Wednesday, 6 January 2010
It’s a long time since I’ve sat down and listened to a whole load of Beatles albums in chronological order and it was an interesting experience. What immediately strikes you is the sheer amount of generally above average songs that were generated over a seven year period and the exponential curve that the maturation and experimentation takes. The few years from 1963 to 1966 show a remarkable grasp of musical form which in the view of composer and broadcaster, Howard Goodall, saved the great heritage of western classical music from a slide into atonal obscurity. Whilst he may be overstating the case, there is no doubt that the world benefited enormously from the inventive joyfulness of their output based on little more that the musical structures known intimately to Bach and Beethoven hundreds of years before.
One other aspect also occurred to me and it helps to explain why the standard was maintained over a period of many years. Listened to in sequence it becomes apparent that there is always one dominant songwriter at the top of their game at any one point helping to keep the brand on course for sustained greatness. More specifically, there are three eras. The first is the early years where Lennon dominates. After all, it was his band and his vision that started it all. Virtually all of the initial ‘Beatlemania’ songs – ‘Please Please Me’, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and ‘A Hard Days Night’ for example - were a product of his ear for an explosive and memorable tune. Clearly McCartney was a catalyst but I put the initial burst of energy down to Lennon.
The second is the middle period where McCartney, having found his composing feet under the wing of Lennon steps out of the shadow and mesmerises us with his melancholy ballads – ‘For No one’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Blackbird’ and of course, ‘Yesterday’. The third period is probably the most interesting. In the final years Lennon and McCartney have lost the cohesion that made them such a force to be reckoned with and it is George Harrison that takes centre stage. His ‘Something’ is the finest song Lennon and McCartney never wrote and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is a high spot on the ‘White’ album. Author Neil McDonald disagrees with me on this latter point but I stand by it – it still gives me the shivers even today. Add in ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and you can see why the final rites still have a fascination.
(To read more about my book which describes the effect of The Beatles, and many other bands, in my life see 'Memoirs of a Music Obsessive'.)