Thursday, September 20, 2007

Re-shuffling the Beatles...
A project I undertook, but I'm not sure if it worked...

In one of my Beatles' books, I read a quote from John Lennon, who, after the Beatles broke up, said that if people need the Beatles so much, all they would have to do is buy each Beatle's solo albums, and arrange the songs on tape so that there's one by John, then Paul, then George, then Ringo, and so forth, and so on. And that stuck in my mind, and so I tried it. Hey, I'm still a little under the weather, and rather than sit around and be miserable, I might as well do something, right? So I did this. I made an ersatz "Sgt. Pepper" album using Beatles solo material. Without going into too much excruciating detail (and I could, believe me), I'll just approximate things by saying that I arranged my project as close to the "Sgt. Pepper" album as I could. And, I had so much fun with this first project, I thot, "why stop now?"

So, for the second project, I decided to try and duplicate the Beatles' "White Album", once again using songs from the Beatles' solo albums, and again duplicating the appearances of each vocalist. That was a big project, since there are over 30 songs on the 2-record "White Album", and in order to choose solo songs for this second project, as well as the first project described above, I had to sort thru 30 or 40 Beatles' solo albums, in order to find songs that would fit, as closely as possible, not only in terms of who the lead singer was, but also in the 'flavor' of each song...if it was time for a John song, for example, and the John song on the Beatles' album was a ballad, well, then I'd have to find a similar-sounding John solo ballad. Like I said, the detail could really be excruciating, so that's as detailed as I'll get here.

As I listened back to the solo versions of "Sgt. Pepper" and the "White Album" I'd created, I could sense one glaring fact: There is no way there is ever going to be another Beatles, because I couldn't even make a good-sounding Beatles' album with people who had BEEN the Beatles. There was something pretty magic about them, when all four were together in the same studio, and, sadly, that magic is missing from a lot of their solo albums. Especially glaring is the startling lack of inspiration on John Lennon's "Mind Games" and "Walls and Bridges" albums; it's almost as if Lennon had no sense of direction on those records. Paul's records are always musically good, although sometimes his ideas fall flat. George's albums suffered the same fate as John's; some of his albums, such as "Dark Horse", "Extra Texture" and "Gone Troppo" are fairly mediocre, and Ringo's albums began sounding like uninspired product after a while, too.

However, there's quite a lot of music the Beatles did "after the Beatles" that is quite good, and if you're interested in checking some of this stuff out, I've listed what I think is their best solo stuff. After all, chances are, that unlike me, you're not a rabid collector, therefore you don't have to have everything. So here's what I think are the best "solo Beatle" albums...

JOHN: "Plastic Ono Band" (although it's so harsh I recommend it with reservations), "Imagine" (a wonderful record thru and thru), "The John Lennon collection" (contains his last recordings, which were great, plus, that album totally bypasses Yoko), and quite possibly, if you can find it, "Rock and Roll", on which John sings some '50s oldies pretty doggone good.

PAUL: "McCartney" (his homemade first album), "Ram" (an outrageously funny record, plus it has some great songs), "Band On The Run" (as close to perfect as a 'solo Beatles' album ever got), "London Town" (which is very, very musical, and an underrated album), "Tug Of War" (which featured some really great music and cryptic lyrics) and "Flaming Pie" (which is just totally good thru and thru).

GEORGE: I can't live without "All Things Must Pass"...a classic in every sense. Also, "Living in the Material World" (nice variety of material), "33 1/3" (his first album for a new record company, on which he sounds great), "Cloud 9" (his ultra-tuneful late '80s comeback album), and "Brainwashed" (a sad and wistful record which contained songs he'd written while he was ill with terminal cancer).

RINGO: The "Ringo" album (from 1973, which features "Photograph" and "You're Sixteen"; a record full of great pop moments), and to a lesser degree, the "Goodnight Vienna" album, which also had some good tunes, such as "Only You" and "No No Song". Ringo's music tends to veer towards the mundane, but those two albums are really great. For later Ringo music, "Time Takes Time", a later-'80s album, is pretty good.

And, if you want the hits, just the hits (well, that's a good place to start, also), all four "solo Beatles" have greatest-hits packages out there...PAUL: "Wings' Greatest", "All The Best", or the ultra-exhaustive "Wingspan". JOHN: "The John Lennon Collection" or "Lennon Legend"; GEORGE: "Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989"...and "All Things Must Pass" is so great, it's almost a "greatest hits" package by itself. RINGO: "Blast From Your Past"; also, Rhino records has put out a 2nd volume of Ringo's best stuff, which is aptly titled, "Starr-Struck".

Finally, even though the Beatles' music sounds as good today as it did some 40 years ago, time is flying by faster and faster, and while the Beatles aren't "ancient history" yet, it's a fact the group broke up in 1970, some 37 years ago now. Back in the '60s, an artist tried to imagine what the Beatles would look at age 64 (in honor of Paul's Sgt. Pepper song), and here's what he came up with...ladies and gentlemen, may I present the time-enhanced Beatles:

(Left to right) John, Ringo, Paul and George, as it was imagined they'd appear today from the perspective of 'a long time ago'. Actually, Ringo and Paul are looking pretty doggone good these days. Unfortunately, the other two are no longer with us..their spirits are now voyaging"across the universe", out on that great 'astral plane' somewhere...

I think it's safe to say there'll never be another Beatles. It's amazing, how good they were. Even the 'former' Beatles couldn't approach the Beatles after they broke up. I feel fortunate to have experienced their music as it first came out. And it still sounds great today.


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