The Beatles

Beginners Guide To The Legendary “Fab Four”: Part Three

 

Between 1962 – 1970 Beatles released 13 studio albums and 24 singles, all in all Beatles released more than four hundred songs (including covers) and there might be some songs which were recorded but never released to the public. As you can guess from these numbers The Beatles were huge! 400+ songs in not a small feat, no disrespect to the other bands from that time but fandom of Beatles was on another level in those days. If you are curious about the grand success of this band and how did they became the kings of England, read my previous articles about them: Part One and Part Two

I abruptly ended my last article on their revolutionary and one of the most famous album ‘Revolver’ which was released in 1966, so let’s continue our Beatles journey from that year.

In 1966 Beatles permanently retired from touring because they thought it was reducing the quality of their music. But before I start talking about their work after 66’ in which they produced some of the greatest and most sold albums, I would like to quickly shed some light on the most famous single that was released by the Beatles.

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After the announcement of retirement from touring EMI pressurized the Beatles to release two singles ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.  Even though George Martin regretted this decision, both of the songs were equally successful.

Retiring from live shows and tours gave everyone some free time, so Lennon took part in a movie called ‘How I won the war’. While shooting for the film John Lennon wrote “Strawberry Fields Foreverin six weeks. This song was based on Lennon’s recollections of playing in Strawberry Field which was behind his childhood home. This song was far more innovative for that time: it had different tempo throughout the song, some psychedelic licks, some speed-ups and reversed parts makes this song a listening experience. This made “Strawberry Fields Forever” a very unique song. It didn’t came under any specific genre, because it wasn’t a proper country or rock or a pop song. It was simply a “Beatles” song.

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The Fab Four in one of their most colorful photo shoot for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club.

+  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

It was an immediate commercial success, spending 27 weeks at the top of the UK albums chart and 15 weeks at number one in the US it is one of the most successful album by the Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s was a perfect mix of popular music and legitimate music art. This album got huge critical and commercial success, lyrics were applauded by the critics particularly of ‘Day in the Life’ which is one of  the most famous Beatles song till date but it wasn’t recognized as band’s masterwork until the eighties, after Lennon’s death. Along with the lyrics, this album’s music is also considered as one of the best work from the Beatles. Nothing like it had ever been heard before. Even though Paul took the leadership role while making this album, every member of the band bestowed their talent which had increased a lot since their time in Liverpool clubs.

It was the first Beatles album where the track listings were exactly the same of its UK and US versions (and if you have noticed my only focus was on UK releases, because the track lists were very different and confusing in both the countries and Beatles being a British band I preferred writing their UK track lists and album releases). Name of the album is slightly strange but there’s a great story behind it. Band members were tired of their ‘Beatles’ status as it was getting too much attention, the band needed some time-out after their announcement of retirement from touring and some controversial statements which were made by Paul and John. So they took a 3 months vacation in Kenya. While returning Paul and band’s assistant manager Mal Evans were thinking about creating a fictional character and on the plane they had these packets with just the initials ‘S’ and ‘P’, so they made a joke about it saying let’s call him Salt and Pepper but they changed it by playing with the words and came up with this fictional character called ‘Sergeant Pepper’ who was from Edwardian era and had band of his own. Somehow Paul added ‘Lonely Heart Club’ with it and voila ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band‘ was created.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Photo Shoot
George Harrison was not too happy with all the shines and extra colorful clothing for Sgt. Pepper’s photo shoots.

Some consider this as the first concept based album, but there’s a debate on that too,  and some don’t even consider Sgt. Peppers as a ‘concept album’. Lennon himself didn’t really saw Sgt. Peppers as a proper concept album. In an interview after the band’s breakup he said “Album doesn’t go anywhere as a concept album, all my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with this idea of Sgt. Pepper and his band, But it works because we said it worked and that’s how album appeared”. I can’t say if it was a concept album or not but I’m sure that first three songs are related with each other and had a particular concept.

More than half of the material in this album was written by Paul and maybe that’s why Paul had increased the control of artistic direction in this album. Paul had visualized the way he wanted to record all the songs and he was not accepting any changes suggested by other band mates. Paul went all-out with the lyrics and even George Martin had a lot of say in it because both of them were perceptive about a conceptual album, while Lennon and other band members were little bit on a back foot on this one.

Beatles and Sgt. Pepper's
The Beatles while recording Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road Studios, 1967.

Ringo Starr and George Harrison were less enthusiastic towards new musical direction of the band and Paul’s ideas. Paul had written most of the songs, Lennon had four songs while Harrison only had one song which was ‘Within You Without You’ and his other was rejected by Martin. So in a way George Harrison had very little contribution in lyrics but even as a lead guitarist he wasn’t given too much work to do. But in this album he gave the inputs in other ways like helping out Lennon with the lyrics and with his phenomenal Sitar playing in some songs.

As you know Ringo was never really a part of the lyrical process in the beatles, plus in this album most of the ‘making process’ was handled by Paul, so he had to sit out most of the time while Paul, George martin and music engineer Geoff Emerick discussed lyrics, music and beats. Ringo was intolerably bored  with Sgt. Pepper’s, the whole album took more than four months to record and most of the time Ringo had nothing to do cause Paul was not much for artistic expression in this album.

Personal favorites are: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds; Within You Without You; With A Little Help From My Friends; A Day In Life. And Fixing A Hole has one of my favorite chord progression of all time. Enjoy.

A day in life
A Day In Life is one of the most famous song by The Beatles. I just love the vocals by John and Ringo’s drum beats  on this one.

 

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In contradiction with Sgt. Pepper’s the ‘White Album‘ had a plain cover with just ‘The Beatles’ on it with a white background. Isn’t it one of the most simplistic album cover that you’ve ever seen?

 

+ The Beatles (“The White Album”, 1968)

This album is like a perfect treat for modern day Beatles fan, cause it is like someone has introduced you to a phenomenal series which has 7 seasons and each episode of 40mins! Obviously you would binge watch it, same way this album treats you with 30 songs from the Beatles in 4 part vinyl series. Actually before writing this article I had only listened to 4-5 songs from this album, but recently I set down and sincerely listened to the whole album and believe me it’s amazing (I shouldn’t even tell you this because almost all the work from Beatles is amazing).

It may seem like 30 songs are too much and indeed the ‘White Album’ had almost the same number of songs as their last 3 albums combined. There are two main reason behind all these songs: 1) In the ’60s a rock/pop band releasing double album was considered as innovative (one album had two sides on the vinyl and the White album had four sides) 2) Their trip to India for Transcendental Meditation course,  as I said in my last article Harrison was deeply attracted to Indian music and it’s culture after mid 1960’s. So in Feb 1968 he took  or rather invited every member of The Beatles and their wives and girlfriends to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram in Rishikesh. While meditating on the banks of Ganges they wrote 40+ songs, after the breakup Lennon recalls their time in Rishikesh and said, “Me and Paul would meet up some afternoons in each others room and just write”, he also adds “Every day in the evening me and and the boys would go to the terrace of the cottage and we would just write and play guitar and talk about everything. I did write some of my best songs there because it was very quiet there. You could just go deep into your thought after meditating”.

The Beatles in Rishikesh
The Beatles and the other members of their group at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India, 1968.

While writing and recording their previous albums, band was under the influence of LSD and other drugs but they were not taking any kind of drugs throughout their trip to Rishikesh aside from the regular marijuana. This gave them a clear sight which produced some of the best lyrics from the Beatles. In this period Harrison exceptionally developed his songwriting and sitar playing skills, his overall musical sense evolved which helped him in later part of the career (after the band’s breakup). After coming back from India John and Paul recorded most of those lyrics at ‘Kinfauns’ (Harrison’s house), this was probably the place where Beatles gathered the most be it for social affair or music discussions. In fact this was the place where Harrison, Lennon and their wives had the first LSD experience. So, after the rough recordings at Kinfauns they went to Abbey Road and Trident studios for the final cut. Since both of these studios were owned by EMI Beatles had abundant studio time  to record the songs.

Geoff

Trio of George Martin(centre), Brian Epstein(left) and Geoff Emerick(right) was the backbone of the band. While Epstein was with the Beatles from their Liverpool days, Geoff Emerick first worked with them in their 1966 album ‘Revolver’. And George Martin influenced and helped in almost all of their albums.

During this time their long time music engineer Geoff Emerick left the Beatles, the main reason behind this being the personal issues and brawls. Even though no one had any problem with Geoff he just couldn’t work in the bad atmosphere. During the recording of White Album complication among the band members was increasing. Before, there was a rule that no wives/girlfriends were allowed in recording studios but Lennon brought Yoko Ono on the first day of recordings. Paul and George Martin had some problems with each other, Paul even had problem with Ringo’s drumming so Ringo left the recording sessions for a brief period of time in which Paul himself recorded drums in two songs ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Back to USSR’. Because of these personal Issues, out of the album’s 30 tracks, only 16 have all four band members performing in it. In an interview Geoff Emerick says “Oh, it was a nightmare. I was becoming physically sick just thinking of going to the studio each night. I used to love working with the band. The group was disintegrating before my eyes, It was ugly, like watching a divorce between four people. After a while, I had to get out.”

It was like the beginning of the end of Beatles, still they went on to record three more albums before breaking up.

Personal Favorites are:  Dear Prudence; Martha My Dear; Why Don’t We Do It In The Road; Sexy Sadie; Helter Skelter; Happiness Is A Warm Gun(insanely underrated song); Blackbird; Cry Baby Cry;  Revolution (both the takes) and of course Harrison’s masterpiece While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Just keep in mind this album has 30 songs! That’s why the list of favorites is a bit long.

Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine album cover, 1969.

+ Yellow Submarine (1968)

Many consider this album to be the most average album by the Beatles. Beatles came up with this idea of making an animated film and a soundtrack for the same in 1965, but that time being the peak of Beatlemania this project never made it to the floor. But by the time film commenced Beatles were not interested in it. And enthusiasm about the project reduced even more because of the death of Brian Epstein(Band’s manager). Still after seeing the animated film Beatles went ahead with it, this album/soundtrack mostly had some of the previously rejected work and reprocessed songs.

On the side one it only had four new songs by the band – Only A Northern Song, All Together Now, Hey Bulldog, It’s All too Much and two other songs which were ‘Yellow Submarine'(introduced in 1965) and ‘All You Need Is Love'(single release). While the second side had orchestral score for the film composed by George Martin.

If you want to read  more about this project in detail click on this link.

Personal Favorite: Hey Bulldog (since I was not able to get my hands on George Martin’s tracks except Pepperland, I can’t comment on the side two of this album)

In my next article I’m going to talk about the last two albums by The Beatles and how they broke up. With that I’m going to end my four part series about this great English band which gave us so many fabulous songs and memories.

Stay tuned for more!

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