Monday, 23 December 2019

The Beatles - Love Is All You Need (1965-1970)



The albums covered here are:-

Rubber Soul (1965)
Revolver (1966)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Beatles (The White Album) (1968)
Abbey Road (1969)
Let It Be (1970)
Let It Be...Naked
The Beatles: Love (2006)
and The Beatles In Mono Box Set

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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RUBBER SOUL (1965)

1. Drive My Car
2. Norwegian Wood
3. You Won't See Me
4. Nowhere Man
5. Think For Yourself
6. The Word
7. Michelle
8. What Goes On
9. Girl
10. I'm Looking Through You
11. In My Life
12. Wait
13. If I Needed Someone
14. Run For Your Life                                       

After 1964’s Beatles For Sale had seen The Beatles move from rock n roll covers and lyrically twee pop songs to a more cynical, worldly-wise (particularly in the case of John Lennon’s lyrics) approach to songwriting, this 1965 was very much the transitional album in their career. The one that saw them complete the move from lovable teen pop group to a “serious” band. Bob Dylan was already 100% more serious and credible, so they had some work to do. Rubber Soul was said to be a “folk rock” album. I am not sure about that. Yes, there was the acoustic Norwegian Wood, but that’s really as far as it went, in my opinion. It is still very recognisably The Beatles. They still ploughed their own unique furrow although they were “borrowing” from other artists quite considerably on here.

Firstly, the sound is fantastic in this album. Forget all that “mono sounds best” stuff. Just listen to the stereo (use Norwegian Wood as an example) - it will blow you away. The "Dylan influence" is supposed to be present here. I have never really bought that, to be honest. It is just a great song in its own right, and sounds like pure Lennon to me, not anyone else. Back to the mono/stereo thing, the album is an enjoyable listen in mono, but the stereo remastering really adds something special to it, in my opinion.

  

The album still has an upbeat poppy appeal, however, but the “pop” is well-crafted mature pop, such as the jangly but melodic Byrds-influenced Nowhere Man, the slightly lyrically sombre but nevertheless singalong You Won't See Me, with its wonderful harmony vocals and the country-ish Ringo Starr co-credited What Goes On

The rocking, cowbell, piano and guitar riffing of the opener, Drive My Car is incredibly catchy, and underneath its pop facade has some great guitar parts. On all these tracks. McCartney's bass sounds wonderful, particularly on Nowhere Man - warm, melodious and throbbing nice and loud, just as I like it.

Just as on 1964's transitional Beatles For Sale, however, miserable old Lennon and his love life problems are never far away by now, in introspective retrospections such as the plaintive Girl, with its slightly off-putting hissing vocal part; the confessional and majestic In My Life and the slightly unnerving Run For Your Life. The lyrics to the latter can even sound a little creepy at times. However, Lennon baring his cynical soul is essential to The Beatles' development into something highly credible after the pure pop of the early material. In My Life has a reasonable case for being his finest song to date.

Think For Yourself, with its excellent Harrison vocal and slightly distorted but thrilling guitar solo is a revelation.  great track. Lennon is back on the rhythmic, bass-driven rocker that is The Word. McCartney's bass is rumbling and almost funky and there is another distorted guitar part.   Instrumental experimentations such as this were starting to appear too, such as Lennon’s use of a baroque harpsichord on the bridge in In My Life. The Rolling Stones, of course, had been using such instrumentation for a while by now, it is wise to remember. A definite change in the band’s output an approach was taking place, but do not ever discount the other musical influences that helped to create this transitional work - The ByrdsBob DylanThe Rolling Stones, even The Who.

McCartney's Michelle was basically a solo song on his part, typically tuneful and catchy with again a lovely bass line near the end. Granted, it is a bit throwaway, but it is an enjoyable diversion. Starr's love of mid-pace "country rock" is reflected in his collaboration with Lennon and McCartney and vocal on the appealing, but lightweight What Goes On. The steady drum sound on this is beautiful, though, as are the guitar interjections. The sound on this one is amongst some of the best sound reproduction on the album. McCartney's rousing I'm Looking Through You has many country-ish airs too, but there is also a killer high-pitched guitar interjection and a throaty, rasping vocal that almost apes Lennon at times.


Lennon's Wait sounds like a bit of a throwback to a few months before, as if it should have appeared on Help!. Most supposed Lennon/McCartney compositions by now were no longer the half-and-half collaborations they were in the early to mid sixties. By Beatles For Sale they were clearly either "Lennon songs" or "McCartney songs". This one, though, has signs of being back to the old double-act thing. Maybe that is why, on this album, it sounds just a little dated and out of place.

Harrison's If I Needed Someone is his second impressive song on the album but for whatever reason they always seem to be overshadowed by the catchy instant appeal of McCartney's songs or the lyrical "in your face" attack of Lennon. This is perfectly exemplified by the next track up, the closing, afore-mentioned Run For Your Life from Lennon. Bit of a shame for Harrison, but it was just the way it was.

Listening to Rubber Soul always give repeated pleasure. I have to say that in many respects this is my favourite Beatles album.



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REVOLVER (1966)

1. Taxman
2. Eleanor Rigby
3. I'm Only Sleeping
4. Love You To
5. Here, There And Everywhere
6. Yellow Submarine
7. She Said She Said
8. Good Day Sunshine
9. And Your Bird Can Sing
10. For No One
11. Doctor Robert
12. I Want To Tell You
13. Got To Get You Into My Life
14. Tomorrow Never Knows               

After three albums in Beatles For SaleHelp! and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rubber Soul that heavily featured "country rock", mid-paced laid back tunes, The Beatles produced their first really credible rock album. Bob Dylan had led the way, joined by The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd among others in finding weird and wonderful ways of producing electrified music. The Beatles, by now wanting to experiment more and more after being somewhat conventional, let their creativity fly free and they came up with music that was, in so many ways, totally unique.

The previous three albums had also  been notable for quite clearly being divided into Lennon songs, McCartney songs, a couple of Harrison songs and usually one or two "Ringo songs". This was now incredibly apparent on Revolver as each track was instantly recognisable by its vocalist/main contributor. The album's ambience literally changes from track to track. Rolling Stones albums contained obvious Jagger or Richards songs, but it was nowhere near as defined as this. The Beatles were almost unique in this regard, only Queen, in the 70s and 80s, with songs by Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor have come close to releasing albums full of such diverse material.

This is also my favourite period for The Beatles' image - all those Byrds-esque sunglasses and Paisley shirts, together with the deliberately monochromic photography that accompanied the album's publicity and, of course, the album cover's black and white artwork. None of that Sgt. Pepper garish nonsense here or those post-Pepper shaggy beards. This was The Beatles at their coolest, for me.
                
I will separate the songs accordingly into the individuals that dominate the song:-

Lennon

Lennon first leads proceedings on the somewhat dreamy, I'm Only Sleeping ("seeping" as he enunciates at times). It is laid-back and there are hints of drugginess, also of Lennon's perceived "laziness". There is also a fuzzy Harrison guitar solo. She Said She Said has a very psychedelic feel (it really was Lennon who led the way in Beatles psychedelia). McCartney, apparently, walked out on the session. It feels like the first of many typical latter period Beatles Lennon numbers. The non-album track, the excellent Rain, had a similar feel. All very LSD it has to be said. All the better for it too, it would seem. The upbeat, rocky And Your Bird Can Sing  has a superb guitar riff intro and a totally different ambience to She Said She Said. Lennon is much livelier, vocally and lyrically too, although McCartney always claimed about 20% of the lyrics were down to him. Compared to the previous two, I can see that. Doctor Robert is also a fast-paced rock song, about a drug peddler. Some nice harmonies on the "well well well" vocal part.


Then, of course, there is Tomorrow Never Knows, the tour de force which saw Lennon fully launch into the experimental style which would so dominate his work for The Beatles over the next four years. All sorts of instruments, tape loops, feedback, Harrison's Eastern influence, weird lyrics - they are all in there. In many ways it a more intriguing track than A Day In The Life. A perfect example of Lennon's drugged-up latter-era Beatles genius. It began here. The cynical love songs of the previous three albums had gone by now. This was a new direction for Lennon, and it was markedly different to that of McCartney.

Funnily enough, I have always thought of Revolver as a "Lennon" album, but there are only five direct songs from him, which just goes to show how strong and dominating they are. Also, Harrison's songs were far close in feel to Lennon's than they were to McCartney's, in my opinion.

  

McCartney

Eleanor Rigby is always thought of as a Beatles song, and credited accordingly. Of course, it is not. It is, like Yesterday, Paul McCartney and various instrumentalists. No Beatle actually played any instruments on the recording. It is one of McCartney's "character" songs, at which he so excelled. Pictured left is the gravestone which inspired the song. The beautiful, gentle ballad Here There And Everywhere was said to be inspired by McCartney's favourite song, The Beach Boys' God Only KnowsGood Day Sunshine was one of those optimistic, joyful McCartney songs that Lennon was not too keen on. It just sums up the mid 60s with its piano melody and catchy lyric.

For No One is possibly his finest song on the album. A tender, harmonious love song with a fetching ad hoc French horn solo. Both Lennon and Harrison were not required to supply guitar parts on this or Sunshine, something that showed the first musical cracks beginning to appear.

Got To Get You Into My Life was a vibrantly commercial, Motown-influnced horn riff dominated song that sat somewhat uneasily within the general feel of the album, particularly as Tomorrow Never Knows was next up, and Harrison's melodically challenging I Want To Tell You preceded it.
It has a great vocal and an irresistible chorus that makes it always a pleasure to hear, though.

Harrison

The clumsy stereo of Taxman (one of the few tracks that I, a stereo man, prefer in mono) is probably Harrison's highlight on the album. Some rare political lyrics and some brutal guitar attack. The riff was recycled by The Jam on their hit single, Start! in 1980. Love You To was Harrison's first experiment with Indian music, his by now typical fuzzy guitar merged successfully with many percussion and string instruments from various Hindi instrumentalists. Lennon liked this, I am sure. Not sure about the other two. I Want To Tell You has a chorus that sticks in your head, although the rest of it is a little muddled, some clunky piano parts from McCartney and a staccato guitar riff make it still a memorable track.

Starr

Yellow Submarine.

I think it is prudent to refrain from commenting, only to say it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Along with Rubber Soul, Revolver is my favourite Beatles album. Although I love the 2009 stereo version, I also enjoy listening to it at a good volume pumping out of my speakers in true mono.



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SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1967)

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. With A Little Help From My Friends
3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
4. Getting Better
5. Fixing A Hole
6. She's Leaving Home
7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
8. Within You Without You
9. When I'm Sixty-Four
10. Lovely Rita
11. Good Morning Good Morning
12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
13. A Day In The Life     

What do you say about an album that is regularly said to be the “greatest album of all time”? Not too much one can say, I guess, other than offer my probably irrelevant opinions.

This album is certainly not a “rock” album, just as The Beatles were often not a rock band. This album is a collection of songs - some monumental, some silly, some pleasant, some average. It is a veritable chocolate box of styles too - rock, ballad, music hall, Indian, whimsy and ground-breaking sonic experimentation, the like of which had never been heard before. Like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, its effect culturally, on the music industry and, in this case, the world, was far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, it may not even be the best album by The Beatles, but it is, undoubtedly, the most important.


Regarding the many re-issues of the album, my personal preference is for the 2017 remix/remaster. It allowed me to rediscover Pepper and find it exciting again after many years of over-familiarity. Oh and yes, I do own the mono edition too. I have to admit, also, that it sounds incredible played loud on a good system in mono. I enjoy listening to both.

The outtakes on the 2017 remaster are a most interesting listen, particularly the instrumental Penny Lane and the Strawberry Fields takes. It is great to hear these iconic tracks take shape and start wondering if they could have been improved upon. Probably not, is the answer, but it is fun wondering and debating it.

                                            
The introduction is memorable, from the "fade in" background noise, we get the album’s purest two minutes of “rock”. Proper guitar riff, great drum sound, excellent rasping vocals. An iconic introductory track. Then it segues into With A Little Help From My Friends - yes, Joe Cocker’s 1968 version took the song to new heights, but there is just something so comforting about Ringo Starr’s homely, touching vocal. Just a thoroughly appealing song. Great instrumentation too. Perfect. Oh and I forgot the beautiful, throbbing bass line. The wonderful bass is also present in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,  Lennon's wonderful, atmospheric drugged-up fantasia. Was it written while on something? Was it about LSD? Who really cares. It sounds dreamy, trippy and from another world. Of course he was on something.

Getting Better, McCartney's optimistic song written, apparently, while walking his dog on Hampstead Heath in London. It begins with a sharp, stabbing guitar riff and is another of the album's genuine rock moments. George Harrison inserts some Indian percussion instrumentation at 1.45-ish. An often ignored track from this album. I like it. Fixing A Hole was another under-mentioned track that sees McCartney taking lead vocal again. It is pleasant few minutes, but in a way it seems to finish before it had started. An impressive Harrison guitar solo near the end.

She's Leaving Home was McCartney's sad tale of a young girl leaving home, orchestrated and sung in the same mournful style as Eleanor Rigby. Not too many Beatles songs were sensitive human tales, or pertinent social comment, but this one certainly is, centring on the post-war, emerging lack of understanding between the younger and older generations. It was one of McCartney's "character" songs that Lennon so despised, apparently.


Talking of Lennon, Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! was his marvellously evocative piece of loveable nonsense derived from an old circus poster. You can't help but enjoy the sheer silliness of it and the odd noises, rare instruments and studio trickery involved in some of the sounds and the bizarre circus imagery of the lyrics. It is certainly a very odd track indeed, but nobody really dislikes it. Apart from, it is said, Lennon himself.

In typical style-changing from song to song, now we are treated to Within You Without You. I love this. George Harrison's bold effort in introducing "world" music to the pop music market. Anyone other than The Beatles would have been condemned in intolerant 1960s Britain for recording such "foreign rubbish". Harrison got away with it, though and interest in music from further afield than Britain and the USA started to develop, largely because of the inclusion of tracks like this on Beatles albums. In many ways, it is musically the most interesting cut on the album.

Lovely Rita was another McCartney of those afore-mentioned "character" songs written about someone in the third person. It is a credible enough rock song, actually, albeit with a slightly silly subject matter. Good Morning Good Morning was a bit of a mish-mash, to be honest. The kitchen sink being thrown in to this rather confused semi-song. A few animal noises at the end too. No real work of genius, this one, unfortunately, whatever way you choose to look at it.

After the short, possibly pointless, reprise of the title track comes A Day In The Life. After two great contributions in Lucy and Kite and a bit of a throwaway in Good Morning Good Morning Lennon saved the best until last. A track that belies analysis, yet has garnered probably millions of words written in trying to do just that. What was it about? Who knows? I certainly don't. Lennon probably didn't either. Alienation? Disillusion? Yeah yeah yeah. It was John Lennon's finest moment.



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MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967)

1. Magical Mystery Tour
2. The Fool On The Hill
3. Flying
4. Blue Jay Way
5. Your Mother Should Know
6. I Am The Walrus
7. Hello Goodbye
8. Strawberry Fields Forever
9. Penny Lane
10. Baby You're A Rich Man
11. All You Need Is Love    

After the world-conquering glory of Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles "went weird"  in the eyes of many (including The Queen, rumoured to have said they were "turning awfully funny") and released a perplexing, much-heralded and frankly odd and pretentious mini-film and accompanying EP of six tracks that was released as an album in the USA containing other single releases. This was eventually released as a UK album and has been available as such for many years now. So, it sort of is an album, but it isn't.
                   
The tracks from the EP are variable in quality.  Magical Mystery Tour is rousing and goofily appealing, with some excellent drums and Paul McCartney's The Fool On the Hill one of the group's most hauntingly beautiful songs.

  

Flying is a thoroughly unremarkable instrumental, while George Harrison's Lennon-esque, psychedelic Blue Jay Way has never really worked for me, hanging as it does on the coattails of Revolver's much better material. Having said that it is far more credible from a "rock band" than the pretty awful piece of jaunty McCartney whimsy of Your Mother Should Know. Yes, it is all very nostalgically sensitive (especially considering it was written by one still comparatively young), but I would always rather hear The Beatles doing "weird" than this, any day. Did I say "weird"? It must be time for some classic Lennon and it duly arrives in the yellow matter custard eggman magnificence of I Am The Walrus. I remember my mother, who although in her forties at the time, loved and knew her pop music, being completely nonplussed by this upon its release. Its effect, together with the film, was massive at the time. This bonkers song has been analysed and re-analysed endlessly over the years, so I won't start, but its cultural effect and the consequent public perception of The Beatles changed dramatically with this one song. They now became bearded oddballs - why, even that loveable Ringo has gone a bit funny.

As for the other tracks, there is some great stuff. I remember being on a bus in late 1967 going to the pictures with my parents on a dark November night and some teenagers were playing Hello Goodbye at the back on their tinny transistor radio. That was the first time I had heard it. Every time I hear it I can't help but recall that night. It is so evocative. As, of course, is Lennon's masterpiece of hippy psychedelia, Strawberry Fields ForeverPenny Lane is an excellent McCartney song, wonderfully nostalgic for the post war years in which he grew up. Of course, these two track pre-dated Sgt. Pepper by five months.

Baby You're A Rich Man is an often-forgotten John Lennon song with Eastern influences, a great bass line, infectious drums and some cynical lyrics about money from the increasingly wealthy Lennon. It was the 'b' side to the hippy anthem, but strangely melancholic All You Need Is Love. Lennon seemed to be almost mocking their past as he sang brief snatches of Yesterday and She Loves You in the fade out.

The sound on the 2009 stereo remaster is superb, but the original mono recording included in The Beatles In Mono box set packs one hell of a punch. I enjoy listening to both.

 

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THE BEATLES (THE WHITE ALBUM) (1968)

1. Back In The USSR
2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
5. Wild Honey Pie
6. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
7. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
9. Martha My Dear
10. I'm So Tired
11. Blackbird
12. Piggies
13. Rocky Raccoon
14. Don't Pass Me By
15. Why Don't We Do It In The Road?
16. I Will
17. Julia
18. Birthday
19. Yer Blues
20. Mother Nature's Son
21. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
22. Sexy Sadie
23. Helter Skelter
24. Long Long Long
25. Revolution 1
26. Honey Pie
27. Savoy Truffle
28. Cry Baby Cry
29. Revolution 9
30. Good Night

Firstly, before proceeding to talk about this album, I will put forth my own opinions on the sound.

The latest 2009 stereo remaster is the best I have ever heard it* (see "2018 remix" below for an updated view). I know there are many out there who love their mono, but as someone who owns both, I listened to both versions one after the other and, to me, the stereo is so superior there is simply no comparison. It is rich, warm, bassy and has great true stereo separation. A true joy, even stuff like Honey Pie sounds immeasurably better. Savoy Truffle too, remarkably. Just listen to the bass on Dear Prudence and the full, stereo separation on Glass Onion and Back In The USSR.  Recordings techniques were moving forward at a considerable pace in 1968, and, for sure, there are many Beatles albums that sound better in mono. This is not one of them. The same applies to The Rolling Stones' 1968 Beggars' Banquet.

 

So, on to the music on this bloated offering. Sure, there is some serious tosh on here - the waste of time that is Wild Honey Pie; the awful cod-Country and Western (with McCartney's embarrassing "country" accent) of Rocky Racoon; the obvious candidate in the utterly indulgent "proving a point" of Revolution 9 and the ones that almost qualify - Harrison's at times puerile Piggies; McCartney's irritatingly jaunty Martha My Dear and possibly also McCartney's effort to be Lennon in Why Don't We Do It In The Road. It seemed that n 1967-68 any light-hearted relatively unfinished studio doodlings could find their way on to an album and be hailed as a work of genius. I am sure Lennon said as much, didn't he? The Beach Boys' execrable Smiley Smile is a perfect example. Had these bands become too big for their boots and taking their assured market for granted?

The rest of the album is of an exceptionally high standard and The Beatles actually become something approaching a rock band for once - McCartney's Beach Boys pastiche Back In The USSR; Lennon's witty Glass Onion; McCartney's "heavy" Cream/Hendrix-influenced Helter Skelter; Lennon's marvellously gritty and authentic Yer Blues; his magnificent, relevant, rebellious yet cynical Revolution 1 (although I prefer the version on the Blue Album); Harrison's classic melodic rock of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (a track I have always felt would have better suited Abbey Road than this one); McCartney's energetic, rocking Birthday; and Lennon's mysterious Dear Prudence are some of The Beatles’ most “rock” material. I guess Harrison's beguiling Long Long Long creeps into this category as well, with its powerful drum parts. (Harrison's contributions to this album were somewhat schizophrenic - the excellent While My Guitar..., the acceptable Long..., the questionable Piggies and the throwaway Savoy Truffle, a song about choosing chocolates from a box that has a bizarre appeal, but is no work of genius).

Then there are the credible and convincing slower-paced, less "rock" songs in Lennon's beautiful Julia and the precursor to his solo work in I'm So Tired and the very 70s Lennon feel of Sexy SadieCry Cry Cry is slightly unnerving, though, as Lennon's childhood memory songs were; McCartney's lovely, haunting Blackbird and his gentle, tuneful, Buddy Holly-influenced I Will. All good tracks.

Now a mention must be given to two Lennon tracks that have always frustrated me - the half genius and half-seemingly unfinished nature of Happiness Is A Warm Gun. I have always found that just as I start enjoying this track, it either changes to another section or it ends. The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill is just nonsense. I can't get into this, no matter how many times I listen to it.

The other tracks I have failed to mention so far are Ringo Starr's country violin and drum stomp of Don't Pass Me By, which is ok, I suppose, but it is still a "Ringo song", bless him.

McCartney's Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da reggae/calypso/ska is a bit dispensable but one can't help singing along to it and it provides some levity to the proceedings. His bucolic "back to the country" number in Mother Nature's Son is perfectly pleasant but there is nothing particularly memorable about it. Similarly, Lennon's Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey is an upbeat rock number with some nonsensical lyrics and some good guitar, but, again, it isn't a track that you remember this album for. Indeed, in writing this review I had forgotten about it.

McCartney's Honey Pie was treated with contempt by Lennon. It is typical McCartney "whimsy" and I, personally, don't have much time for that style of his songwriting, just as Lennon clearly didn't. It doesn't sit well on this album, coming, as it did, after Revolution 1. Then there is Good Night. Eminently dispensable.

In conclusion, like one of its worst tracks in Savoy Truffle, this album is like a box of chocolates. Some you prefer more than others. Some you avoid like the plague. For what it's worth, here are my strawberry creams (the review will have told you which are my coffee creams!):-

1. Back In The USSR
2. Dear Prudence
3. Glass Onion
4. Ob La Di Ob La Da
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
6. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
7. Blackbird
8. Julia
9. I Will
10. Mother Nature's Son
11. Birthday
12. Yer Blues
13. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And Monkey
14. Sexy Sadie
15. Helter Skelter
16. Long, Long, Long
17. Revolution 1

That's not a bad album is it?

*2018 REMIX

We all know the songs, so I will just speak about the sound. It is truly superb and a most enjoyable listen. I can't stress that enough. Now, I love the 2009 stereo remaster as well, but listening to this (especially through headphones) I find all sorts of little nuances that seem new to my ears. Whether they are there or whether I just think they are there - either way it sounds wonderful. I am not one for studying waveforms and the like and I am certainly no audiophile, but to my ears it sounds revelatory. I am loving it. The stripped-down "Esher" demos are interesting, but they are not something I will return to very often, whereas the remixed album will be played a lot. That is what I am most interested in. Personal highlights are the sheer resounding thump of Birthday and USSR, the percussion on Dear Prudence, the bass, drums and searing guitar solo on Yer Blues and the brass on a song I usually hate, Martha My Dear.

The best thing I can say to back up my point is that it makes the "rubbish" on the album sound better! That can only be a good thing for this chocolate box of an album. No amount of remixing can change my mind about Rocky Racoon, however....



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ABBEY ROAD (1969)

1. Come Together
2. Something
3. Maxwell's Silver Hammer
4. Oh Darling
5. Octopus's Garden
6. I Want You (She's So Heavy)
7. Here Comes The Sun
8. Because
9. You Never Give Me Your Money
10. Sun King
11. Mean Mr. Mustard
12. Polythene Pam
13. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
14. Golden Slumbers
15. Carry That Weight
16. The End
17. Her Majesty    

Firstly, let me make a comment about the sound. Thankfully, with this album, the seemingly endless debate with regard to the sound does not exist. It was only released in stereo, so there is no stereo versus mono comparison. As it happens, the stereo sound is excellent.

Now to the album. After the tense, fractious recording sessions that resulted in the rejection of the material subsequently used on the Let It Be album that would be released the following year, The Beatles decided to give it one more try and “get back to recording like they used to do” i.e. having a modicum of fun while doing it, as opposed to sniping, griping and often engaging in full-on confrontation. To a certain extent it worked, to another extent it didn’t.



For example, John Lennon was said to have had no time for the “side two” pastiche of short, unfinished tracks running together that is now revered as a work of genius. He felt the songs were too short and incomplete and the whole effect was somewhat half baked. I have to say I agree with him. The reason it works in retrospect is because we are all used to those songs and how they run into each other and we know it back to front, therefore we like it. However, I have always been frustrated by the fact that the songs finish just as I am starting to enjoy them. I have to say that I would have preferred to have listened to all the songs in a much fuller longer version. Just imagine Mean Mr MustardPolythene Pam or, particularly, Sun King as fuller, lengthier songs. Why, they may have had a different bridge in the middle of them, or different verses, or guitar solos. An intriguing thought.

  

Lennon also, apparently, wanted one side to be comprised of his own songs, and another side of McCartney’s songs. This is not surprising as so many of their albums had songs which were clearly being from one or other of the song writers, as opposed to dual efforts. The writing credit of “Lennon/McCartney” had long since ceased to be relevant, let’s be honest. On the other hand, though, he had also said he wanted the songs to be mixed around, “chocolate box” style, as they always had been, so he was a bit mixed up as to what he wanted. Then, of course, there was the constant presence of Yoko Ono in the studio....

So, what songs did these sessions result in?
                                                    
Lennon’s Come Together with its "here come old flat top" lyric borrowed from Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me and his own I Am The Walrus “ju ju eyeball” stuff was a shuffling, rhythmic, Southern States bluesy number that perfectly summed up the weirdness of the times and also the sexual freedoms hinted at, saucily, in the title “come together, right now, over me”, like something from a hippy orgy.

George Harrison’s Something was arguably his finest song, ironically originally written for Joe Cocker. With beautiful lyrics and melody, it was a stunning love song, covered by many, many artists, including Frank Sinatra, who erroneously credited it to Lennon and McCartney.

The same plaudits cannot be given to McCartney’s Maxwell's Silver Hammer, a bizarre song that supposedly fitted his penchant for writing “songs for grannies” in its delivery and twee melody, yet it had dark lyrics about a man murdering a woman by bludgeoning her with his silver hammer. Just very odd indeed. McCartney’s Oh Darling was a 50s style rock n roll ballad, a song that Lennon would have appreciated, albeit seven years or so earlier. It sits a little uncomfortably on the album, to be honest.

The less said about Ringo Starr’s Octopus's Garden the better, so I won’t.

Lennon’s I Want You (She's So Heavy) was possibly the most credible “rock” number The Beatles ever did. A mix of “progressive rock” progressions and changes and blues chords, it was a lengthy pleasure to those of us who wanted The Beatles to actually sound like a proper rock band for once. It was the last ever track the group would record in the stdio with all of them playing together. Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun is impossibly catchy and summery. Everybody loves it and rightly so.

Lennon’s Because is a convincing love song to Yoko and is the last full song on the album before the “medley”.


The “medley” starts with the most fully realised track, McCartney’s You Never Give Me Your Money, almost a full track, to be honest. Then we get three Lennon “songs” - the melodic, appealing Sun KingMean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, all of which would benefit from being longer.

The next four are all McCartney’s - the Lennon-esque She Came In Through The Bathroom Window; the beautiful candidate for lengthening in Golden SlumbersCarry That Weight and The End, which incorporated Ringo’s powerful, rhythmic drum solo. They all run perfectly well in to each other, I have to admit. So, to want them in longer versions is a bit churlish, because we all pretty much love them the way they were presented, but it is something that has always given me food for thought - "what if Abbey Road's "Medley songs" had been longer? A bit like what if Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska songs had been full band versions? What if Another Side Of Bob Dylan had been electric? Music always throws up plenty of "what ifs".

So, "and in the end", that was it, in effect the final Beatles album. As I said, the medley side worked because everybody became familiar with it. It is what it is. It is unique and most appealing for it. It makes Abbey Road a different and special album. Considering the circumstances and prevalent feelings from the time it was recorded it is remarkable that it was so good. For that we should be grateful but it is still, for me, a bit of an odd album of bits and pieces from disparate composers. Despite what many, many people have said over many, many years I don't believe it to be a work of genius, just a happy string of coincidences, a time and a place.

2019 REMIX

The 2019 Remix, overseen, as with Sgt Pepper and The White Album, by George Martin's son, Giles Martin is, like the previous two, an improvement but not something that makes the album sound outstandingly different from its original. This is a good thing. What it does give you, however, is a fuller, warmer sound, particularly on Paul McCartney's bass lines and Ringo Starr's impressive drums. It is just a more substantial sound, for me. I do not want to hear a familiar album changed out of hand, but a bulking out of the sound is fine by me but I accept that others may not agree, and I understand why.




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LET IT BE (1970)

1. Two Of Us
2. Dig A Pony
3. Across The Universe
4. I Me Mine
5. Dig It
6. Let It Be
7. Maggie Mae
8. I've Got A Feeling
9. One After 909
10. The Long And Winding Road
11. For You Blue
12. Get Back                                             

Recorded in some fractious sessions in 1969 before (some of the tracks), and alongside the Abbey Road album sessions, this was actually, in all but its chronological release date, The Beatles' penultimate album and it is generally accepted by most as being a patchy one, nowhere near as good as its predecessors, The Beatles (The White Album) or Abbey Road. The negative feelings towards it do it a tiny bit of a disservice, however painful and chaotic its genesis. Most of the tracks were recorded for the album to be known as Get Back. That project got shelved and the better tracks that ensued subsequently became Abbey Road. Therefore the impression that these tracks were a bunch of rejected ones recorded by a group in its final, painful throes has followed it around for evermore. The opinion that you could almost feel the group breaking up while listening to this album is therefore a bit of a misnomer, because after recording and rejecting this batch of songs, they came up with the inspired Abbey Road material.

The holy thump of Two Of Us is lively and pleasant enough and the muscular, bluesy rock of Dig A Pony is, for me, as good as the rock stuff on the first side of Abbey Road. I have never quite understood the opprobrium often thrown at Across The Universe. I find it atmospheric and haunting. Give me that over Rocky Raccoon or Martha My Dear any day.

George Harrison's I Me Mine has some searing guitar on it and a catchy vocal from him too. A lot was made of the post-recording influence of Phil Spector, who put some strings on a few of the songs after The Beatles had recorded them. It was only really The Long And Winding RoadI Me Mine and Across The Universe and, personally, I don't mind their presence. I feel his supposed negative effect has been over-exaggerated.

  

I have always enjoyed the more raw, edgy cut of Let It Be used on this album, with its muscular guitar solo and infectious percussion. It is far more of a rock song on here as opposed to a maudlin hands in the air anthem.

Dig It and Maggie Mae are both throwaway wastes of time, really. Paul McCartney's I've Got A Feeling, from the legendary "rooftop concert" was another highly credible hard rocker with some serious guitar, excellent electric piano from Billy Preston and a convincing McCartney vocal, with Lennon chipping in with some vocals too.



One After 909 is another enjoyable country-blues/rock 'n' roll style rocker. Yes, it is nothing special but in some ways, when one assesses The Beatles' credibility as a "rock band", something I have always had a problem with, this and most of the other material on this album is as rocking as they ever did. For me, I love the plaintiveness of The Long And Winding Road and, as I said earlier, I have no problem with the strings. They are beautiful, as is the song. I don't get the criticism of this song. It is a great one. McCartney still plays it in concert and everyone loves it. It would be in my top ten Beatles songs, so there you go. I like the brass orchestration it too.

Harrison's country blues For You Blue is another good one, worthy of more than curt dismissal. Nobody can really argue with Get Back as a copper-bottomed rocker either, particularly the version that appears on this album. There is a perfectly valid case for this album being The Beatles best "rock" album. There is no McCartney "whimsy" present either, no twee "music hall" style "ditties", thank goodness. Add Don't Let Me Down, Old Brown Shoe and The Ballad Of John & Yoko and you would have a pretty credible rock album. The wonders of digital technology allow you to do that and yes, it makes for a convincing album.



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LET IT BE.. NAKED

1. Get Back
2. Dig A Pony
3. For You Blue
4. The Long And Winding Road
5. Two Of Us
6. I've Got A Feeling
7. One After 909
8. Don't Let Me Down
9. I Me Mine
10. Across The Universe
11. Let It Be                      

This release takes the original recordings from the fractious 1969 sessions that spawned the Beatles' swan song album and removes the Phil Spector-added lush string and brass instrumentation, stripping the songs down to their original, raw, rock roots. The two pointless fillers, Dig It and Maggie Mae are not included, and instead the powerful Don't Let Me Down quite rightly makes a deserved appearance.
                  
Get Back is a good rocking start, although it is cut considerably shorter that either the album or single version. Dig A Pony is ok, but I actually prefer the version that appeared on the eventual album. The sound of the guitar near the end is brought to the fore, however. For You Blue sounds very similar, to me.

Now, I like the Spector-produced The Long And Winding Road as it happens, but I have to admit that here it sounds wonderful - evocative and simply beautiful. McCartney's voice seems to have more resonance than on the original album version. Listening to it, one concentrates more on his vocal, as opposed to the massive, dramatic orchestration.

 

Two Of Us doesn't seem to change much, but I've Got A Feeling was a composite edit from two takes from the legendary "rooftop concert". One After 909 is remixed from the same concert. It sounds a bit bassier to me, but maybe I am just imagining it.

Don't Let Me Down is another composite from the rooftop takes, not the version that appeared as a single. I Me Mine removes some of Spector's orchestration and sounds more bluesy and guitar-driven. Lennon's Across The Universe has no backing vocals, maracas or Spector's sound effects in it. It is a far starker, more atmospheric track as a result. Let It Be is different from both the single and album version. I like it. The cymbals on this are crystal clear, as are Starr's drums overall and McCartney's vocals are emotive and melodic. There is, I think, a different, more rhythmic bass line on it too.

In conclusion, this is an interesting, enjoyable listen that throws a different light on this often-maligned album.



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THE BEATLES: LOVE (2006)

 

To be honest, I am not sure of the point of this album. It was a compilation of snippets of various Beatles songs brought together by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George. It is a brave, adventurous effort from Giles, the tracks all link into each other and have been remastered fantastically. However, for me, there is no real continuity or connection between them all. They flit willy-nilly from one to another with no coherence and often there is nowhere near enough of the songs that we are so familiar with. Many of them end far too soon and the next snippet comes along. As I said, I don't quite see the point in it. I own it, but it is not for me. If I want The Beatles all mixed up, I just play all their tracks on random.



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THE BEATLES IN MONO BOX SET



Ludicrously overpriced, of course. However, this box set is still highly recommended to those who love the sound of MONO recordings. Fans of true mono will absolutely love this, and the many reviews show that indeed to be the case. The sound is clear and punchy and the box set is well presented with replica original sleeves and a good booklet too.

The music is all but the last two albums (which were recorded in stereo) of The Beatles’ literally world-changing output.


Do I prefer the mono to the stereo, however? I would seem to be in a minority of one but I just can't find a way of completely doing so, despite mono winning me over for many of the tracks. For me, it is the stereo versions that generally have more appeal. Not all though. As with The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Cream, The Kinks and the early Motown material there is a very strong case for the mono recordings being more satisfying, more “pure”. I get that and accept it. However, from 1965 onwards it is mostly the stereo versions for me. I fully accept all the points about transistor radios and “Dansette” record players of the time only giving out a mono sound and that stereo was, at the time, a nerd’s oddity. I get all that, I really do, and fully understand why, for so many, these mono recordings are the holy grail and have no problem heartily recommending them. For me, on a subjective, personal level, they are just not totally for me. I am more happy for the mono and the stereo to co-exist and I enjoy listening to both of them, depending on my mood. It is, for some albums, like owning two very different versions of the same abum.

I listened to Lovely Rita consecutively, the mono version and then the “2017 remaster”. Again, for me, the difference was pretty seismic. The stereo 2017 one was an absolute revelation. The whole Sgt. Pepper album is just wonderful in its 2017 form. Yes, I know what Lennon said about hearing it in mono being best and know what he meant but I just much prefer the stereo, personally. Similarly, I much prefer all of The White Album, Rubber Soul and most of Revolver in stereo, save Taxman with its clumsy attempts at stereo separation. Ditto Strawberry Fields. Both of these sound much better in mono. The Beatles suffered from poor early attempts at stereo that the American Motown groups did not, US recording techniques were much more advanced when it came to stereo. Just listen to some late 50s jazz recordings, Frank Sinatra and Elvis albums.

Actually, as it happens, though, I am listening to Revolver again as I write and, to be honest, it sounds really full and punchy in mono. Lovely centred bass reproduction, pounding out of the speakers. I have to say it is on the bass that the mono really excels, whereas it is on the mixture of all the other instruments, at times, like on Love You Too and Tomorrow Never Knows that can suit the stereo. Oh heck, the latter just sounds revelatory played through either medium. Admittedly, Pepper sounds truly marvellous in mono, it is just that, for me, the latest 2017 stereo mastering is like growing young. It is just something I did not expect to experience. Rubber Soul is also an enjoyable, potent mono listen, but on that album, particularly, I think the stereo lifts it higher.



I also find that the tracks with minimal instrumental backing, such as I Will, Julia and Eleanor Rigby sound better in mono, just as Bob Dylan’s early acoustic songs do. I also have a weakness for the whole Beatles For Sale album in mono. It is superior to the stereo version - fuller, more punchy, more balanced. So, even for me, there are many, many benefits to owning this box set - I guess that has been the point of this review. I am very glad I own it. Overall, I feel that in mono, The Beatles sound like a great 60s group with mind-blowingly good 60s mono, but in stereo they sound like the same group, from the same era but with ground-breaking, way ahead of its time, incredible stereo sound. It makes them almost into a different group.I guess that I enjoy listening to both. Its great to be able to enjoy the music in different ways. Like enjoying different pizza toppings.

Shop around, though, some prices are ridiculous and beware, because there are many fakes out there, mainly originating in China. If the price seems too good to be true, it undoubtedly is.




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                              GEORGE HARRISON

                                      1943-2001

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                              JOHN LENNON

                                  1940-1980

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