WARNING: This blog post is for people who are 50 or older.
I am attending a class at the Rhythmix Cultural Works Center in Alameda. The Rhythmix Cultural Works Center brings people of all ages together for high-quality arts experiences in music, dance, theater, exhibits, and arts education. The center seeks to promote cultural awareness, encourage participation in the arts, support artists in the presentation of their work, and be a resource for community gatherings and events.[source: rhythmix.org]
In January, Rhythmix’s first-ever music history course focused on the phenomenon of the Beatles. Their songs were studied, with analysis of the musical and lyrical content, as well as structural elements.
- What musical styles do the songs address?
- What were their musical influences?
- In what ways did their music change over the years?
- Why were the Beatles so popular and influential?
- What exactly caused Beatlemania?
- How did the group form, grow and end?
- Where do their public images and personal lives fit in?
The Beatles are the most famous rock group in history. The reasons for this are cultural as well as musical, and the course was a study the two elements simultaneously.
Unfortunately, I didn't attend that class, but that class was so popular that Rhythmix decided to hold a second part: The Beatles, Part II: From the White Album to Abbey Road. I attended the first lecture on Monday night. It was fantastic.
Here are some fun facts I learned:
- The Beatles 1963 debut album entitled Please Please Me took 9.75 hours to record. Their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, took over 500 hours to record.
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first Beatles' album to have the lyrics printed on the back jacket.
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first Beatles' album to be recorded at Abbey Road Studio after the equipment was upgraded from 4-track to 8-track. The result is a more spacious sounding record.
The majority of the lecture focused on the 1968 album entitled The BEATLES that everyone refers to as The White Album based on its solid white cover. The cover was a reaction to the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band cover that was so ornate that it requires a legend to be interpreted correctly.
The Beatles just wanted to get back to their roots.
The songs for The White Album were written while the Beatles were meditating in India. They were tired of being the Beatles and wanted to escape all of the crazy materialism they found themselves mired in. Alas, it was the beginning of the end of the band as they started to write their own material outside of working with band members. Each member would write a song, bring it to the studio, and dictate how it would be performed. Before that point, they had brought in ideas but collaborated in the studio. Now they were making demos for each other rather than have to teach their bandmate personally.
This is evident in that of the 30 songs on The White Album, only 16 have all 4 Beatles playing on them. In addition, prior to this, the Beatles never had other rock musicians play on their albums. They had the occasional orchestra or background choir, but never other rock musicians. George Harrison broke this trend by having his then-pal, Eric Clapton, play guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Harrison wanted the guitar to sound like it was crying but did not know how to achieve that effect without using a wah-wah pedal. Harrison wanted it to be more subtle than what could be produced using a pedal. At first Clapton was hesitant, but Harrison told him that the other Beatles didn't like the song, didn't really want it to be on the album, and so he might as well play on it. At this point, Lennon and McCartney really didn't like each other's songs. Lennon referred to McCarney compositions as "granny songs," and McCratney didn't appreciate Lennon's Yoko Ono-influenced avant guard approach to what had previously been traditional songwriting. Lennon insisted that "Revolution 9" be included on the album to the others' dismay. He was making a statement that he could put whatever he wanted on his records.
George Martin was the longtime Beatles producer. Unlike the Beatles, he was a classically trained musician. He could translate the Beatles' intuitive feel for what they wanted to accomplish into the proper sound they were going for. With 30 songs, The White Album was a double album — only the third double rock album in history (Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan had released prior double albums). Though the album was the biggest selling double album in history (at that point), in hindsight, George Martin wished the album had been a single album of 14 songs. Our homework was to pick the 14 songs that we would have picked had we been George Martin.
Here's are the 16 songs I would have dropped:
- "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
- "Wild Honey Pie"
- "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"
- "Martha My Dear"
- "Rocky Raccoon"
- "Don't Pass Me By"
- "Yer Blues"
- "Mother Nature's Son"
- "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey"
- "Sexy Sadie"
- "Long, Long, Long"
- "Honey Pie"
- "Savoy Truffle"
- "Revolution 9"
Under my watch, that would have left the Beatles with an album of 14 songs:
- "Back in the USSR"
- "Dear Prudence"
- "Glass Onion"
- "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
- "Happiness is a Warm Gun"
- "I'm So Tired"
- "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"
- "I Will "
- "Helter Skelter"
- "Revolution 1"
- "Cry Baby Cry"
- "Good Night"
As you can tell, I avoided McCartney's silly songs and less melodic Lennon compositions. Did I kill some of your favorites? I did stick to the rule where Ringo and Harrison each get to sing at least one song.
Though the song has unfortunate ties to mass murderer, Charles Manson, the song "Helter Skelter" is about a twisty-turvy water park ride. The Who had just released a song that was billed as the loudest rock song ever recorded. McCartney wanted to make a song that was louder. One can certainly hear how Jimi Hendrix had an influence on Lennon when listening to "Revolution 1." The album version is slow. The United States single has as faster tempo.
I eagerly await the second class that will cover Abbey Road.
Beatle-ology is alive in the lab.