Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Here's an aimless ramble for you. It was George Harrison's birthday yesterday. Well, it would've been his 70th if he wasn't dead, but it was his birthday nonetheless. Here's something to churn the ol' stomach: for Christmas last year - that is, the one we experienced roughly 2 months ago - I recieved a copy of the Beatles remastered stereo vinyl box set (it was probably has a fancier or perhaps simpler name than that, but that's what I know it as). Here's the catch: I asked for a copy of the thing, requested it, even! I have always, or at least since the days that I started developing some sort of individual taste w/ a liking for some things and a dislike for others - dug the Beatles. I have a number of friends who hold such a strong disliking for the band that you can't even mention their name without detecting a wince of displeasure on the face of the recipient. It's as if you just offered them a turd on a plate. You can see them being physically repelled at the mere thought of the Fab Four. I understand the idea of being repelled by something one finds incredibly unpleasant. For myself, musically speaking, there's likely a plethora of musical artists who bring me no pleasure whatsoever and they're multiplying by the day, but an example of a band who, for perhaps reasons unknown, truly repel me would be the Pixies. There is perhaps no rational explanation for my loathing of this group. They are, after all, merely a smug, pedestrian college-rock band who wrote and played some ordinary songs, had every music critic under the sun kissing their collective anus for this feat, mercifully split and have come back in recent years to collect their pay cheque. Nothing to get upset about, really. It's just the ass-kissing which gets me. REM received their fair share of butt-reeming back in the day, too, but I'll admit a weakness for some of their earlier songs, so it doesn't upset me. So where am I going with all of this? At this pace, nowhere. This post isn't about the Pixies, so let's switch subjects. Some critics would claim the same offence regarding the Beatles: the overwhelming opinion of clueless dilletantes who hail them as the saviours of Western Music as we know it, or, perhaps worse, the saviours of rock & roll, a claim which boils the blood in some.
My opinion resides elsewhere. I would state first and foremost that the Beatles were one hell of a band - four individuals writing and recording and playing their own material like a unique, semi-hermetic, organic unit - and would also claim that the band didn't so much "save" rock & roll so much as they reinvigorated and redefined it in the same way that many of my favourites did in the mid '70s and early '80s did. Prior to making my way through the vinyl box set I received - a handsome beast containing all of their studio LPs in original UK form, as well as the Beatles Masters 2LP set and a hefty coffee-table book on the band - I was only in possession of four of their LPs: Rubber Soul, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road. I sold my CD copy of Sgt. Pepper's about 15 years ago, for the peculiar reason that I decided I "didn't like it". It was, in fact, the Beatles LP I always dismissed as over-rated (it is, but subsequent recent listens to it have me thinking it's still a really good slice of British psychedelic pop). I've made my way through the lot, and I'm not about to bore the piss out of everyone reading this w/ an album-by-album rundown, so don't run just yet. The biggest surprise so far has been how much I really dig Let It Be, the band's last album from 1970 when they were falling apart at the seams, eschewing psychedelia for a rootsier approach and growing atrocious facial hair. The best track is here. It's an excellent record which sees the band ensconced in a pastoral retreat.
I've also been reading Rob Young's weighty tome, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music. I'm only about 150 pages into it (it's over 600), but so far it's been a revelatory guide through the world of 19th/20th-century British composition (Arnold Bax, Peter Warlock, Ralph Vaughan Williams, etc.), mid-20th-century Brit-folk (Ewan McColl, Shirley Collins, Davey Graham, Watersons) and now it's drifting into the world of Bert Jansch, Jon Renbourne, Fairports, Pentangle, Incredible String Band, Donovan and will hopefully take me soon to Comus and Jan Dukes De Grey. There's more to the book: the '80s and beyond are represented by Limey fruits such as Kate Bush, Talk Talk and David Sylvian (three fruits I like), the crux of the narrative being one in awe with a particular, eccentric strain of Britishness to be found within various artists of the past 100 years. Late-period Beatles are duly noted in this "pastoral" approach (or bucolic: the repeated use of this previously unknown term to me had me reaching for Wikipedia immediately), particularly Paul McCartney's retreat to the countryside both literally and within his music. Some creedence is given to McCartney's first couple of solo LPs - a stance several friends of mine have similarly taken over the years, and I still can't tell if they're being ironic or not - and whilst this fact may send a shudder down your spine, I will be listening to these albums before I drop dead.
But back to George. He released three incredible solo albums early in his career, and then went onto a lifetime of mediocrity (or worse). 1982's Gone Troppo is one of the most staggeringly terrible things he ever laid to tape, if not the worst. You can hear it here. It really does exist as if punk never happened. But still, Harrison released his Wonderwall Music LP in 1968 on Apple when the Beatles were still a going concern. It's the soundtrack to a film no one I know has ever seen (or possibly cared to see), though the music (hear it here: you might thank me this time) is a great mixture of Indian tonalites and freeform instrumental psychedelic rock. His old pal, dickhead Eric Clapton, plays guitar throughout, but that's no reason to dislike it. He also released a particularly fruity experimental electronic LP in 1969 (yes, the Beatles were still going!) by the name of Electronic Sound, two sides of formless moog noodling which is a great bonghit blissout (listen here). In 1970 he released his first album "proper" (well, not really, but others see it that way): All Things Must Pass, an epic 3LP set produced by Phil Spector. I bought the vinyl reissue when Harrison croaked in 2001 and everyone was posthumously singing its praises. I figured I could go wrong, but I took the gamble. It remains, along w/ John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (Yoko's Plastic Ono Band and Fly remain the greatest Beatles-related records ever, but I've spoken about them before, and last time I checked, Yoko was never actually in the Beatles), the best solo album by any of the members of the Beatles, and I say that without ever having actually heard McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street record. Its mixture of the quiet, bucolic (zing!) folk and the Wagnerian Wall Of Sound is, like, quiet/loud 15 years before the fucking Pixies! My favourite song from the album is here. Anyway, apologies for this post - I'll talk about punk records next time - but you really should fucking listen to the Beatles.

5 comments:

Pig State Recon said...

Always thought The Beatles woulda been GREAT - if only John, Paul, Goerge and Ringo hadn't been in the band

Tim space debris said...

Sounds like you're parroting something Steve Albini said many years ago. This is nothing new as you tend to parrot Joe Carducci quite often.

Tim space debris said...

I was referring to The Pixies in that last comment. I hope you weren't offended by a bit of old fashioned Aussie pot stirring! :) Here's my blog addresshttp://cardrossmaniac2.blogspot.com.au/?zx=a74ca870f1867e38 Feel free to offend.

Anonymous said...

http://www.avclub.com/articles/chuck-klosterman-repeats-the-beatles,32560/

Andrew said...

The problem with The Beatles is the problem with anything - over-cheering. There's an extra problem with Baby Boomers eulogising their youth as well, but too much praise for too long is a rough thing for any art to endure