The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

2 December 2004

Yeah, yeah, yeah

Jeff Brokaw of Notes and Musings has taken issue with my "Drab Four" piece. In a reply to a comment I made, he responds:

[I]f you're tossing out the Beatles as a "Force of Nature", isn't that the same as saying that no musical group can attain such heights? I'm not sure I buy that. Who would be more deserving of such reverence?

Yes, they made some forgettable and even ugly music. The "White Album" is mostly unlistenable; Sgt. Pepper is rather pretentious; various other stuff along the way does not wear well, at least to my ears.

But the Beatles basically remade popular music in their image. While I'm not crazy about some of the directions they took, especially later and especially John, I still marvel at the musical perfection of Rubber Soul and A Hard Day's Night. Those two albums alone are among the greatest rock/pop records ever made by anybody; not a single note wasted. Throw in Abbey Road and Revolver, and you have a body of work that still sounds largely fresh and vibrant today. Most artists/bands would kill to make one record in their career as good as any of those four.

I'd argue that "Run For Your Life," the last track on Rubber Soul, is a whole lot of wasted notes, but I have to give JB credit for knowing where the good stuff is (hint: it ain't Sgt. Pepper's).

The Beatles may have been pop music's ultimate syncretists: almost anything they ever heard, they found a way to work into their records. I mean, who else would cover both Buck Owens and Larry Williams — on the same album?* It's probably no surprise that they found themselves with a kitchen-sink approach, and no surprise that they eventually felt compelled to get back to where they once belonged.

And while I remain unconvinced that the Beatles were some sort of avatars of a new age or anything like that, their place in the Pantheon of Pop was secured a long time ago; I'd have let them in on the basis of "I Saw Her Standing There," the very first track on their first British LP (and the B-side of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the States), a song that rocks as hard as Chuck Berry — think of it as "Sweet Little Sixteen" one year older — yet which clearly points toward the melodic wonders to come.

* By which is meant, the British version of Help! The American Help! contains neither of these tracks: "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" was on Beatles VI Stateside, and "Act Naturally" was held over until Yesterday and Today.

Posted at 6:25 AM to Tongue and Groove

Oh, right, full agreement on "Run for Your Life", that is nothing but creepy; talk about a buzz-killer.

"I Saw Her Standing There" is a masterpiece, of course. The best of that old stuff from 63-65 just sends chills down my spine; and when held up next to dreck like "Why Don't We Do It in the Road", it's two different bands, literally. Only one of them was great. Maybe this is where we line up completely in our views; the second iteration of the Beatles (post 65-66) was maddeningly inconsistent, and veered too far into the hippy dippy branch of pop music.

I blame Yoko. :-)

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at 9:48 AM on 2 December 2004

Being a Buck Owens fan since I was a kid, I was delighted to see you acknowledging the fact that the Beatles covered him. So many folks, not really Beatles fans, refuse to believe that the F Four would cover a country song.

Of course, I always say, if the beatles were so great, why didn't they have their own TV show like Porter Waggoner of the Monkees?

Posted by: Dwayne "the canoe guy" at 9:40 AM on 3 December 2004

Buck Owens, way off the Nashville axis out in Bakersfield, was an independent spirit in his own right; criticized for his affinity for those evil rock and rollers, and even dipping into their catalogs, Owens took out an ad in a Nashville trade paper which proclaimed "I shall make no record that is not a country record." By accident or by design, the ad appeared more or less simultaneously with the release of Owens' version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis." You gotta love a guy like that.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:58 AM on 3 December 2004

And if the Beatles had had a show like Porter Wagoner's, who would have played Dolly Parton? Surely not Jane Asher or Marianne Faithfull.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:00 AM on 3 December 2004