One of my many compulsive patterns is that a drive to Florida necessitates the listening to of a single artist for the entire ride down. (The ride back means vacation is over and so anything that can help to keep me a little chipper is fair game.). Today's drive coincides with the recent release of the entire Beatles catalog on Spotify and other listening apps, and so, at my leisure, I listened just about every song they put out as a band.
The only thing that didn't call my name was the highly-overrated drudgery of the first side of Abbey Road. Which leads to my post; I have, perhaps, fresh thoughts on listening to the Beatles 52 years after I first started listening to them. And if you are moved enough to respond, I would enjoy hearing some of your counter-perspectives.
1. About that Abbey Road, hmmm...well, I'd have to say the whole thing is highly overrated. Side One sinks under the pretensions of the ponderous "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", which goes on about five minutes too long, and the slight "Octopus' Garden." Sorry, Paul, but one "Yellow Submarine" was enough. "Something" was a beautiful ballad, but I am simply tired of it.
I know well and acknowledge that Side Two is innovative and stimulating with its combination of snippets of partial songs into a fairly-coherent final statement of the Beatles' majesty, but if you stop and listen to any of them and think about them, there is almost nothing to them. Side Two is an overindulgence of the "dumb" songs that started around the time of Revolver. It strikes me as the ultimate tribute of George Martin's production genius.
2. After a re-listening, the greatest of the Beatles' albums is A Hard Day's Night. While more common "best" Beatle albums (and sometimes greatest albums of all time) include Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver, or Rubber Soul, all of those are ultimately marred by a couple of weak or maudlin songs on each one. Oh, yes, all contain some of the Beatles' most powerful songs, but nearly 50 years later, all seem inconsistent (and again held together by Martin's marvelous production values).
By contrast, A Hard Day's Night (not all of the songs appeared in the movie) is a tight collection of smart, quick pop songs all focused on love and relationships, all sounding distinctly different from the song before or after. It is the same thing Elvis Costello achieves with Get Happy or Steely Dan with Pretzel Logic.
In addition to the title track, the other mega-hit is "Can't Buy Me Love," but other standout tracks include "I Should Have Known Better, " "Things We Said Today", "If I Fell," "Anytime At All," and "You Can't Do That." A Hard Day's Night is the Beatles at their most infectious, and part of me wonders either a) if it came out today, could it revolutionize music once again or b) could there be an interesting rap/hip-hop reimagining of these songs waiting out there to bring these songs back in new, perhaps just referential, ways.
3. My concentrated listening reinforced for me what I knew long ago and still believe--my favorite Beatle period, by far, is the span between 1964-1966, when they released a remarkable 5 albums (A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul. Revolver), as well as two movies and numerous side singles, like the incredible "Rain," "Day Tripper," and "We Can Work It Out." While this feat of sheer output alone is impossible to imagine today (like Satchel Page pitching both games of a double-header), the quality of so many songs is simply stunning.
For me, the years before still cling too much to the early rock and roll of the 50's and early 60's, while the psychedelia and disenchantment of the later years serves John sometimes, and only sometimes, provides George space to find himself, but seems to have mired Paul in some kind of eternal vaudeville acid trip.
From 64-66, all three songwriters found their own voices, while still occasionally paying homage to their many influences. It is a fruitful combination of voices, confident instrumentation, covers and originals, co-writes and solo songs, and light-years-ahead-of-it's-time production. And for a listener, with the remastering a few years ago, the songs have never sounded better.