Originally published in The Ottawa Beatles Fan Club and Newsletter, Vol 1 Number 2, Spring 1996
This is an appreciation of the Beatles. I'm not a journalist or a writer, but I've enjoyed their music for 32 years and I want to share a few thoughts. I've always felt a strong affinity with John Lennon, coming from UK and being born within a few months of him.
We greatly enjoyed the 4 1/2 hour version of the 'Anthology' video (the Europeans got 6 hours), and my first impression was of deja vu for the days when the Beatles first monopolized the newspapers, and I was first in line to buy each album as it appeared. In England, where pop music was not respectable, this was exciting for me, a clandestine Radio Luxembourg listener, and with a father who believed that Lonnie Donnegan was devilish stuff. There was a buzz in the UK air which recognized that the Beatles were special. It was acceptable (if not recommended) to like them, whereas the Rolling Stones had now assumed the serpentine role. The makers of the video have managed to create the feel of the times; some of the magic that accompanied the Four as they progressed their brief career is on the tape.
Unlike the critics and reviewers, I loved the new songs "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love." I'd heard John's original demo of "Free as a Bird" picked up by an Ottawa station from the Internet, and hadn't thought too much of it. But the engaging harmonies and middle eight/four added by the Three and Jeff Lynne transformed it into a tune that I hummed all day. I like George's steel guitar work, and get a warm feeling hearing it wafting across a parking lot or from someone else's radio. Real Love wasn't quite new to me. Brian Murphy my favourite DJ had played John's original "All the little boys and girls" from the "Imagine" set on The Source on Ottawa's CHEZ. Again the work done to commercialize it was excellent and I like it almost as much as "Free as a Bird".
So next day I trotted along to Sams and bought "Anthology 1". After the "Beatles at the BBC" I thought I knew roughly what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by the emotions I went through listening to the evolutions of the songs that had become part of me over 30 years. Through the marvels of tape recording, we were time-warped to the 60's and that's exactly how I feel again as I play the CD. It's difficult to describe the feeling to younger generations brought up on disco, Motown, rap or whatever, but in 1963-9 we owned the Beatles: they represented us, and somehow they had the power to pull the glorious melodies out of the ether for us. The tunes that will live forever, matched with evocative words that are so easy to hear that anyone can sing along: no other group has had such impact. My romantic concept of music composition is that a limited number of everlasting tunes are up there waiting to be brought to earth, and once we have them here, there aren't any more good ones till the next generation's quota. The Beatles were the chosen ones to bring down the music of the sixties that will live forever.
I thought I'd get to work on Anthology 1, sorting the songs I'd like to listen to repeatedly. There's a lot of verbal history, but you only need to hear it once. On one of the quotes, John says that at the time they were the best rock band in Britain. I remembered that he was right. This was the era of the instrumental, partly because it's hard to sing well while playing lead or bass guitar; rhythm can be managed quite easily as in skiffle and folk. They were the first successful group to master rock singing and playing at the same time. With "A Hard Day's Night" their singing had developed to sophisticated harmonies with counterpoint, with great tunes. I can still remember the first time I heard it, and marveled. No one else could touch them. How much was theirs, and how much George Martin's contribution is an interesting discussion point on a song-by-song version.
The process of selection onto a cassette is creative for me, but it had an effect I didn't expect. For some reason I decided to play my tape of "With the Beatles", made from my original stereo vinyl disk (the CD is only mono). I selected "Hold me Tight" and played it loud. It was a revelation! I hadn't played this for years. After playing the rougher songs on Anthology, this song hit me as a great rocker (with acceptable stereo balance). So also with the rest of the album...I was enjoying it more than...more than I had in 1963!
So began a process of rediscovery of the glorious legacy of Beatles music, which I am still engaged in as I write. It was Christmas, and to accompany dressing the tree, I played myself, loud, "The Beatles Love Songs," a delightful collection of their gentler songs. Gorgeous melodies skillfully sung to seem simple. I had sensed that one of my office staff whom I wanted to thank might like a selection of Beatle music. So I started with "The Beatles Love Songs," and completed the C90 with some other favourites of mine, and ending with the two new songs. At no time did I ever feel the extra Beatle music I was now playing much of the time was repetitious. Rather, I was relating the songs to the background I'd learnt from Anthology - both the video and the disk. I was more than ever before able to appreciate the magnitude of their achievement, and to live it again with them. Furthermore, other singers and groups I heard on the radio seemed wooden and inadequate. I began to realize that, through prodigious natural talent harnessed by Messrs. Epstein, Martin, and their other close associates all of very high calibre, a phenomenon had been enacted a quarter century ago that dwarfed every other musical achievement since, and continues to deliver pure pleasure to diverse populations of millions worldwide.
As a frustrated would-be tunesmith myself, I greatly admire those who can craft notes and time signatures in such a way that other people will enjoy them. What is the character that a sequence of crotchets has that make the sequence memorable? I can't fathom it. But even if you listen to the Beatles relaxing, as on their Christmas disks for the original fan club, when they sing, it's interesting. When they joke around, it's funny, even today. And when, as on their officially released work, they take time and trouble over their music, it's timeless. I include George in the same league as Paul and John, here, because though his output is less, many of his songs are of very high quality indeed, and stand the test of time. It's time that proves artistic quality, and in music that means that 30 years on, or 100 years on the sound should not seem dated. Well, we are at 30, and it's fresh as dew on the lawn. My expectation is that it will get to 100 with no loss of the enthusiasm that it receives from successive generations. This is not a baby-boomer phenomenon.
As I listen to the two recent collections, BBC and Anthology, each time it's as if I boost my pleasure sensors for the major albums, every one of which I believe has great merit. More and more I appreciate the White Album: so much to enjoy including the novelties. I like their experiments with recording techniques like phasing and backward recording. "I'm only Sleeping" from Revolver is a wonderful example of both, with words that are a much needed tonic for today's frenetic lifestyle. But if all the backing tracks were somehow erased, John's glorious voice stands up as one of the most sensuous in our generation, and is one I'll never tire of. Listen to "This Boy", including the second version on Anthology, for a great example of its very special quality. Even sung through echoing tubes, as seems to be the case on some tracks, there's a uniqueness there that never fades.
My favourite Beatles song is probably "Strawberry Fields Forever". My least enjoyed is a tossup between "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" - but either may be your favourite. Strangely, I'm now coming to like these two. There are so many songs that are gems: understated, controlled, perfectly constructed, non-derivative, harmonious and satisfying. There's always a melodic twist with Beatles songs that no one else would have thought of, yet they produce apparently as a natural extension of the current thought pattern.
Even with this marvelous musical achievement, the Beatles touched us for human reasons, as four lovely human beings that if we had them here in our living room, they would lighten up our lives. This side of them comes through well on the unofficial recordings, and perhaps that's their prime legacy. We feel warm towards them, a warmth that somehow transcends death itself, and we continually thank them for their contribution to the quality of our lives. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. They took huge amounts. And we continue to give it, very willingly.
Copyright Tony Copple 1996
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