Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It was a Long and Winding Road...
And they went thru a LOT of musical changes...

"Oh no", you must be thinking, "not another post about The BEATLES"...well, yeah, it is. And, what can be said about the Beatles that hasn't already been said? Probably not a whole heck of a lot. But, if you can, go back to the 60s...when "I Want To Hold Your Hand" literally, singlehandedly, touched off Beatlemania. Then flash-forward 3 years to 1967, when one of their big hits was "All You Need Is Love"...if you'd just touched down on Earth from a far-distant galaxy, you'd never know both songs were done by the same band; they sound absolutely and totally UNLIKE each other. Are the Beatles the classical musicians of the future, as some have suggested? Will people speak of the Beatles 200 years from now in the same tones we speak of Beethoven or Schubert?

Just recently, I listened to over 120 Beatles songs, chronologically arranged from the start of their careers to the final, tired year when they recorded "Abbey Road" and then went their separate ways. I have never ceased to marvel at the sheer variety of Beatles' music. For one session, Paul McCartney sang "Yesterday", and then at the same session, turned around and sang the raucous rocker, "I'm Down". "YOU TELL LIES THINKING I CAN'T SEE; YOU CAN'T CRY 'COS YOU'RE LAUGHING AT ME...I'M DOWN...I'M REALLY DOWN..." Musical turnarounds like that are just fascinating. When you can find the world's most gorgeous ballad on one side of a record ("Hey Jude"), then flip the record over for the screaming rock and roll of "Revolution", you just know both songs are by an amazingly diverse group. And one heckuva band, too.

Pictured above is an 8-record set which came out in the '80s, and these aren't just old repackaged albums; someone went to the trouble of actually cutting new records, and each disc showcases most of the high-spots of the Beatles' career. Usually when I listen to a box set, I am bored to tears because a lot of the music sounds "samey" after a while. (The sensation I experienced when I listened to a Bruce Springsteen 4-disc set of live performances.) In fact, I could have listened to all 8 albums in a row quite easily. Maybe I am biased, but time just flies by when I'm listening to Beatles' music. (This boxed set was issued abroad; it originally came out in England; I bought my copy from a guy in Australia, so it was issued there as well.)

And in the 8 records, 16 SIDES of material, first came their ebullient, fresh, exciting sound of the early '60s. As I worked my way thru this boxed set, in crept some of the weariness that they began to feel in the mid-'60s due to constant recording and filming pressures, as well as the worldwide touring they had to do, let alone the mind-numbing crush of Beatlemania, in which the Beatles became prisoners of their own fame. Then came the post-touring years when they became so creative; most of the "Sgt. Pepper" album is featured in this box set. Then came the years where they became "stuck" for inspiration, intermingled with business squabbles and personal differences. No longer did the music sound ebullient; it was still great, but with a certain world-weariness pervading the music. This final stage began with the "White Album" and pretty-much lasted through the end of the group's life...and beyond...

"And, in the end...the love you equal to the love you make..." That's a line from the next-to-last song on their final album, "Abbey Road"...and, listening to much of their repertoire in such a concentrated fashion, it was as if I was taking a 6-year time voyage in just a few hours. The changes they and their music went through, in retrospect, are absolutely staggering. One conclusion I've arrived at, is that when their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967, something within the group died as well. Paul kept them together, kept finding projects for them to do, and created resentment among his fellow bandmates in the process. Things could never be the same. They'd known each other for many years, and perhaps they all just grew tired of each other. And tired of the whole group thing. Still...what a thing it must have been, to be a Beatle. Nothing lasts forever...but when it was good, it was very, VERY good.

Its' hard to encapsulate the Beatles' saga in a relatively-few words, as I've tried to do here. And over the years I've run into people who don't like the Beatles AT ALL. Personally...I'm glad The Beatles came along. For me, their music still speaks.


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