Let’s just get one thing straight from the beginning, the Beatles are the greatest, most influential, and important band to ever live. There are far better researched and written accounts of their influence on music, culture, fashion, etc. than I could ever even hope to do, so I’m not going to even attempt it. What I would like to do is a basic breakdown of the 5 albums I have chosen for this series, and give a glimpse of my reasoning for the directions those album beers are going.
I’ve been hesitant to do a Beatles series for awhile now, even though they are my favorite band of all time. I think a main reason is I was afraid that anything I came up with wouldn’t be deserving to be associated with them. And this is probably still true. However, I’ve been thinking about this series for a couple of years now, and finally reached a point where I felt comfortable with the choices I had made. Hopefully, you will like my choices as well. Onto the albums.
A difficult decision I had to make was what 5 albums to highlight. There are so many important albums to highlight different stages of the Beatles’ career, and narrowing it down was a bit tricky. Ultimately, I chose to highlight their 5 album run starting in 1965 with Rubber Soul and ending with 1969’s Abbey Road. In between is 1966’s Revolver, 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and 1968’s The Beatles (commonly referred to as The White Album, which I will do for this and future posts). For the Beatles experts out there, you’ll notice 3 omissions, 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, 1969’s Yellow Submarine and 1970’s Let it Be. Since both Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine were both soundtracks, I didn’t view them as being within the sequence of albums. And although Let it Be was recorded in between The White Album and Abbey Road, it wasn’t released until after the Beatles were essentially broken up, and the initial release of Let it Be was far from what the Beatles had intentioned because of the extravagant mixing job. I also believe that these 5 albums, besides being sequential in order, are also their 5 best works.
Rubber Soul is significant in a lot of ways. For one, other than a version of A Hard Day’s Night, it was the first Beatles album to feature only original music. For me, it is also the turning point for the band, representing the pivot from their teeny-bob and teenage romance beginnings (such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”) to what I’ll call “album Beatles” that showed themselves in Revolver with songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Sgt. Pepper’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” It is also considered one of the first “full albums” in rock history. Back then, when groups such as the Beatles would make an album, there would be a few tracks that would get singled out for singles, which is where the record company really made their money. Then there’d be a couple of cover songs (like “Rock and Roll Music” on Beatles ‘65, for instance). Then there’d be a couple of filler tracks. Listening to Rubber Soul, there’s no filler tracks. Maybe not every single one is your favorite, but you’d almost think you were listening to an early version of a Greatest Hits albums. This had a profound impact on Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who was so inspired by Rubber Soul that he dedicated himself to creating the greatest album in rock and roll history, which ultimately became the amazing Pet Sounds. However, you still sense the traditional Beatles sound in the background behind some newer instruments and techniques they were using, such as the sitar on “Norwegian Wood”.
In my opinion, Revolver is when the Beatles of old became THE Beatles of complete studio artistry and creativity. Many consider this album the turning point where the creative direction was no longer solely set by Lennon, and where McCartney became the leader of the band. On top of that, Harrison’s works were becoming much more complex, and he got 3 of his songs on the album. Even Ringo gets a song, with the famous “Yellow Submarine.” Revolver is the first Beatles album (at least that I’m aware of) that features a song (“Eleanor Rigby”) that contains no traditional rock instruments (guitar, bass and drums). This is also where the Beatles start to dip their toe into the world of psychedelic music, with “I’m Only Sleeping” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” being prime examples. The Beatles had been smoking pot since at least the sessions for Rubber Soul, but this was the album that could more or less be defined by their use of LSD. Overall, it is an incredibly complex and masterful album.
I could probably write about the importance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for awhile, so I’m going to try to contain myself. After the tour that followed Revolver’s release, the Beatles decided they would not tour anymore. In fact, Harrison threatened to quit the band if they didn’t stop live performances! During the recording sessions, McCartney came up with an idea that they should write and perform the entire album as the fictional band of the same name, that way they could experiment as much as they wanted. The idea was ingenious, as the band started getting crazy in the studio, making sounds that would be close to impossible to recreate in a live performance, but were perfect for a studio album. And while Ringo got perhaps his most famous song, “With a Little Help From My Friends” on the album after being introduced as the fictional Billy Shears, Harrison only got one song this time around. McCartney’s influence is much more apparent on this album than on previous releases, but Lennon saved the best for the last track, the extraordinary “A Day in The Life.” This was the epitome of the band turning pop music into works of art.
Things started to fall apart after Sgt. Pepper. Although the band attended an extended meditation retreat in India together, things were not quite so harmonious when they returned to the recording studio. Most will point their fingers at the breaking relationship between McCartney and Lennon as the genesis of the friction. Not only were they competing for the creative control of the band, but they had also grown to intensely dislike each other’s compositions. On top of this, Harrison was reaching creative heights like never before, yet was still considered “a third fiddle” in the group. Despite having 40 tracks across a double album, Harrison only got 4, including his incredible “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Ringo felt so underappreciated that he briefly quit the band. In fact, you can hear Paul playing the drums on “Dear Prudence”, as it was recorded during Ringo’s absence. The result is that The White Album sounds more like a collection of solo songs rather than a collaborative and cohesive album, like Sgt. Pepper. The album is musically simpler than Sgt. Pepper, without as much effects and theatrics, and the album cover also declares this, with “The Beatles” on a white background instead of a massive set of color.
Nobody knew for sure, but there was a feeling in the air that Abbey Road was probably going to be their last go at it, and they softened their attitudes a bit in order for the sessions to not be as confrontational as The White Album and the Get Back sessions (which would later be released as Let It Be.) They decided they would record the album they way they used to, instead of isolating themselves like they had during The White Album. The two sides of the album are completely different and represent two different eras of Beatles. The first side is more like The White Album, where it is a collection of great songs with no major theme tying them together. However, with songs like “Come Together”, “Something”, and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on the first side, it’s an impressive collection. The second side is more like Sgt. Pepper, being more cohesive from the use of the “Sun King” medley which lasts about 16 min. Perhaps knowing the end was near and wanting to leave the world with one last gift, the medley and album close with “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Shivers of joy. (Yes, I am fully aware “Her Majesty is technically after “The End”, but I’m disregarding that.) It was the last time the four Beatles would ever be in a studio together.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a beer for each album that I feel reflects the mood of the album, the themes contained therein, and the direction of the band at the time. I stopped worrying that these beers would be “perfect” and trusted my instincts to make what I feel are some of the best and most interesting beers we have ever made at Joyride. I think John, Paul, George and Ringo would be proud, and I hope you will enjoy them. Cheers!