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5 Beatles Albums Every Fan Should Hear March 24, 2009

Think you’re a Beatles fan after listening to “1” and/or the soundtrack to “Across the Universe”?  Think again, my friend.  If you really want to get acquainted with the Fab Four’s most significant material, I suggest that you check out at least a couple of the following albums as soon as possible.

 

Rubber Soul“Rubber Soul” (1965)

After several relatively homogenous albums of upbeat pop-rock love songs (which are the main reason why some of my peers dismiss The Beatles, claiming “all their songs sound the same”) , The Beatles came out with the folk-infused “Rubber Soul”.  While this album still features many songs about love, they tend to focus on less-than-perfect romantic situations.  In fact, many of the songs on the album were inspired by the real-life relationship issues Paul McCartney was going through with his then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher.  The most positive love songs on “Rubber Soul” are about a different kind of love entirely:  “The Word” deals with universal love, a subject which The Beatles would later expand upon with “All You Need is Love”; “In My Life” is about love for every person who’s had an impact on one’s life.  This album also marks the first time a sitar was ever used in a pop song, on “Norwegian Wood” (the sitar would figure prominently in popular music for the rest of the 1960s).  And then there’s the album’s closer, “Run for Your Life”, which is so catchy that it might take several listens before you realize how horribly misogynistic it is.

 

Revolver“Revolver” (1966)

“Revolver” came out right after “Rubber Soul” and right before “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the transistion between the band’s folksy rock sound on the former and the psychedelic and orchestral sounds they adopted for the latter can be plainly heard on this album.  “Revolver” has The Beatles experimenting with instruments not typical to rock music (“Eleanor Rigby” features a string quartet; several Indian instruments are used in “Love You To”), backwards tracking (“I’m Only Sleeping” features a backwards guitar solo),  social commentary (“Taxman” is told from the point of view of a ruthless tax collector, who asserts “You’re working for no one but me.”), and just altogether weird sounds (i.e. “Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Love songs are even fewer on “Revolver” than on “Rubber Soul”, although it does feature the tender “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and the joyous “Got to Get You Into My Life” (which is for all intents and purposes a love song, even though I’ve heard that it’s actually written not for a woman, but for a certain mind-altering herb.  But you’d never know that just from listening to it).  And of course there’s everybody’s favorite (NOT!), “Yellow Submarine”, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard countless times before (I know I have.  And if you ever meet a hardcore Beatles fan, my best advice is to NOT sing “Yellow Submarine” to them.  I shudder to think of the possible consequences), as well as one of my own personal favorites, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which the typical Beatles novice has never heard of.

 

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)

What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already?  Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums, and I have serious doubts regarding the claim that it’s “the first concept album ever”, but the fact is that “Sgt. Pepper” is an important album and therefore is essential for anyone who claims to be a Beatles fan to hear.  Highlights on this album include the trippy “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the heartbreaking “She’s Leaving Home” (try not to cry the first couple of times you hear this one.  I dare you), the bawdy “Lovely Rita”, and the epic “A Day in the Life”, which I consider to be one of the greatest songs The Beatles ever did.  I’d advise you not to doze off around the end of this album, or you might be startled out of your skin by some weird noises that come up after “A Day in the Life” fades out.  Fear not:  it’s just the boys messing around in the studio.

 

The White Album“The Beatles”, a.k.a. “The White Album” (1968)

Remember those people I was talking about before, the ones who complain that “all The Beatles’ songs sound the same”?  They’ve obviously never heard “The White Album”, which is by far the most ecclectic album The Beatles ever recorded.  There’s thirty tracks on this double album, and not a single one sounds like any of the others.  On “The White Album”, The Beatles dabble in genres such as the blues (“Yer Blues” and “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”), country (“Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t Pass Me By”), ragtime (“Honey Pie”), folk (“Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird”), and doo-wop (“Revolution 1”).  The album also includes some harbingers of future rock genres, most notably with the shockingly proto-metal “Helter Skelter”.  And then there’s “Revolution 9”, a creepy, 8-minute montage of noise that defies explanation.  This album has something for everyone.

 

Abbey Road“Abbey Road” (1969)

“Abbey Road” was the last album The Beatles ever recorded (“Let it Be” was released after “Abbey Road”, but was recorded before it), and one of their best.  The fact that the band’s members could hardly stand to be in the same room at that point clearly had no bearing on their ability to sound more amazing together than they ever had.  The first half of the album includes gems like “Something”, “Oh! Darling”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (a delightful little ditty about a homicidal maniac which, for some reason, even my most Beatles-resistant friends seem to love), “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, and “Here Comes the Sun”; the second half of the album is made up of a couple of medleys, plus “Her Majesty”, the brief and charming “extra track” tacked on a few seconds after “The End” ends.  I don’t think The Beatles could have ended any better.

 

Worst. Biopic. Ever. March 21, 2009

On Sunday night, I unfortunately had nothing better to do than watch the 1994 Beatles biopic “Backbeat” on VH1 Classic.  And now I’ll never get those two hours of my life back.  The movie takes place during The Beatles’ pre-fame years, back when they were touring in Hamburg, Germany.  At the time, they had five members:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best (who would later be replaced by Ringo Starr), and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.  The film is mostly Sutcliffe’s side of the story, focusing on his friendship with John Lennon (who was really the only reason he was in the band in the first place), his romance with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and finally his 1962 death of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21.  “Backbeat” plays out like a movie adaptation of a mediocre fanfiction, complete with gratuitous love scenes and gay subtext.  And those were some of the less horrific aspects of the film.

 

As characters, all the Beatles besides John and Stu are pushed far into the background, having barely any part in the film whatsoever.  For no apparent reason, “Backbeat” decides to impose some “silent drummer” stereotype on Pete Best (which is expanded upon in the form of a weak joke much later in the film, long after the viewer has forgotten that Pete even exists as a character, much less as the “silent drummer”).  Ringo Starr is introduced halfway through the film and is never mentioned again.

 

Oh, and the music!  The music was the worst part of the film.  During the performance scenes, rather than having the actors merely lip-sync The Beatles’ own recordings or at least decent soundalikes of The Beatles, the film instead chose to have the actors lip-sync (and lip-sync poorly, I might add) re-recorded versions that sounded nothing like The Beatles.  After doing some research on this aspect of the movie, which I assumed to be the result of mere carelessness, I found it to be much worse:  it was fully intended.  According to the film’s trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, the film used 1990s punk artists to re-record the songs performed in the film, since, according to whatever pretentious twit was behind this decision, the savage rock that The Beatles performed in Hamburg was “the punk of its day”, so using punk-rock versions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” was somehow an attempt “to better convey the way the music felt to the early Beatles audiences.”  Give me a break.

 

As for the plot itself, I would have much preferred a film that documented The Beatles’ Hamburg days from a more omniscient point of view.  Stu’s relationship with Astrid was a poor subject to focus on, since so little is known about it.  If you ask me, the attempts to flesh out their romance sabotage the only thing that made it marginally interesting, which was its mystique.  The lovemaking scenes, though thankfully brief and not at all graphic (though I did see a TV version, so some stuff may have been cut out), are overabundant, and worse still is the nausea-inducing scene in which Stu first romances Astrid, peering at her over his sunglasses as he croons “Love Me Tender”.  In addition, there were so many more interesting (or at least more amusing) things that happened to the other Beatles while in Hamburg, which the film either neglects to mention or makes only passing reference to.  The Beatles were all relatively sheltered boys from Liverpool; when they got to Hamburg, their eyes were opened to an alien world full of strippers, hookers, transvestites, and amphetamines.  A seventeen-year-old George Harrison, who had to lie about his age so the band could play in the seedy Hamburg nightclubs, lost his virginity to a practical stranger.  Paul McCartney and Pete Best had to spend the night in jail after a childish prank involving a condom, a concrete wall, and slightly pyromaniacal tendencies.  This period of The Beatles’ career could have made a great film about the loss of innocence that comes with breaking into the music business, but instead it chose to focus on a romance that no one really cared too much about and the largely unprovoked (and possibly homosexual) jealousy it may have sparked in one John Lennon.  The result was a movie so painful to watch that I would gladly exchange the two hours I spent watching it for two hours re-watching “The Doors”, which, until Sunday night, was by far my least favorite music-related movie.