Four and a half years, 1,662 posts in, we arrive at the first Beatles album on Music Arcades. To turn a deaf ear to the most celebrated band in history may seem like wilful and churlish ignorance. There's probably a seed of truth in that. However, in my defence, I make the following observations:
- They weren't always the most celebrated band. When I was growing up in the early seventies, pop music was still ephemeral, throw away stuff, not yet a legacy or a canon. The Beatles were over; long live, errr, Wings! I liked Wings. It came as a surprise to find out the main singer had been in The Beatles — he must be really old, I thought. (I've got a feeling I've said that before, but can't remember — or find — when.)
- Twenty or so years ago, when everyone was going on about The White Album, I got my friend David F to do me a tape of it. I half-liked it, but couldn't really see what the fuss was about. Ditto, five years ago, I borrowed Lucy's Abbey Road and recorded it onto mini-disc. Same reaction.
- Others say Revolver is the masterpiece. From what I've heard of it, I might like Rubber Soul a lot. But these albums are still pretty expensive for stuff that's as old as I am, and you can't check them out first on Spotify on We7.
- So until that changes, I say my favourite Beatles album is this one — and that, I admit, is churlish.
I went for the Blue Album around 1981 when I thought I might be about to come out as a hippy. Was 1981 — an era that now reeks of Gang of Four and Remain in Light — the worst year ever to declare as as hippy? Maybe. But I was discovering King Crimson, Soft Machine, early Fairport Convention and had a heavy Jon Anderson obsession. So I wanted to listen to All You Need is Love, Strawberry Fields Forever, I am the Walrus and that other long-hair Beatle stuff. I knew I was a Blue Album, not a Red Album, guy.
You may be drenched in these songs, but I like being able to listen to them almost fresh (I doubt I've sat down and really listened to many of the songs on this album since 1982). My impression: it starts well, and ends quite well. There are several songs — A Day in the Life, Strawberry Fields, I am the Walrus — where their ability to be so experimental and so sure-footed at the same time is supernatural. In recent weeks I've been talking to Fred Garnett of the London Knowledge Lab, and he's developing some elaborate ideas about learning, which he's expressed through the lens of different phases of The Beatles' career. The twelve-month period from late 1966 to '67 (starting with Strawberry Fields and ending with I am the Walrus) is the one that he feels evidences their most radical and productive learning strategies.
The Boy enjoyed learning some new words — principally goo-goo-g'-joob — on I am the Walrus, and practising his favourites on Hello, Goodbye. At the moment, "Hello" and "Bye, Bye" are the words he uses to come to terms with all the transitions in his life. So it's "Bye, bye, toes" at night and "Hello, toes!" the next morning.
My word, there's a fair share of duds in the middle, though. Not just Octopus's Garden, but Old Brown Shoe sounds about as attractive as it would taste. Back in the USSR, Ballad of John and Yoko, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da are all tracks I'd skip if I had this on CD. And don't get me started on the dirge that is Hey Jude — it would have been common decency to put this at the end of a side, so you could just lift the needle.
Back in 1981, I was a big fan of Across the Universe. Jai guru deva om. That, Siddhartha and an anti-war film like Coming Home would have been a perfect evening for me.
MusicBrainz entry for this album
Wikipedia entry for this album
Rate Your Music entry for this album
Some metadata about disc 1 at Last.fm, disc 2