoustic and folk oriented, Revolver is most definitely a rock record, aimed at amplification. It also proved that if the band was given time and space and little disruption, they could stretch their boundaries even further. If they gave themselves two and a half months to work on a masterpiece, one could only wonder what would happen, now that they were no longer a touring band.

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Single: “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby”
Released: 5 August 1966

There’s not too much to add here that I haven’t already mentioned above, other than that this single ended up being their second deliberate “double A side” single (either song could be the radio hit), and the first single with Ringo on lead vocals. And despite the simplicity of the song (and the ongoing negative media frenzy due to John’s words on Christianity), it hit the top spot on the charts in the UK and hit number 2 in the US, blocked only by the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”.

And on a more personal note, this was the first Beatles single I ever owned–I don’t exactly remember how or where I procured it, but I know it was soon after I bought 1967-1970 (aka ‘The Blue Album’), and right about the same time I started obsessing over them and watching Yellow Submarine on TV each time it came on. I also distinctly remember being somewhat frightened by “Eleanor Rigby” as a child due to its haunting sound and lyrics–but I’ve definitely come to love this song as a wonderful piece of history.

Next Up: A Collection of Beatles’ Oldies and Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas

Walk in Silence: Love and Rockets, 5 Albums

[Hi all! And welcome to a new feature here at WiS–using the title of the blog (and my book project) as the main theme, I’ll be featuring albums from the college rock years of the 80s that have been personal favorites of mine. The entries will be similar to the Blogging the Beatles series–featuring overviews of some (if not all) songs from that release, personal reactions, and maybe a brief history as well. Hope you enjoy!]

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Love and Rockets: 5 Albums box set
Released: 13 May 2013 (UK)

Love and Rockets was a very influential band in my younger years. Back in autumn 1986, MTV had been pushing their second album, Express, by playing commercials for it, as well as playing the videos for “Ball of Confusion” and “All In My Mind” on their late night rotation (as well as on 120 Minutes when it went on the air that November). That was right about the same time I’d returned to listening to college radio after discovering it earlier that year, so that band became one of the foundation points when I jumped straight into the alternative rock sound. I’d picked up Express at the Rietta Ranch flea market in Hubbardston, of all places–and it became one of my favorite albums of that year. Over the course of four albums in the late 80s, I fell in love with their distinct sound of dreamy acoustic guitars, neo-psychedelia, and post-punk. They ended up influencing my own songwriting style as well.

The band itself has quite the pre-band history–it’s comprised of the three musicians from Bauhaus: guitarist/singer/songwriter Daniel Ash, bassist/singer/songwriter David J, and David’s brother, drummer Kevin Haskins. After the break-up of Bauhaus and singer Peter Murphy going solo, they kept themselves quite busy…Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins turned their part-time project Tones on Tail into a short-lived but full-time project, releasing one album and a handful of great singles. David J kept busy with both an impressive solo career (including work with comic writer Alan Moore, creating music for his V for Vendetta series) as well as studio assistance with The Jazz Butcher. By 1985 they’d reconvened and started up a new band. Taking their name from the highly acclaimed comic book of the same name by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, they created a unique body of music that borrowed not just from their previous bands’ sounds but also of the guitar-centric soundscapes gaining ground at the time, such as those of XTC and Cocteau Twins.

5 Albums is part of a new box set series from the UK Beggars Banquet label; this one comprises Love and Rockets’ four 80s albums–1985’s Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, 1986’s Express, 1987’s Earth Sun Moon and 1989’s Love and Rockets–plus an additional collection called Assorted! which contains a number of b-sides and rarities, including their one-off Bubblemen “side project” EP. The four main albums are for the most part the same as the 2000-2003 reissues with little change (the version of the self-titled album here omits the bonus cd, most of which was moved to Assorted, minus the radio interview and performance), and for those who have these already, only Assorted is of interest, as it contains many b-sides not available elsewhere, as well as the unreleased track “Sorted”. This box is mainly for those who are completists (like me), but it’s an absolutely wonderful–and cheap!–way to introduce yourself to a phenomenal band. Let’s take a look at a few of the albums and tracks therein:

The debut Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, originally released in October 1985, is steeped in acoustic post-punk and drenched in atmospheric reverb–all the tracks save one are over five minutes long and contain deliberately calculated instrumental passages that make the songs soar. Lyrically the band showed a complete 180 from the gothic references in Bauhaus, or even the trippiness of Tones on Tail, instead focusing on personal introspection. This one was only released in the UK at first, only making an appearance in the US in November of 1988 with a reshuffled track listing and two single b-sides added, after their second and third albums had been released.

There’s some lovely work here, especially the pastoral “A Private Future” and the absolutely stunning instrumental “Saudade”, both showcasing Daniel Ash’s phenomenal guitar work. There’s also a few curiosities like the deliberately plodding “The Game”, but there’s also bluesy rockers “Dog-End of a Day Gone By” and “Haunted When the Minutes Drag”. The latter track would get a boost in early 1988 when John Hughes featured it on the soundtrack to his movie She’s Having a Baby. This current version also contains their debut single, a cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”, which would also show up on the original US version of Express. All told, Seventh Dream is a stunning debut for the band–it’s not an album full of hit singles, but it’s certainly full of great musicianship and tight songwriting.

Express was released in mid-September of 1986, a banner year for quite a few bands that would define college rock–The Smiths, the Cure, Depeche Mode, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Chameleons, and more. Their second album is much more upbeat and a lot trippier, infusing their love for sixties’ psychedelic rock into all sorts of places. The one-two punch on the first tracks “It Could Be Sunshine” and “Kundalini Express” hint at garage psych with mystical lyrics and spacey guitars, setting the tone for a much more electric and eclectic album than the previous one. They’re followed up with the American single “All In My Mind”, which eerily predates and predicts the dreamy sound of shoegaze, which would surface nearly three years later. The album also has its share of acoustic tracks similar to those on Seventh Dream, including a much slower version of “All In My Mind”, as well as the closer “An American Dream”. But the ultimate psychedelic track on this album is the speedy “Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)”, a six-minute psychedelic freak-out of weird sounds, disjointed lyrics, and Bo Diddley strumming amped up to eleven. As mentioned earlier, many US fans were introduced to the band with this album, and it’s a great place to start.

Earth Sun Moon was released almost exactly one year later in September 1987–the same month that featured highly-lauded (and often game-changing) albums by The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Public Image Ltd, REM, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers–but instead the band had decided to go an altogether different route than the previous two albums. While Seventh Dream felt almost prog-rock in its scope and Express focused on psych-pop, this new track delved into the sound of late sixties San Francisco folk. It was no ‘peace-and-love’ album to be sure, but it had the philosophical ‘who are we and where are we headed’ vibe. The first track “Mirror People” sets the scene for the entire album, a self-aware metaphorical fence-sitter watching everyone act like everyone else, but deep down he knows he’s just as bad (“quite content to sit on this fence, quite content now a little bit older…”). This is a band that wants to have peace and love…but knows quite well that in reality, true peace and love, even inner peace, is hard to come by. The rest of the album focuses on this theme–the single “No New Tale to Tell” (Just how unique are we, compared to everyone else?), “Here On Earth” (Life goes on, with or without our participation), and “Waiting for the Flood” (We face what we’re afraid of in order to live) are just a few examples of how layered this album can be, despite its lack of strong sound. It’s one of my favorites of theirs, even though it’s considered one of their weakest.

Love and Rockets was released in September of 1989, and after a two year absence, their sound had moved in another direction…this time with loud, dissonant guitars, sparse, demo-like workouts, and even alternative pop. In some ways it sounds like they’d taken a page from the Jesus and Mary Chain, and in retrospect it was a perfect choice–by late 1989, the sound of “college rock” had morphed into the harder-edged “alternative rock” (and soon to splinter into all kinds of subgenres from Britpop to Grunge). For many who loved the more acoustic ballads of the previous albums, this was certainly a jolt. Preceded nine months earlier by the single “Motorcycle” / “I Feel Speed” (two completely different iterations of the same song, the former a ballsy rocker and the latter a dreamy blues played mostly on a bass guitar), this album also produced the band’s first Billboard Top 10 hit (it reached #3, and hit #1 on the Modern Rock chart) with the slinky, sexy “So Alive”. That hit track is the exception, though–while that one is perfect pop production, the rest of the album deliberately alternates between loud and clunky (“**** (Jungle Law)”, a middle-finger to one of their worst critics, and an industrial take on the 12-bar blues, “No Big Deal”) and quiet and dreamy (the lovely, jazzy “The Teardrop Collector” and the Bowie-esque “Rock and Roll Babylon”). It’s as if this album is self-titled on purpose; half blissful Love and half aggressive Rockets.

[This would be the last we see of the band for a good few years; they would finally reconvene in late 1994 with the electronica-heavy Hot Trip to Heaven, follow it up with the more organic Sweet FA in 1996, and finish their recording career with 1998’s disjointed Lift. These albums are interesting on their own, but aren’t quite as strong as the original first four.]

The new Assorted! compilation (only found as part of this box at this time) collects many b-sides and curiosities that aren’t already found on the repackaged previous albums. As mentioned earlier, most of the second disc of the reissue of the 1989 album is found here, including the unreleased Swing! EP, the lone Bubblemen EP, as well as the live b-sides found on “No New Tale to Tell” and “Mirror People ’88” singles which were not previously available. The only surprise here is an otherwise unreleased “Sorted”, an upbeat acoustic track that sounds like a demo stuck between Earth Sun Moon and Love and Rockets.

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I’ve been known to listen to all four of these albums in chronological order in one go, as they fit so well together, going from meandering acoustic noodling to heavily distorted noise. Love and Rockets are no more, but they’ve become one of the many important alternative bands of the 80s, not just through their heritage but through their excellent songwriting and musicianship. Many might know of them only through the “So Alive” single, but there’s quite a lot more to the band than just the hit. Sure, I picked it up because I’m a completist and needed the missing b-sides, but I also picked it up because they’re some of my favorite albums of the late 80s, and well worth coming back to time and again.

Fly-by; No post this weekend due to being afk

Hi all!  Thanks for following and reading…the wife and I will be enjoying a few days’ vacation the next few days, so I will not be able to update the Blogging the Beatles posts.  I’m bummed too, because I’m REALLY looking forward to writing about Revolver, one of my top favorite albums, not just of the band but in general.

I may, however, post a few short things before BtB returns on 6/15, perhaps a few microreviews of some of the great music I’ve been purchasing as of late.  That’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to do, and had planned before my previous PC went kerflooey.

Again, thanks for your patience.  See you soon!



Blogging the Beatles 28/29/30: “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out”, Rubber Soul and The Beatles Third Christmas Record

Summer 1965 found the Beatles heading back over to the United States for another round of touring.  These shows were definitely of interest, as they included a return engagement on The Ed Sullivan Show, their first appearance at Shea Stadium in New York, and two shows at the Hollywood Bowl (which were recorded and, along with songs from their 1964 appearances there, were edited, mixed (as much as they could be, at any rate) and released on May 1977’s The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl compilation).  Also of note is their stop in southern California at the end of August–on the 27th, they were driven to Beverly Hills to visit their one-time hero, Elvis Presley.  The meeting was less than stellar, as the story goes–the boys felt Elvis, who was already deep into his B-movie phase, was a bit of a sell-out, and apparently Elvis felt less than impressed by the band that stole his popularity.  The brief but busy tour ended on 31 August with two shows at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.  Thankfully, they were given six whole weeks off between that last show and recording time.

In hindsight, it was definitely one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things, recording and releasing two albums in one year.  They’d done so since their first albums in 1963, and back then it was considered important to keep oneself in the limelight throughout the year.  This was especially important during fourth quarter, when sales were the highest.  Even though Help! had been released at the start of August, they’d still need to create something new in time for the Christmas rush.  In 1963, this was probably not much of a problem, considering the band’s songwriting and recording were relatively quick and relatively easy.  Now two years later, their songs and recording styles were becoming more complex; they were no longer writing the simple love songs they could dash off in a day or so…they were now writing and recording songs with minute details and intricate melodies.  By 1965 and with about a month and a half to work with, coming up with sixteen completely new songs–fourteen for the album and two for the lead single–was going to be one hell of a chore.

The Rubber Soul sessions took exactly one month: 12 October to 11 November.  They were also a continuation of the nighttime sessions that would become typical of the band in their later years.  While many of the sessions for Help! had started in the early afternoon and occasionally lasted well into the late evening, the Rubber Soul sessions saw even more nights where they entered the studio mid-afternoon and stayed past midnight.  Most of this was due to the ridiculously tight deadline (the last day was a marathon thirteen-hour session lasting from 4pm to 7am the next morning), but at the same time the band (and Martin) had realized they felt more comfortable with a night shift.  This was partly due to the “studio boffins” (aka the house technical crew at Abbey Road, complete with white lab coats) having gone home for the night, leaving the boys to their own devices.  This would actually work well for them, as they could get away with more.  Many of their later sonic experiments–the phasing vocals of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the straight-to-mixing-board overmodulated sound of “Revolution”–would have given these boffins a heart attack, daring to abuse the machinery in such manner.  Of course, there was also the fact that this also left time for the boys to flex their social wings and meet up with friends and celebrities around town during the day.  This was especially embraced by Paul at the time, who had still been seeing socialite Jane Asher at the time.

Still…one month to record what would end up becoming a gamechanger of an album had to be equal parts luck, ability, and insanity.

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Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out”
Released: 3 December 1965

It had been an agreement between the band, George Martin, and Brian Epstein to have the singles contain all-new songs, or at least songs that had not been released on the album that had currently been released. This was not strictly adhered to, but for the most part they preferred to keep each release as “new” as possible. The end result was that both this single and Rubber Soul were released on the very same day, but are separate entities. Additionally, this is considered the band’s first “double A-sided” single, where both songs are considered the hit, instead of one being relegated to a forgotten b-side. They would return to this type of release multiple times in the future.

Side A: Day Tripper
This track was recorded on the third day of the sessions (16 October), and similar to their previous single-only track “I Feel Fine”, it starts off with one hell of a great guitar lick, courtesy of John, who wrote the majority of the track. However, it’s Paul who sings the main verses, most likely as the melody is more in his range than John’s. John however does come in to sing the lead on the chorus. This is also a good example of where they were at the time in terms of recording style: while the majority of that day’s session was given to this song, there were only three takes recorded, with most of the vocals and extra sounds overdubbed onto the third (and only complete) take later that night. John and Paul both considered this a throwaway song that was written too quickly, but it remains a classic and a great example of their new sound. While the base of this track is a variation on a twelve-bar blues and sped up, with an altered chord progression for the chorus, they make it their own with flair. There’s a delayed build-up of instruments at the intro (guitar, then bass, then rhythm guitar and percussion), the amusing commentary in the lyrics (Paul and John have said this song is mainly about “weekend hippies”, the wannabes of counterculture but only in their spare time), and at the 1:30 mark, instead of a middle eight, we have a glorious build-up-and-release before returning to the last verse and fade-out. All in all, a wonderful song.

Side B: We Can Work It Out
The flip side is equally fantastic, introduced to the group by Paul, with a significant amount of collaboration with John. This was also another example of a song arranged while recording in the studio, nearly all of it on 20 October. It’s mostly Paul’s song, a semi-autobiographical account of his current relationship with Jane Asher. Despite his misgivings in the relationship’s status, he remains positive, expecting everything to eventually work out. John, on the other hand, gives a counterpoint, both in verse and melody: we can certainly have our problems, but life’s too short to avoid fixing them. His short interlude is also in a minor key, adding to the tension. Even George offered something here, suggesting that short waltz-time passage in the midst of John’s section to add a bit of imbalance. It’s definitely a dark song, much more so than the tracks on Beatles for Sale–it’s more personal, and the resolution is left up in the air.

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Album: Rubber Soul
Released: 3 December 1965

Whereas Help! (especially the latter half) introduced us to the band’s growing interest in American folk of the sixties, Rubber Soul saw the Beatles fully embracing it and making it their own. There was also continued interest in American soul, especially the newer soul sound similar to Otis Redding and the like. American soul was being fully appropriated by a lot of British musicians at the time, especially the Rolling Stones, thus the “plastic soul” epithet that was given to Mick Jagger at the time. The Beatles, as always, sought not to take the sound and make it their own, but to take certain elements and feed it into their own creations. Thus we have the groove of “Drive My Car” and “You Won’t See Me”, the folk rock of “Nowhere Man”, the Parisian café atmospheres of “Michelle” and “Girl”. Perhaps because of the tight deadline they were forced to find inspiration where they could find it, and in the end it paid off, as the wealth of ideas on this album reach quite far. It’s also the first Beatles album that’s truly a studio album: while Help! was in fact “built up” organically in the studio, there was a certain acoustic sameness to it. Rubber Soul on the other hand embraced so many different sounds that it was not only a much-loved release to their fans, but an inspiration to many musicians, including the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, who often said this album was part of his inspiration for their classic Pet Sounds album.

Side A

Track 1: Drive My Car
The first track kicks off the album with another great guitar lick, but the real star here is the absolutely phenomenal bass line throughout–and it’s played by George, who doubles himself on guitar. Previous Beatle songs had the odd bass flourish or two, but it really wasn’t until this track that their bass lines stood out like that. This is a perfect example of their arranging habits at the time as well–there were only four takes of this track, all done on 13 October, but a majority of that night’s session was dedicated to the sheer number of overdubs they put on this track. In an interesting twist of fate, this track nearly wasn’t written, as Paul’s original lyrics, in his opinion were hackneyed and unusable. It wasn’t until he brought it over to John’s house in Weybridge that they settled on a chauffeur theme (again, going somewhere they hadn’t in the past) and it worked out well from there.

Track 2: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
A lovely folk track written in 6/8 time by John (with help from Paul on the refrains), it’s a personal track of his: he later admitted that this was a song about his extramarital affair at the time and wondered if he could get away with writing a song about it. At the same time, it’s got the very typical self-effacing John being the butt of the joke at the end, with the girl he’s cheating with not really caring about him either way. It features many atypical instruments, including George playing a sitar, the first Beatle track to feature it. He’d been introduced to the instrument during the restaurant scene in Help! earlier that year, found the instrument and the sound fascinating, and double-tracked himself on this song. Ringo’s contribution was not of drums but many handheld instruments such as maracas and finger cymbals. The outcome was a bona fide classic track by the band.

Track 3: You Won’t See Me
Paul offers another track here, another personal song of his up-and-down relationship with Jane Asher; this time she had been either avoiding or ignoring him, and he wasn’t sure why. Recorded on the last day of the sessions, this track is a rather simple melody with few chord changes, but its descending melody and counterpoint vocals are used perfectly as part of the song’s melancholy theme. It tries to be happy, but it’s just not getting there because it has nothing positive to connect to. Even the backgrounds are little more than an “ooh la-la-la” an occasional echoing line, and Ringo’s percussion is quite jittery with high hat triplets and tom fills on the fourth beat. It’s a song of not just sadness, but of irritation.

Track 4: Nowhere Man
A very autobiographical song of John’s–he’s pretty much given up pleading for help, instead giving into stasis and inertia. On the other hand, this is an extremely brilliant song, full of their best work. We’re brought in via an a capella introduction via John, Paul and George’s stellar harmony which stays with us throughout. This too has a descending melody, but while the previous track is melancholy, this one is more relaxed and sunny despite its lyric theme, partly due to the driving beat and the full sound of guitars. George pulls off a simple yet excellent solo here on his Fender Stratocaster, electrified to counterpoint the more acoustic sounding rhythms; there’s a great mix of both chord and melody in that solo, punctuated at the end with a high harmonic E. [Personally, this is one of my top five favorite Beatle songs, partly for that solo alone.]

Track 5: Think For Yourself
George’s first of two contributions to this album, it’s another track typical of his songwriting, full of chord changes and odd musical phrases that seem convoluted yet make sense somehow. He also seems to have gone a more personal route here as well, delivering a song about lies and misdirection–not in relationships, but in life. Paul also introduces a new sound here, plugging his bass into a fuzz pedal to give it distortion. So complex was the song that there’s a well-known bootleg track out there of the vocal session in progress, with John especially having a hard time getting it right (and George finally getting a chance to chide him for it!). They knew they were being recorded, and so much of the tension is played for laughs (though with John, it was real yet played up–again with the self-effacing humor)…but still, the end result is a great example of the dedication they gave to their music. [Trivia: a brief snippet of that recording was used for a scene in Yellow Submarine, when they sing “a bit of a tune” to wake up Lord Mayor.]

Track 6: The Word
John and Paul admit this one was one of the rare occurrences where the song was written amidst the haze of marijuana, which they’d started smoking earlier that year. It’s very much a proto-hippie anthem–John pretty much called this his first attempt at a theme that would culminate two years later with “All You Need Is Love”. It hastily written and recorded near the end of the sessions, so one often notices its relatively simplistic melody and lyrics. There’s not too much going on here, with even the vocal melody repeating itself throughout, only resting when John gives it a counterpoint refrain in between verses. George Martin is featured on the harmonium here.

Track 7: Michelle
This lovely little piece had its origins as a farcical party song from John and Paul’s early days in Liverpool. Story goes that they had gone to a party and met some people who were infatuated with the Parisian Left Bank culture and had started singing Parisian love songs. Paul and John, in their own inimitable way, had created their own take by playing a delicate Chet Atkins-style fingerpicking song high up on the fretboard and making up guttural French-sounding noises in response. Come rush time for the Rubber Soul sessions, they resurrected the melody and put actual words to it, adding a quick French lyric in there (a translation of the previous English lyric “these are words that go together well”), and turned it into quite the romantic track.

Side B

Track 1: What Goes On
Ringo gets his star turn in lead vocals with a song originally written by John back in the Quarrymen days and actually attempted once on 5 March 1963 during the “From Me to You” session, but never recorded. It was resurrected with some minor changes (including a few lyrics by Ringo, making it the only song credited to Lennon/McCartney/Starkey) and given a country feel to fit Ringo’s current vocal output. Given the age of the song and the limited melody, there’s not too much to say about this track other than that it feels ever so slightly out of place–it probably would have fit better if it had switched places with Help!‘s “I’ve Just Seen a Face”–but then Ringo would be short a vocal track!

Track 2: Girl
John delivers another melancholy love song–this one of longing, of being in love with a woman quite out of his league. It’s similar to “Michelle” with its French bohemian sound, but it also has a bit of a Bertold Brecht arty story-song to it as well. For a Beatles song of its time, it’s surprisingly laid back–so much so that John couldn’t help but insert a quite audible inward sigh of being hopelessly in love for the wrong reasons.

Track 3: I’m Looking Through You
Another of Paul’s songs about his up-and-down relationship with Jane Asher. Like John, Paul was now working out his inner demons with his songs, and this time he’s starting to question whether or not it’s worth staying on at this point. The original take, found on Anthology 2, is much more acoustic and meandering, but the finished version here has more immediacy and anger; perhaps at this point he had already made up his mind on the relationship and had only to act on it now.

Track 4: In My Life
A deeply heartfelt and breathtaking song from John, quite possibly his most personal yet. Inspired by a journalist’s suggestion that he write a song about his childhood, he eventually came up with this beautifully poetic ode to everyone that had ever had an effect on his life. None are mentioned by name, but that isn’t needed; he instead looks at each and every one personally and lets them know that, after everything is said and done, he deeply and profoundly loves everyone that has ever been near to his heart. The lyrics are so important here that the music is purposely muted, leaving only the vocals up front and center. In perhaps one of their most creative moves, the solo was George Martin’s idea, played at half-speed on piano and sped up when inserted back in, to emulate a harpsichord passage, adding to the pastoral feel of the song. [This is also one of my top five Beatles songs, due to its emotional power.]

Track 5: Wait
In a rare moment of using an older recording, the band grabbed this one from the Help! sessions from June and touched it up with a few percussive overdubs and tone pedal guitar to make it sound closer to the feel of the new album. Because of this the song could fit easily on either of the albums; it has the lighter sound of the former album but the moodiness of the latter. It’s one of many relationship songs written around this time about distance and the fleeting hope that the other would be there upon return. This was considered the very last thing recorded for the new album, the additions done in the wee hours of the morning. George Martin would begin the final remixing of the album that following Monday.

Track 6: If I Needed Someone
The second track offered by George on the new album, this one is much lighter in tone. Its composition is uncharacteristically straightforward, so much that it could almost be considered his attempt at writing a Lennon/McCartney song. George plays a beautiful fingerpicked line played high on his Rickenbacker 12-string repeated throughout. He was heavily influenced by Roger McGuinn’s guitar work with the Byrds on this one–which is ironic, considering McGuinn had been influenced by George’s earlier 12-string work when playing for his own band.

Track 7: Run for Your Life
In counterpoint to the cheating man of “Norwegian Wood”, this time John warns his beloved about cheating on him. [Interestingly enough, both songs were recorded on the same day, 12 October.] He admitted soon after that he wasn’t too happy with this song at all, partly due to lifting two lines from an older Elvis track (“Baby Let’s Play House”) and not really putting much work into it. It’s not the strongest way to end an album, but given the short amount of time they had to work with, it goes out with an uptempo track.

Rubber Soul is considered one of the band’s finest records, and was certainly one of their finest to date. They had chosen to extend on their current influences and expand their lyrical and musical boundaries, as well as search even further into their own personal lives for inspiration. They had indeed been given a month and a half’s respite between the tour and the sessions, but they had also given themselves an incredibly short deadline for a new release in the process. Whether or not that was on accident or on purpose is left unsaid, but it proved once again that they could get away with it–just barely–if they tried. It’s by no means a flawed record, although there are a few weak songs that even the band themselves admit were throwaways. Despite that, they produced a wonderful record full of well-crafted songs that excited the fans and further inspired their fellow musicians. It seems the only boundary they really had here was time; one can only wonder what sounds would have evolved if they’d given themselves a few more weeks or a month more to work with. Come 1966, once they officially gave up touring, they would have all the time in the world. The end results would take everyone completely by surprise.

[Addendum:  the iconic album cover was taken by photographer Bob Freeman near John’s Weybridge home, with them standing atop a small hill and Freeman shooting them from below.  The elongated effect of the shot was created quite by accident when he and the band were choosing possible shots, and the projected image had been warped by the square album-sized card falling backwards.  The band loved the effect and decided on that shot right there and then.  Interestingly enough, the original shot has rarely ever been seen since, and only resurfaced online earlier this year.  You can see it on the Beatle Photo blog here.]

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Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Credit: – The Beatles Complete UK Discography site

Single: “The Beatles’ Third Christmas Record”
Released to the Beatles’ Official Fan Club: 17 December 1965

The boys finished off the year with another holiday message for their fan club, recorded as an afterthought during the session for “Think for Yourself”. This one may have seemed a bit less than inspired, considering they were about to record the same ‘thank you’ message for the third time. They did their best, however, providing multiple quite out-of-tune versions of “Yesterday” and very silly takes on “Auld Lang Syne” and other holiday standards. One would normally think little of these fan club releases, but this would actually be the last of the straightforward Christmas messages; by December 1966 they would be a full-on studio band only, giving them much more time and creativity to come up with new sounds.

Next Up: The “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single, Revolver and the “Yellow Submarine”/”Eleanor Rigby” single