Sunday, March 11, 2007

Beatles All Day

Sunday, a local radio station, 106.7 FM, ran the Beatles A to Z - every song the band recorded in alphabetical order. It started at 7 a.m. and it's 3:12 p.m. and they're up to the O's. "Only a Northern Song" to be exact. My God, what a body of work. At first the format seems arbitrary with some accidental thematic connections like, "I'm Only Sleeping", leading right into "I'm So Tired." However it could be the perfect way to approach this because you get to bounce around from the cheerful, innocent early years through the last cynical bitter sad farewells.

I don't know about you, but I am still in the process of getting over the Beatles breaking up. So it's fun to go back to the beginning after hearing a dramatic one from towards the end. It's a tremendous way to keep it fresh and unpredictable. You'll be cruising along in some early Fab Four classic and then POW! - you get one of the heaviest song compositions ever. The stunning part is how much compositional brilliance went into those early songs. I did hear a rhyme scheme in "I Should Have Known Better" that made me smile for its innocence. Of course, I didn't think twice about it back again, but it seems a little funny now:

"That when I tell you that I love you, oh
You're gonna say you love me too, oh
And when I ask you to be mine
You're gonna say you love me too"

Interesting use of the repeating line. Maybe it was one of those studio accidents that you just leave.

The amazing thing about music is that there are no real tricks. Oh sure, every now and then someone does some technical sleight of hand, but the basic lines are right there for anyone to sing. You've got a 4-piece rock band? Try singing this stuff. Good luck. If you have someone to cover the leads, that's one thing. Even that can be hard in their original keys. Then try covering the harmony lines. Forget sounding good at it. Just try to get up there.

Many people agree that John Lennon was the most important person in the group. I mean he had the gravitas. But imagine having a rock band who needs another musician and Paul McCartney walks in. Just think about what he brings to the equation. How does that job interview go? How about for starters, just asking him what he can do?

Okay. He can sing screaming leads like "I'm Down" then turn right around and sing the most beautiful soft stuff like "Here, There, and Everywhere." Then you get to the high harmonies. Not just reached, mind you, but crushed. High harmonies that absolutely shred the air with greatness. Oh, and if the bridge gets to a climax and you need someone to scream like a mountain lion, Paul's got that, too.

Now you get to the great bass playing - leftie so you'll look cool. Then you throw in the piano and - oh, the band's tired? He can pick up an acoustic and do a song like "Blackbird" or "Yesterday" by himself.

Which brings the job interview to something else: Can you compose songs? It turns out Paul is also one of the great song composers in human history with as many standards as most people have songs. "Yesterday" is the most covered tune ever. The only reason the others are not covered more by garage bands is that they're so damn difficult. Stones are easy. Beatles music is hard.

By now, you're starting to think it would probably be a good idea to hire this guy, but you ask is there anything else? Is he presentable enough? How's his stage presence? The answer to that is yes, he's extremely presentable. In fact, he's known as the Cute One, so everywhere your band plays, girls will be screaming.

But sorry, this job interview never happens. He doesn't auditon for your band. Instead he lands in a group with the likes of John Lennon and George Harrison, and with an underrated drummer named Ringo. The result? You have a day like today on the radio. This thing could go on for over ten hours and there is not a single song that most rock fans don't know and very few that we don't love. It's been a remarkable day and many thanks to this station. It was a valuable reminder of how lucky we are to have this music. They just got to "Rain". I'm actually getting sad thinking the alphabet is almost done. "Revolution" just started. Now it's onto the slower version. "Don't you know it's going to be all right." What a band.


At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry I am a little late here.
When we had a few rock/surf bands in the early 60's, I ALSO loved the Everly Brothers. But this was a bit too 'country-ish' for the others.

Then came the Beatles. We had to learn to sing and carry back-up harmony UNDER the lead or OVER the lead singer. The EVERLY brothers were now references, since they were one of the Beatles vocal style sources.

However, the Beatles were more inventive - to boot.

The only EASY solution was to get drafted - they were too difficult.

Beau Brummels and a less known SFO band called the Vegetables (cute girl drummer) were pretty good similar off-shoot styles.

The level of musicianship was really changed by the Beatles (and George Martin)

So we all were 'takin the easy way out' - toward Vietnam.

great tunes for sure.

At 11:56 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

I've never heard that it was easier going to Vietnam than trying to sing Beatles harmonies, but you certainly made your point....

You know the early ones where they did the more traditional 3-part harmony like "This Boy" were also some of my favorites precisely because they had that Mills Brothers sort of historical vibe to them. Almost barber shop quartet-ish. Then once they learned the ropes they just went CRAZY!

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Victim of Scum said...

Watched an old Beatle video on YouTube the other day. The rooftop concert I believe it's called. When I saw John Lennon all I could think sadly was "Aawwww, shit there is John, how sad. Why did it happen? Damn, what a waste!"

You say you're still troubled about the Beatles breaking up. John Lennon's ridiculous death still haunt me 27 years later when I see his picture or hear his voice.

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, I meant -about Vietnam- that we were all torn from our music by the draft. In sarcasm, I meant that they forced us 'onto the trains'. And so many never came back.

[THOUGHT: maybe if Cheney had been in a band, we wouldn't be where we are today]

Also check out some early Everly Bros like 'So Sad' and 'Dream'. These are core Beatles techniques. But I really loved John's harmony below Paul's higher voice.
The Mills Bros harmony is a lot like the parts of a sax section. The technical name for it is called VoiceLeading - each part takes the shortest transition to the next chord note.
John's understated, close-tracking part was a little simpler - and I think better because the total harmony was not so 'thick' or busy. The Beatles improved on the Everly Bros AND the Mills Bros.
It was a new level in that music.
[ George Martin taught SOME of that to them - but they pulled it off with an edge]

John was my favorite. He was most feared by the establishment because he was so outspoken and clever. A terrible loss.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Bill McDonald said...

John was clearly the most important and obviously his death was much sadder than the Beatles breaking up. I just used that to say they meant a whole lot to me. By the way, it wasn't the break-up but how mean-spirited it got that really devastated me for a while. I was so glad Paul and John made peace before John died.
Watching Paul go through some Beatle classics at the Rose Garden, the final thing I thought I was seeing was a great composer. That's where they really seperate from the pack. Even the simplist little 2:30 pop song would often create a little world. Very unusual chord changes that made a beautiful sense.


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