Beatle Battle! The Division WINNERS!

64 Beatles songs went in, only 4 came out. Here they are, the winners for each Division:

Winner of Division 1: The Clean Cut Years (songs written between 1961 and 1964)

“Hard Days Night”

My thoughts on the song:

I’m just gonna get this out-of-the-way here first – I’m not the biggest fan of The Beatles work during this period of their career. “Love, love me do…” come on, pretty trite lyrics and simple melodies, but such was all the rage in popular music in these years – and popular music was just learning to crawl at this time in history. Before Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, and others burst onto the scene in the 1950’s, music was dominated by the “doo bee doo bee doo” crooner’s and the death rattle of classical music. Rock and Roll showed up with three cords and a southern back beat – it showed everyone that music could be much more than they ever thought it could. This was music people grew to love. This kind of music was a hit. It was popular. This was birth of “POP” music.

Over in Liverpool the kids were eating this popular music up. John Lennon and Paul McCartney spent their days and nights playing covers of these tunes. Honing their skills as musicians playing covers of “Be Bop A Lula” and “Long Tall Sally” – like I said, simple songs but ones that people loved to hear. This shit was new and fresh and made you tap your foot. This music spoke to generation that had previously only been given what their parents listened to. Finally, there was a movement for the youth to latch onto – and latch onto it they did. Beatlemania was a result of this. A result of the birth of Popular Music and rebellion that followed. Beatlemania was not about the “songs” – it was about the message being delivered across the airwaves. The song “A Hard Days Night” is a by the numbers pop song with some hints at things to come from these four guys. That opening cord to the song is one of those hints. Check it out…..

That one single cord blows the doors off anything Elvis or Richard or Holly had ever done. It opened the flood gates and made us all turn our heads and take notice. But the best was yet to come.

Winner of Division 2: The Shaggy Years (songs written between 1965 and 1966)

 “In My Life”

My thoughts on the song:

Drugs are bad mmmmkay. But there was a time when drugs helped the musicians in the mid 60’s look beyond those 3 cords they were playing over and over again and try something “different”. When The Beatles met Bob Dylan and smoked weed with him, brand new doors were opening in the heads of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Doors that would have stayed shut if not for the drugs influence on them. McCartney in interviews today is reluctant to talk about the things they did back then because of what drugs have become in our society today. It was a  more innocent time back then and Paul doesn’t want to send out the wrong message – that doing drugs will make you write songs like The Beatles. It won’t. Believe me I tried. McCartney is completely right – things were different then and weed did indeed cause these dudes to write songs that they never would have even attempted before. Songs that were about more than just holding hands. Dylan should be given full credit for putting The Beatles on the path to better songwriting – well that, and the ganja.

“In My Life” is one of my all time favorite Beatles songs. I sang it for my sister’s wedding. I’ve played it in my car countless times and cried a couple of those times. Not many songs can make me do that. It is absolutely and completely beautiful and true.  Lennon is writing his first true song here, and he knows it. You can feel Lennon’s spirit in the melody (even though Paul tried to take credit for writing the song). It is Lennon’s presence we are in when those opening notes played by Harrison ring out. It is Lennon’s touch we feel when the George Martin harpsichord solo shows up in the middle of the tune. And it is Lennon alone we hear when he sings the very last line of this song, by himself, with no music – in that stunning falsetto , “… in myyyyy life…I love you more.”  This is John Lennon’s gift to us all and he means every word. It is one of the greatest songs to ever be written. Ever. Thanks John.

take a listen one more time

Winner of Division 3: The Mustache Years (songs written between 1967 and 1968)

 “Strawberry Fields Forever”

My thoughts on the song:

George Martin has proclaimed the biggest mistake he ever made with The Beatles was leaving “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” off of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Both of these songs were to be the foundation of this new album by a brand new “non-touring” Beatles. But the record company executives wanted a single out so Martin and the crew gave them these first two songs and left them off the album. Total fucking mistake.

As it is, Pepper is a great album – artistically it was ground-breaking and revolutionary. No other band had done anything like this before: a record as a piece of art. musically though I think it is a tad over-rated and not my favorite Beatles record. BUT, if “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” had been on the album, two of the greatest songs to ever been written by a human being, well shit dude, Pepper would be my favorite album of all time.

So for fun let’s see what Sgt Pepper would have looked like if George Martin hadn’t of fucked up:

SGT PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND

Side One

Track 1. “Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band”

Track 2. “With a Little Help From My Friends”

Track 3. “Penny Lane”

Track 4. “Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite”

Track 5. “She’s Leaving Home”

Track 6.  “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Side Two

Track 1. “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”

Track 2. “Getting Better”

Track 3. “Fixing a Hole”

Track 4. “Within You Without You”

Track 5. “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)”

Track 6. “A Day in the Life”

Open up your iTunes, pop in a blank CD and try it out for yourself. Pretty great album yeah?

It was during this time of change that Paul McCartney began to grab the reins of the band away from John Lennon, who had started The Beatles back in 1961. Lennon was becoming less and less interested in what a Pop Band was supposed to do and more interested in what they could get away with. McCartney on the other hand loved the attention and loved the spotlight. He pretty much kept The Beatles together after the “Bigger than Jesus” fall out, and Pepper was just the cure the band needed at the time. Pepper was a big “fuck you” wrapped in a colorful package.

As I talked about before, drugs played a big part in John Lennon’s development as a songwriter. Strawberry Fields has a very hallucinatory effect on the listener. The song is not about drugs, but its influence is felt in the construction of the tune. I ran across this awesome YouTube clip where it shows the complete evolution of the song. It shows that John had been thinking about the melody all the way back in 1964, but just didn’t know what to do with it. Years later and a couple of acid trips under his belt, Lennon began assembling his masterpiece. Check this shit out…

Pretty fucking awesome yeah? I love this song. I can remember the first time I heard it, around 1986. I was just getting into The Beatles thanks to my Dad’s record collection and was playing the shit out of the White Album. I took a quick trip to the local record store and picked up a cassette of Magical Mystery Tour. I played the tape in my parents Toyota Van driving around town and when Strawberry Fields came on I had to stop and listen. There are 3 moments in my life where music changed everything. The first was when my Mom was driving me to the dentist around 1981, after John Lennon had been murdered and his song “Watching The Wheels” was playing on the radio. And when Lennon gets to the part of the song where it goes, “No longer riding on the merry-go-round!” that was the first time I knew music could speak to me like nothing else. Another time was when I first heard Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. After years of hair bands dominating the radio and MTV, I couldn’t believe what my ears just heard coming out of the speakers. I immediately went to The Underground and bought a copy of Nevermind. But in between those two events, there was “Strawberry Fields Forever”. A single song that made me want to write music as beautiful as that. It made me feel alive in a way that I can never fully explain. It showed me the ultimate power of music and what it can do to your soul – fill it with wonder and restore your faith. In all intents and purposes, it was my first religious experience.

(side note: all these musical events took place in a car, which explains that to this day, there is nothing I like better than popping in a cd and driving.)

Winner of Division 4: The Beard Years (songs written between 1968 and 1970)

“Come Together”

My thoughts on the song:

Well, whatta know – it’s a John Lennon Sweep. All the songs that won their division were written exclusively by Lennon (with a little help from his friends to be sure). One of his last contributions to the band before its break up was “Come Together” – a mind fuck of a tune, and more than any other Lennon song, has stood the test of time and feels like it could be released today and still hit number one. It is a timeless composition and one that kicks off Side One of possibly the greatest Beatles album of them all, Abbey Road.

But I didn’t always feel this way about this song. In fact there was a time when I fast forwarded it to get to the next song on the album “Something”. I blame this on Michael Jackson. Behold….

Jackson covered this song back in 1995 for his “HIStory” album, and for some reason every time I heard the REAL “Come Together”, I couldn’t get Jacko grabbing himself out of my head. So for years I avoided the song like the plague, for fear of visions of crotches dancing in my head. Then one day in 2006 I ran across the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of Love, which was set to the songs of The Beatles. It was like listening to a brand new Beatles album. George Martin and his son Giles poured over the orignal master Abbey Road recordings and “reassembled” brand new versions of the songs we loved, using only stuff recorded by The Beatles – no outside recordings were used. The result is pretty goddamn awesome.

Here is what George Martin had to say about the song while working on this album…

“Listening again to all these great tracks in such detail you can’t help but be knocked out by the band’s writing and performances. “Come Together” is such a simple song but it stands out because of the sheer brilliance of the performers. Paul’s bass riff makes a fantastic foundation for Ringo’s imaginative drumming, and John’s vocal with heavy tape echo has a marvelous effect when he claps his hands and hisses into the microphone. George’s guitar is equally distinctive, and altogether I believe this is one of the Beatles greatest tracks.” – from the liner notes of Love, the soundtrack

And as usual, he is absolutely right. Take a listen to the song here….

That is motherfucking bad ass. I love it when after years of hearing a song you rediscover it in some new way, the album Love did that for me with “Come Together”.  To quote Macaulay Culkin, “I’m glad I got the Micheal Jackson stain off me.”

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