Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Beatles Remastered

Hi gang! And a happy New Year to all. As usual, my Christmas revolved around being woken at the crack of dawn by marauding kids and eating far too much but I did come out the other end with a set of Beatles Remasters, which means I now own one or two albums that I have (whisper it) never owned before, (like ‘Help!’), in nifty little digipaks.

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'.)


bearockr said...

Hello Sir, Just came over to wish you a very happy new year ! :)

Keep Rocking !

Charlie said...

Martin, glad you had a cool Yule and Happy New year to you!

I too always broke the Beatles into different periods. There is "Beatlemania 1" and that ends with Beatles for Sale. "Beatlemania 2" begins with Help! becasue that's where the music started to change and runs through Revolver. John's dominance ran through Rubber Soul. Then Paul took over. Then there is the "Psychedelia" which is basically just 1967, and finally the "Later Years" which begins with The White Album. George was outstanding near the end (his songs rivaled the other two) but he came on too late to be a huge factor before 1968. The weakest pereiod: Psychedelia, the srtongest: Beatlemania 2!

musicobsessive said...

Bearockr - and a happy new year to you too. Let's hope it brings more great music.

Charlie - glad to see that other's minds work like mine! I think you have it about right although I have a bit of a soft spot for 1967 especially the 'Magical Mystery Tour' album and of course, 'Strawberry Fields'.

YourZenMine said...

I agree with you about 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. I don't think any of the myriad cover versions of this song I've heard are a patch on the original.

Gonna have to talk to Mine about purchasing the Remasters, methinks.



musicobsessive said...

YourZ - Three cheers for George!

Btw, If you already own all the Beatles' CDs, I wouldn't break the bank to buy the remasters, they don't sound much different to me. I own most of them on scratched vinyl and wanted to replace them with CDs so it made sense to do it now.

Perplexio said...

I've got to say that for their post-Beatles work between Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison-- I prefer Harrison's solo material over that of John or Paul... especially Cloud 9, getting Jeff Lynne to produce was a brilliant idea on George's part.

musicobsessive said...

Perplexio - I'll go along with that. I think George hit the ground running and was at his peak during the 1970s. I'll probably get killed for saying this but my view is that John was a spent force post Beatles as all his best work was early to mid 1960s. Paul was OK up to about 'Band on the Run' but that was 27 years ago!

YourZenMine said...

Thanks for the advice but like you, we only own the collection on vinyl so updating it to the Remasters will be a good thing given that we no longer have a record player (although this is something we intend remedying soon).

Geraldo said...

I have a question about the remastered versions: some of the songs don't seem quite right. For instance, "Got to Get You into My Life" in Revolver seem to miss the bass until very late in the song.
Also, the opening notes of "Dear Prudence" sound strange. Since I didn't own other versions of these songs, I wonder if anyone had this feeling.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Grealdo. I know that there has been a fair amount of comment on the web about the remastering process causing strange effects, but I can't hear it myself. I checked the tracks you mention against my vinyl copies but there really isn't any difference to speak of.

Does anyone else have any view on this? Perhaps my ears are finally giving up the ghost.