2 December 2004
Yeah, yeah, yeah
[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.