Posts Tagged ‘Ringo Starr’

“Revolver” by the Beatles (1966)

Picture Beatlemania as it erupted in the United States in February 1964: Teenage girls screaming at four young “mop-top” musicians performing melodic love songs.

Two years later, the girls still were screaming. But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey had been transformed far, far beyond the cartoonish – yes, there actually was a Beatles animated series – portrayal of the Fab Four phenoms.

The release of “Rubber Soul” in late 1965 demonstrated how far the band had progressed musically, the lyrical simplicity of previous songs supplanted by a newfound complexity, particularly on Lennon’s material. Under the guidance of producer George Martin, the Beatles were able to translate their musical aspirations to vinyl.

“Revolver” is a groundbreaking statement in that it opened up a whole new realm of possibilities as to how a popular band could present itself to its audience. Stylistically, lyrically and sonically, the album represents a major step in formulating what we now know as classic rock.

Proceedings began on April 6, 1966, when the band started work on a new composition by Lennon that carried the working title of “Mark I.” After experiencing a bad LSD trip the first time he tried LSD, unwittingly dosed by his dentist, John decided to try the drug on better terms, using Dr. Timothy Leary’s writings as a guide. That did the trick.

“Mark I” apparently represents Lennon’s sonic conversion of an acid trip, evoking Leary’s words to a backdrop of tape loops, many of them running in reverse. In an attempt to add to the sense of otherworldliness, he suggested that he should be suspended from a rope to spin around as he delivered his vocal. Nineteen-year-old engineer Geoff Emerick came up with the more practical solution of Lennon singing into a Leslie revolving speaker, which he hijacked from an organ.

In the original version of “Mark I,” as released three decades later on “Anthology 2,” Lennon’s vocal is thin and tinny, described by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn as sounding like it was coming from the cheapest of transistor radios. By the time the song was completed as “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the voice transmission is much higher fidelity, if hardly conventional.

According to McCartney and Harrison, Lennon drew the lyrics primarily from Leary’s “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead,” co-written by fellow LSD proselytizers Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner. The first couple of verses read much like their guide to a good trip:

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void
It is shining, it is shining
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Although the Beatles started work first on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” it is the final track on “Revolver,” which contains 14 tracks on its British version. Unfortunately, Capitol Records still was playing games with Beatles records as of 1966, and the American release contains only 11 songs, clocking in at well under half an hour.

Either way, kicking off the album is one of Harrison’s best-known songs, and one that looks to continue to resonate long after all of us are gone, “Taxman.” Stewing at his native United Kingdom taking 94 percent at his earnings, he launches into a viciously cynical diatribe from the government’s standpoint:

Don’t ask me what I want it for
(Haha! Mister Wilson!)
If you don’t want to pay some more
(Haha! Mister Heath!),
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman

Now my advice for those who die, (Taxman!)
Declare the pennies on your eyes, (Taxman!)
‘Cause I’m the Taxman,
Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
And you’re working for no-one but me!

If Harrison’s attack on the tax structure was revolutionary for 1966, the song that follows it on “Revolver” is no less. “Eleanor Rigby,” of course, is McCartney’s nihilistic vignette set to a string quartet, ruminating on “all the lonely people” and, by extension, on organized religion: “No one was saved.” Many other artists covered “Eleanor Rigby” in various forms, including the overtly psychedelicized Vanilla Fudge version. But the Beatles’ original arrangement – the strings, Paul’s plaintive vocal, John and George backing him on the chorus – remains the strongest.

The U.S. version of “Revolver” omits three Lennon songs that appear on other American albums: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert.” The first of those – a languidly paced number that abruptly drops out in places, as if the singer indeed has nodded off – is laced with many of the sonic effects of which John became enamored while recording “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Harrison returns with “Love You To,” the first of his three sitar-dominated compositions for the Beatles and probably the strongest one. Again, he expresses the cynicism of his worldview – “There’s people standing ’round/Who screw you in the ground/They’ll fill you in with all their sins you’ll see” – but this time he’s able to steer matters in the right direction with the love of his woman.

“Revolver” is an album of contrasts, and diametrically opposed to Lennon’s experimentation is McCartney’s penchant for straightforward love songs. “Here, There and Everywhere” is such an effort, presaging much of what has been criticized as fluff during his solo career, although this composition certainly has much more merit than something like, say, “Silly Love Songs.” (Although that Wings effort was the biggest hit of 1976!)

Speaking of hits, they don’t have much more staying power than “Yellow Submarine,” written by Lennon for Ringo’s vocal contribution to the album. The fanciful journey in what very well may be a barbiturate has been sung by children for a couple of generations now, enjoying the nonsense of claiming, “We all live in a yellow submarine!” Of note in the actual recording are the various nautical sound effects, which help keep the track sounding somewhat fresh as it plods along.

“She Said She Said” is another acid-influenced Lennon composition, this time based on a conversation he had with Peter Fonda when both were tripping. One drawback of the U.S. “Revolver” is that only this track and “Tomorrow Never Knows” were present to represent John’s work.

McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” has been heard recently in TV commercials, but the original uses the Beatles’ inimitable harmony vocals to great effect in conveying a thoroughly uplifting message, one that might be needed after the listener mulls “She Said She Said.”

Lennon’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” features an exceptional guitar line, with Harrison playing his 12-string Rickenbacker and McCartney adding support. The lyrics are rather cryptic, but one entirely plausible suggestions is that they refer to Mick Jagger’s then-girlfriend (“bird”) Marianne Faithfull, who had scored a couple of mid-’60s pop hits despite a lack of prior performing experience.

“For No One” shows McCartney taking the opposite approach of “Good Day Sunshine” with a melancholy statement on the breakup of “a love that should have lasted years.” Given full credit on the album cover for his French horn playing was Alan Civil (1929-89), principal hornist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra until his retirement in 1988.

The popular story behind Lennon’s “Doctor Robert” is that he wrote it about a pill-pushing physician in New York. Certainly, the lyrics hint at some type of prescriptive shenanigans:

Ring my friend, I said you call Doctor Robert
Day or night he’ll be there any time at all, Doctor Robert
Doctor Robert, you’re a new and better man,
He helps you to understand
He does everything he can, Doctor Robert

“I Want to Tell You” is one of Harrison’s best Beatles songs, faded in with a stuttering, hard-rock intro that goes a long way toward defining the band’s sound of its proto-psychedelic period. Again, George is prone to ruminate: “But if I seem to act unkind/It’s only me, it’s not my mind/That is confusing things.”

McCartney does his best Motown impression on “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which became a hit U.S. single in 1976 after being re-released on Capitol’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” compilation. The song shows the Beatles as maintaining their strong R&B roots in the midst of their transformation to psychedelia.

The release of “Revolver” in August 1966 coincided with the start of a short tour, which wrapped up with a performance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Aug. 29. No songs from the new album were included, of course, as the band ripped through their usual Fab Four-type set, most of the sound drowned in screams.

And that, of course, was that.

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“Rubber Soul” by the Beatles (1965)

A good argument can be made that every Beatles album, at least the ones over which they had creative control, should be on any list of the all-time greats. My erstwhile colleague Brad Hundt, a talented entertainment writer and lifelong Beatlemaniac, no doubt would do so on his list.

But as a reminder, Harry’s Hundred combines my respect for an album’s merits, my familiarity with its contents and how much I enjoy listening to it. So it’s not exactly a “greatest” list; if so, stuff like “Golden Earring Live” would be nowhere near it. But that ain’t a bad album, and I still like it a whole lot 35 years after its release.

So I’ve narrowed down my Beatles selections, and here’s where we start, at the juncture when the Beatles evolved from pop to art, when they demonstrated once and for all that they weren’t just some British guys with long hair and Edwardian suits making a bunch of noise.

What’s remarkable about “Rubber Soul” is that the Beatles and George Martin recorded it on deadline, trying to rush-release it before the holiday shopping season. The band had just returned to England from another North American tour full of fans screaming so loud that the musicians couldn’t hear themselves. Rather than take time off, as they’d do following their final tour the following year, they plunged headlong into writing new songs.

What emerged was a departure from most of the love-song music they’d made to that point. Sure, boy-girl relationships continued to be a prominent theme, but in a much more creative manner.

The opener, “Drive My Car,” is indicative of the new direction: John Lennon draws from the Robert Johnson “Terraplane Blues” songbook – Robert Plant later would use it to optimal effect on Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot” – to equate sex with operating a vehicle, and this time it’s the woman who’s enticing the man.

Lennon explores the male-female dynamic with sophistication previously unknown in the Beatles canon on “Norwegian Wood,” which turned about to be the veiled story of his affair with a journalist. Musically, the song also marks a major step forward, as George Harrison plays the sitar for the first time in rock music history. (Outtakes, such as the one released on “Anthology 2,” show the instrument to be much more prominent in the mix than on the official version.)

Paul McCartney joins the fray with “You Won’t See Me,” a commentary on his relationship with Jane Asher, one that would end a couple of years later when she caught him red-handed with an American woman named Francine Schwartz. As for the song, it displays a certain amount of petulance not found in previous McCartney compositions: “When I call you up, your line’s engaged/I have had enough, so act your age.”

“Nowhere Man” joins previous classics “I’m a Loser” and “Help!” as explorations of Lennon’s self-doubt, a condition that would manifest itself considerably in the coming years. The opening a cappella recitation of the lyrics stands as one of the most striking examples of the Beatles’ vocal abilities, and the song remains one of the most revered in the band’s catalog.

“Think for Yourself” demonstrates why George Harrison felt slighted when it came to the paucity of his compositions on Beatles albums. By any measure, it’s an exceptionally advanced composition for 1965: The lyrics resonate fully almost half a century later, what with the utter vapidness into which popular culture has evolved, and the frightening implications that has for the future of the world. Instrumentally, McCartney’s fuzz-toned bass guitar is at once innovative and another step toward what would become hard rock.

Lennon’s “All You Need Is Love” became one of his best-known anthems. But he explored basically the same theme two years earlier with “The Word,” which also shows the Beatles’ overall sound becoming harder-edged as the ’60s progressed.

OK, so why do I rank “Rubber Soul” at a spot where 36 albums are ahead of it? Sorry, I’ve tried to warm up to “Michelle” for decades, but it’s one of the few Beatles songs that leaves me cold. Sure, it explores traditional French themes as opposed to the standard pop/rock of the time, which is interesting from a musical standpoint but hardly endears it to listeners who are prefer something a bit heavier.

Ringo Starr’s first Beatles co-composing credit appears on “What Goes On,” a relatively nondescript country-flavored tune that has its charms but isn’t quite the remedy for getting back on track after “Michelle.” Neither is “Girl,” though you have to like the “tit-tit-tit” backing vocals that escaped the censors.

McCartney redeems himself considerably with “I’m Looking Through You,” another jab at Jane through a relatively complex set of lyrics. Two distinct versions exist of the song, with the one that first was recorded serving as a sought-after collector’s item for decades, until “Anthology 2” made that moot.

Lennon’s much-heralded “In My Life” is one of the first of his many trips down memory lane, a bit more upbeat than, say, “Mother,” but still containing a fair amount of poignancy. “Some are dead and some are living,” for example, refers to Stuart Sutcliffe; it’s been conjectured that John always shouldered some of the blame for Stu’s early death.

When the Beatles were writing and recording what became “Rubber Soul,” they managed to come up with 13 new songs. The 14th, “Wait,” was an outtake from the “Help!” album, but the track tends to mesh seamlessly with most of the newer material.

Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone,” while not quite reaching the heights of “Think for Yourself,” still shows that he would have been the chief songwriter in just about any other rock band of the era.

The album closes with the tongue-in-cheek “Run for Your Life,” which is about as far removed thematically as you can get from tunes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Lennon, who admitted nicking the opening line from Arthur Gunter’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” (as sung by Elvis Presley), ended up despising “Run for Your Life.” We’ll blame that development, like many others, on Yoko’s influence …

For the record (pun intended), the American “Rubber Soul” LP is a substantially different album from its British counterpart, containing two songs from the U.K. version of “Help!” – “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “It’s Only Love” – while jettisoning “Drive My Car,” “Nowhere Man,” “What Goes On,” and “If I Needed Someone.”

By opening the album with “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” which sounds somewhat like Paul Simon compositions of the period (or vice versa), Capitol Records made the U.S. “Rubber Soul” appear to be more of a folk-rock album, to compete commercially with the likes of Bob Dylan and the Byrds on Columbia. Like the Beatles needed help with sales!

Seriously, whatever the version, “Rubber Soul” went to the top of the charts around the world, proving the Beatles could appeal to a more serious, mature audience than the screaming teeny-boppers who packed their concerts. In turn, that made the band members realize they probably didn’t need to be trying to perform in front of screaming teeny-boppers.

But that’s another story.