Appreciating the Beatles

December 5, 2006

I am so damned lucky and ultimately thankful to have been of the generation that experienced the Beatles reign from 1963 to 1971. I just finished watching the eight-part Anthology series on DVD and am overwhelmed, angry, gratified, thrilled, puzzled, and ultimately stimulated. This series is part of our legacy, and for that reason, I want to buy the set and revisit it from time to time throughout the rest of my life. I think of myself as a Beatle expert, but seeing this series filled in many gaps in my knowledge of the Beatles.

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends i still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life i’ve loved them all …

I watch the screen and know that John is dead. It was 1980 and I was devastated. Really, really devastated. It was the official end to the 60s. George comes to life in this series like never before, and now George is gone.

I see Paul: the eternally bubbly cheery chap who loves to smile and be loved. He has a tremendous sense of melody. He is one of the best tunesmiths of the 20th century in my view. He understands functional harmony better than any of the others. John knows how to push around harmony in a brilliant way without really understanding advanced functional harmony. George’s concept of harmony might be most likened to that of Debussy. He floats around in harmonic space and refuses to resolve to a respectable chord. I didn’t always get the idea that George understood functional harmony. He was like Schubert in that he loved violent chordal successions.

“Beware of maya…”

Great chords, and in many ways, far more exploratory that anything Lennon and McCartney ever did. George had a “We try harder” thing going, and was always the young one who had to prove himself. This was easy as he was the best guitar player. I was surprised to learn that John played lead guitar in some of the early songs. That role was eventually passed on to George. Later, John always played acoustic guitar or piano, and sang. We learn in the supplemental disk that Paul, George and John all played bass.

I was amazed to learn of McCartney’s avante garde roots. He had put Karlheinz Stockhausen on the Sgt. Peppers cover, but I never heard the connection. Listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” and pay attention to all the backwards music, the caw caw cawing, and other magical sounds. They were all tape loops that Paul made and brought into the recording session “in a plastic bag” and each one was employed on a different tape recorder scattered around the studio. The sound of each loop could be brought in and out via the central mixing board. Paul demonstrated with the original tracks how he ducked and covered track to track. I presumed that this was his Tombeau de Stockhausen.

Ringo is the fountainhead of post-rock drumming. His drumming personality is so much of who the Beatles are––although I could say that about the other three as well. There are quite a few revealing interviews with Ringo for those interested in the inner life of the Beatles.

If you have not seen the series, do yourself a favor and see it. Lots of music and lots of our cultural past.

[Photos by Richard Avedon 1967]

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