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Friday, September 11, 2009 

Nothing you can sing that can't be sung

I admit, I resisted for a few days; the Beatles are far from my favourite band, primarily because for a group that made so many songs that I genuinely love, they also made a bunch of songs that I kind of hate, and only ever made two albums that I love enough top-to-bottom that I'd want to own them (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver, if you're curious). But while I was cautiously getting into the new remasters with the intent of only sampling a few, I managed to hear the mono version of Sgt. Pepper's for the first time, and it was a genuine fucking revelation. Not just the obvious stuff like the slightly speedier take on "She's Leaving Home" (which improves a song I'd already loved, frankly) or anything so obvious; the whole thing sounds gorgeous now. It turns out that all that was keeping the Beatles from cracking my all-time top twenty may have been the shitty 1987 CD masters. I haven't heard the stereo version yet (although I understand they're quite different) but if they'd have the decency to release at least some of the mono versions as standalones I'd be buying it the day it came out.

So that led to me spending the rest of the day listening to Beatles remasters (partly mono versions) and while nothing was straight-out gobsmacking in the same way (and I was confirmed in my opinion that the last three albums are inconsistent (yes, even the White Album) and that the earlier stuff isn't really for me with a few exceptions), it's been a hell of a day. Part of the fun has been talking it over with music-crit friends, arguing over what's their best, and so on, but I think I am firmly with Andrew Unterberger on this: While cultural veneration of the Beatles is as entrenched as it can/should get, setting aside a day or two every year (or maybe every few years) to just gorge on it, all of it, is pretty satisfying and fun. I own non-remastered copies of the two albums of theirs I love, and I can't say I play them very often, but when you're in the mood few things scratch that itch (and few 60s bands discographies genuinely hold up) the way the Beatles' albums do.

At one point, I was pressed to come up with my top ten Beatles songs, and off the top of my head I said this (unranked, except that the first one is always always always always the best Beatles song and I am not arguing with you about it):

A Day in the Life
Good Morning Good Morning
Tomorrow Never Knows
Eleanor Rigby
Back in the USSR (or some days, "Helter Skelter")
All You Need Is Love
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
Hey Jude
Strawberry Fields Forever
Glass Onion (which in my heart I'd like to combine with "I Am the Walrus" as one entry but if I have to pick the amazing middle eight that Danger Mouse used to such great effect on The Grey Album seals it)

Andrew Casillas then pointed out something I hadn't noticed or considered, which is that all of these songs came out within one three years. Which highlights both that I am a person who loves a very definite subsection of the band's work, and that the Beatles really were a kind of unrepeatable marvel - whereas novels have Ulysses and superhero comics have Watchmen as the peaks of their form, towering successes that nothing else in the genre really feels like, rock music has not Sgt. Pepper's or whatever but their whole career.

Well, you know everything the Beatles spit out was golden. No, really, it kind of was.
In a synaesthesiac kind of way. I think you like their less colorful music. Aside from ADITL, these songs taste grey.

After our little talk this afternoon, and after reading your post, I just had to add my 10 cents worth:
1. A Day in the Life, NO question, but please allow all of the fade to play;
2. If I Fell;
3. The whole second side of the Abbey Road LP (yes, I know that that's cheating);
4. And Your Bird Can Sing;
5. Drive My Car;
6. Within You Without You;
7. Taxman;
8. While My Guitar Gently Weeps;
9. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away;
10. I Want You (She's So Heavy).
Note that there are at least 4 Harrison songs on this list.

Hey, "All You Need Is Love"? "Hey Jude"? "Strawberry Fields Forever"? Hans, if you think those are grey you need some serious help. :-/

As for Dad's list... of COURSE you let the whole fade play (the end is the best part!), I only like "Carry That Weight" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" (Joe Cocker!) from the medley, "And Your Bird Can Sing" is popular with the Stylus guys too, I ALMOST went for "Within You Without You" over "Tomorrow Never Knows" (it was the drums that decided it), and 8 and 10 were both seriously considered for my list. 9, I actually somehow forgot about(!). I'm going to go download Help! now just so I can get it.

Also, you saw Neil Young do "A Day in the Life," right? Or did you have to leave?

Okay, I just listened to the 1965 stereo mix of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and you really ought to hear it.

Yeah, the drums in "Tomorow Never Knows" almost swayed me as well.
We stuck around for Neil's version. Pretty impressive.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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