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September 28, 2009 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

The Beatles


So if you haven’t heard the news already, the Beatles have just reissued their entire back catalogue in sparkling remastered versions, and have made them available in both mono and stereo format. In the music nerd world this is KIND OF A BIG DEAL. It’s exciting news, so in celebration we, Salient’s humble music writers, have decided to pay our respects to one of the greatest bands of all time by reviewing three Beatles albums: Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road. In these reviews each writer will attempt to explain why the album they have chosen is their favourite Beatles record. Unfortunately, none of us had enough money to be able to afford the fancy new remastered versions for these reviews, and Parlophone didn’t think to send the Salient office any free samples, so we had to make do with the original versions, ripped to .mp3 at 192 kbps. It’s a shame really, but hey, what can you do? Oh, and I almost forgot. Jay-Z released The Blueprint 3 the other week too. Unfortunately, we didn’t have space for a full-length review of both Jay-Z’s new album and of the three Beatles records. Since The Beatles have a greater net worth than Jay I thought it was only fair that he lose out in the battle for space within Salient’s hallowed music section. As a booby prize, I’ve decided to return to a tradition that I established earlier this year. And so, without further adieu, I give you my Haiku review of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3 (Roc Nation):

Bloated Blueprint Three
Please no more Alicia Keys
I’m off thee, Jay-Z

By Kim Wheatley

Abbey Road (Parlophone)

When I told my friend and fellow Beatlemaniac Tom that I was writing on Abbey Road for an upcoming issue of Salient, he looked wryly amused. “What are you going to say? That it’s good, and you should listen to it?”

As usual, he had a point. All that can be said on The Beatles and their extensive back catalogue has been said—and published in books, journals, and even an academic paper (Liverpool University offers a Masters of Arts in ‘The Beatles, Popular Music and Society’). By and large, it’s a closed case.

So, let me make this clear: nothing I write in this ‘review’ is going to shed new light on the subject, nor do I intend for it to do so. Take it as more of a billet doux to my favourite Beatles album: their last, and in my opinion, their best. Because unlike The Beatles (I skip ‘Revolution 9’ without fail), Sgt. Pepper (‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ soured me on both marriage and clarinets), and Revolver (…actually, no, Revolver’s pretty good), I don’t want to miss a moment of Abbey Road. Their magnum opus, it’s the sound of a band at the height of its expertise, but also, a band aware of its impending split.

Indeed, Abbey Road arose from a desire to make The Beatles’ last release one that could speak for the rest of their output. None of the band’s members were satisfied with Let It Be acting as the ultimate bookend for their back catalogue, and Abbey Road was their endeavour to make one more, as McCartney put it, “like they used to”.

And oh, that magic outcome. Abbey Road unites moments of soul, folk, pop, ballad, blues, rock and roll, honky-tonk and even lullaby into a cohesive, authentic whole. Some of The Beatles’ best-loved tunes (‘Octopus’s Garden’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’) are from Side A of the album, while Side B (‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ onwards) is a nine-track medley that leads into the cathartic climax, ‘The End’. In typical Lennon/McCartney form, the weight of its final phrase (“And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”) is lessened by the inclusion of a ‘hidden’ track ‘Her Majesty’, an irreverent ditty in the vein of ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and ‘Dig It’: a conscious decision to end on a light note, rather than a sombre one.

‘The End’, although a fragment of the final suite of Abbey Road, rates alongside ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ and ‘I’m So Tired’ as one of my absolute favourite Beatles tracks because it sees the band ‘come together’ at a time when all involved felt like falling apart. Starr performs his one-and-only drum solo, and McCartney, Lennon and Harrison divide the guitar solo between them (two bars each), while the final harmonies are breathtaking. The power of ‘The End’ is that it brings both Abbey Road, and The Beatles’ career as a whole, to a satisfying conclusion, rather than a saddening one: the perfect epitaph.

Elle Hunt

The Beatles (aka The White Album) (Apple/Parlophone, Capitol and EMI)

Is The White Album the best Beatles LP? It’s impossible for me to say. I think a sound case could be made for any one of Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road as being their greatest record. But what about influence? I’d like to argue that, more than any other Beatles album, the unpigmented one has been the most historically significant. But before I dive into that, lets get a few things straight first. The White Album is a complete mess. It lacks cohesion, consistency and community. It’s also home to some of the most inane moments the fab-four ever recorded: ‘Wild Honey Pie’, ‘Piggies’, ‘Birthday’ and ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’. Fucking stupid songs the lot of them. And then there’s ‘Helter Skelter’, which is (to my never-ending amusement) widely regarded as being the “First-Heavy-Metal-Song-Ever™”. Its opening lyric is “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide?” I kid you not.

But for all of its flaws, The White Album has copious amounts of one quality that the rest of the great mid-late period Beatles albums sometimes lack: charm. There’s something infinitely endearing about the act of reaching beyond your grasp, of singing beyond your range, of directing Southland Tales (ok, maybe not that last one). Let’s face it; everybody loves a sprawling epic, even if it is a mess (think Apocalypse Now, or Sign o’ the Times). Clocking in at 93 minutes in length, The White Album is well over ¾ of an hour longer than Abbey Road, the Beatles’ next longest album. Its 2xLP format provided the band with plenty of opportunities to branch out, guaranteeing the presence of a little something for everyone who hears it, regardless of their musical preferences.

Do you like pretty little ballads? Well ‘Julia’ and ‘Blackbird’ are two of John and Paul’s finest. ‘Julia’s’ influence has been particularly notable. I know for a fact a certain Mr Elliott Smith was a fan (Wikipedia says that The White Album was his original inspiration for becoming a musician). Perhaps you prefer a feisty hard rocker? In that case, ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, and ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey’ (an undeniable candidate for “Best-Song-Name-Ever™”) are the songs for you. What about wanky guitar solos then? Well, I like to think of Eric “Cumhand” Clapton’s 6-string masturbation on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ as being the perfect proto-Guitar Hero whiteout. And then there’s ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, the experimental three-part epic that would later be a direct inspiration for a famous Radiohead song. Oh, and speaking of Radiohead, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the chord progression on ‘Sexy Sadie’ is pretty much identical to that of another seminal OK Computer cut. That’s right, without The White Album, there would be no ‘Paranoid Android’, and no ‘Karma Police’, meaning that OK Computer wouldn’t have been anywhere near as influential, meaning that grunge might not have died in 1997, meaning that we might all still be wearing flannel! We have the Beatles to thank for saving us all from the genuine historical possibility of a fashion apocalypse. Thank goodness for marijuana and amphetamines and LSD. Thank goodness for that phony Indian spiritual guru. And thank goodness for Yoko Ono. Without all of you, there would be no fractured, supersized, wide-screened, mega-plusplus’d epic no-real-album-cover genius masterpiece White Album. Without you, the tradition of monochrome album covers and titles would not have been established. We wouldn’t call Weezer “The Blue Album”, Orbital’s Untitled II “The Brown Album”, and Jay-Z wouldn’t have called his ‘retirement’ LP The Black Album. There would be no Grey Album (the “Best-Mashup-Album-Ever™”). And without The Grey Album there would be no Girl Talk. And we all love Girl Talk, don’t we?

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the infamous ‘Revolution 9’. Sure, it might be the most skipped Beatles song ever, but it was also the first avant-garde noise piece to ever find its way onto a major pop album. An entire genre of music (noise) practically owes its existence to this seminal moment in music history. And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you of The White Album’s ongoing importance, here’s some more information about some of the other great songs that can be found within its weighty white depths:

  • There’s the doo-wop wonder that is ‘Revolution 1’. A song that the Beatles would later refashion as the equally excellent ‘Revolution’.
  • There’s ‘Long Long Long’, one of George Harrison’s most underrated contributions, in a whole catalogue of underrated contributions.
  • There’s ‘I’m So Tired’, whose lyrics James Murphy ripped off, along with the chord progression from ‘Dear Prudence’, in order to create ‘I’m Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up’, one of the “Best-Blatant-Tribute-Songs-Ever™”.
  • And finally, there’s the eternal children’s sing-along, white-guy-reggae-rhythm classic ‘Ob-La-Di-, Ob-La-Da’, which finds The Beatles beating The Clash to “The-Jamaican-upstroke™” by a good ten years! ‘Ob-La…’ is also notable for containing a cheeky gender blender lyric, which went wonderfully unnoticed on popular 60s radio. Without The White Album there would be no Antony & the Johnsons!

But I digress, what I’m really trying to say is: “Hot damn, that White Album sure is an incredible thing huh?” Unfortunately, I’m running out of words now, so I’ll have to bring my eulogy of its undeniable genius to a somewhat (in my opinion) premature close. But before I wrap up, I would like to take a moment to apologise for using almost twice as many words as Elle and Ryan in their reviews of Abbey Road and Revolver. But I figure I’m allowed. After all, The White Album is twice as long, twice as cool, twice as loud, twice as fun, and at least twice as influential as their favourite Beatles records. See what I’m getting at here? Finally, I’d like to conclude by thanking Salient for giving me the chance to review a Beatles album. When I became a music reviewer I always dreamed about what it would be like to write one of these someday, but I never actually thought that that it would happen. I write self-congratulatory opinion pieces, so this opportunity means a lot to me, for obvious reasons.


Kim Wheatley

Revolver (Parlophone)

It’s pretty much impossible to write about The Beatles in 2009 without sounding totally redundant, so I’m not even going to try to review this album critically. Instead, I’m just going to say why I love 1966’s Revolver, why you should too, and why it’s so important that you listen to it if you somehow already haven’t.

I love Revolver because it has my favourite Beatles song from my childhood, ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Aside from the vocal harmonies, the only Beatle present is McCartney, whose solemn vocals float above an energetic string section that gives the song a stark feeling of contrast from earlier work, and highlights Revolver as a turning point in the Beatles sound towards more serious and experimental territory. It’s also an incredibly beautiful and touching song on death and loneliness, factors that didn’t stop me belting the lyrics out at the top of my lungs in the car when it came around on 1, my only experience of the Beatles for years.

I love Revolver because it’s the first time that Lennon and McCartney give Harrison (my favourite Beatle) the space to shine as a songwriter, not just a brilliant guitarist, with three tracks written by him, one of which (‘Taxman’) is even given the coveted opening slot on the album. Labelled the ‘Quiet Beatle’, for his professionalism and shyness in public, Harrison’s songwriting skills, while initially lacking, grew exponentially as he gained confidence but were only given recognition towards the latter stages of the Beatles’ work. With ‘Taxman’, Harrison launches an attack at the grossly unfair British Tax system (The Beatles were, at one stage, being taxed 95% for some of their earnings), combining harshly funny lyrics with McCartney’s rollicking guitar treatment and classic Beatles harmonies. Elsewhere, ‘Love You To’ displays Harrison’s increasing fascination with Hindu culture, drenched in Sitar twang and deft use of Tabla, while ‘I Want To Tell You’ expresses the frustration of being unable to communicate one’s thoughts, emphasised by the song’s chaotic instrumentation and spiralling vocal delivery.

I love Revolver because as an album it’s so balanced. The harrowing ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is followed by the soft dreaminess of ‘I’m Only Sleeping’, and Ringo’s starring moment in the jaunty ‘Yellow Submarine’ is paired with ‘She Said She Said’, Lennon’s acid-tinged trip accompanied by Harrison’s jangly guitars and McCartney’s fuzzy harmonies. The whole album works on opposites drawn together in a way that makes them feel born together, embodied by ‘Good Day Sunshine’, a song that never fails to make me smile with the way it opens with ominous piano before exploding into a charmingly optimistic song about love, radiating happiness and reminding the listener that regardless of the new directions shown on Revolver, the Beatles are still the best in the business at upbeat pop.

Finally, I love Revolver because it showed listeners (and more importantly the Beatles themselves) how much more textured and developed their sound could become if they spent more time in the studio and played around with stuff (they spent around 300 rather than the usual 100, setting a trend for future artists). While this undoubtedly sucked for audiences in the 60s, with the Beatles withdrawing from live performances soon after Revolver’s release, for the rest of us it was awesome, sparking a period of musical creation that produced some of the best moments in music history, with Revolver acting as a springboard into the brilliant home stretch of Beatles albums (Sgt. Peppers, The White Album, Abbey Road) that revolutionised pop music. And that’s why I love it.

Ryan Eyers


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Comments (6)

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  1. a dick says:

    The last 1s gd but da first 2 are snooze villes broz

  2. matthew says:

    i never really got into the beatles eh. some of their songs are good, but as a whole, i’d probably rather listen to the back catalogue of husker du or something.

  3. Teresa says:

    Whats the point???

  4. Alpha says:

    What’s the point? What’s the point‽ The Beatles being the best 60s band is not enough to justify this article? It would’ve been good if they had actually got their hands on the remastered versions, but oh well. Revolver ftw.

  5. a dick says:

    I agree… what’s the point? Salient did an entire Beatles issue last year, this shit is getting old. Who gives a shit if the label is shilling out the records again to milk what is left of their genius for an extra buck, it’s no reason for celebration.

  6. smackdown says:

    the beatles are my fav band they’re the best so good so good

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