While the Beatles' debut is obviously vastly important to the history of rock, a mixture of the group's as yet undeveloped talents and the vicissitudes of time prevent the album from being the epochal classic some would depict it as.
The album certainly hasn't aged well, with a plethora of the tracks sounding profoundly dated. Thus the group's legendary cover of Twist And Shout, once a burst of primal, raw rock energy, now sounds remarkably timid, even with Lennon destroying his vocal chords.
As for the group's fledgling songwriting skills, while it's evident even from the start that the band was endowed with considerable talent many of the originals are far too primitive, with the consummately repetitive Love Me Do epitomizing this fact, while the covers are by and large somewhat pedestrian as well. Some of the Beatles' originals were sufficiently well written that even with the group's instrumental limitations they could be quite enjoyable, but when covering the work of other artists this handicap manifested itself far more strongly, as the band was incapable of doing anything new or interesting with the work of other artists due to their far from virtuoso instrumental chops, as evidenced by Lennon being forced to nearly destroy his own voice to salvage their rather standard rendition of Twist And Shout.
The band's originals are erratic at best. While there are no timeless Beatles classics, tracks like the rocker I Saw Her Standing There provide glimpses into the band's future greatness. Elsewhere, however, many of the originals are rather feeble, with songs like Ask Me Why sounding clumsy and uninspired. Thus for every highlight like the title track there's misfire like Do You Want To Know A Secret.
Ultimately Please Please Me is an impressive debut, but its quality's been over inflated due to its status as a Beatles product. It lacks the stellar originals of the Who's debut and the exceptional instrumental skills displayed on the Stones' first outing. It does demonstrate that the group possessed extraordinary talent even from the beginning, but in their embryonic state they were incapable of harnessing this talent and directing it in a more impressive fashion.
It's certainly a good album, containing a number of catchy originals, but the low quality of some of the self-penned material and the mediocrity of many of the covers prevent it from advancing beyond the category of 'good.'
On their sophomore effort the Beatles had already shown dramatic signs of improvement, boasting a more confident sound and immeasurably superior songwriting. This becomes clear right from the beginning, as the album opens with a procession of five originals, each quite good and by and large better than nearly anything they were capable of producing on their debut.
Unfortunately, by positioning these five tracks at the beginning the album subsequently veers into a sharp decline, with the dreaded specter of covers once more emerging onto the scene. While wholly inoffensive and competently performed, these covers can't compare with the band's original material, constituting a handicap for the album that prevents it from reaching its full potential.
The original content still hasn't reached the standards that the Beatles would set in the years to come, but nonetheless they're quite strong. The most well known and beloved track is the hyper catchy pop gem All My Loving, featuring unforgettable vocal melodies set to the elegant backing of a flamenco guitar.
Elsewhere George Harrison makes his debut as a composer with the tale of lost love Don't Bother Me, a highly auspicious first effort filled with memorable hooks and a brooding atmosphere.
The band had come a long way in a short amount of time, but the structure of their albums couldn't keep pace with this improvement. They had already outgrown the obligatory six-cover formula, with an overly large deficit between their original and cover works that can't help but mar the proceedings. The covers are never bad (though transplanting a song from Broadway, The Music Man's Till There Was You, is a somewhat questionable choice that clashes with the material surrounding it), but they feel like filler designed to mask a dearth of original material rather than tracks on an equal footing with the self-penned content. This leads to a frustrating listening experience, one that needed to be rectified before the band could truly progress further.
With The Beatles is certainly a very good album and several steps up from the debut, but it's also afflicted with a bipolar condition. By grouping five originals as the openers they end up with the beginning of a great album with no great second half to complement it. By nearly bifurcating the originals and covers, a compartmentalization develops whereby it feels like two different albums were grafted together, one featuring exceptional originals and the other a bunch of nondescript covers. Such is the inevitable case when a band grows but still attempts to reproduce their past work out of insecurity and inertia. The covers on Please Please Me, while an irritation, were more forgivable given the early stages the band's songwriting was in. But by With The Beatles the band had most certainly outgrown the six cover system, ergo their attempt to remake their debut was an egregious lapse of judgment.
Nonetheless With The Beatles is a strong product that pointed a way toward further triumphs for the band, as the group would soon realize their own strengths and weaknesses and become a much better rock outfit for it.
The Beatles eschew their customary batch of covers and immediately release their first truly timeless classic. A Hard Day's Night is a pop masterpiece, boasting thirteen Lennon/McCartney originals without any filler in sight.
Abstaining from covers is hardly the only change from their previous work, however. The quality of the songwriting has once more been elevated to a new level, resulting in a parade of pop classics filled with irresistible hooks and creative, memorable melodies. Many of the songs count amongst the catchiest tracks of the epoch, tunes that will irrevocably seize their place in the listener's mental jukebox.
While admittedly the songs predominantly lack the depth and innovation that would categorize their later work, when assessing the album for what it is, a collection of feel-good, innocent, unambitious pop tunes, A Hard Day's Night is one of the best of its type, a top tier pop affair that's the first true forum for the extent of Lennon and McCartney's songwriting craftsmanship.
The album's best cut is the one that most deviates from the band's pop formula, the haunting Things We Said Today. Marrying a somewhat ominous melody to standard pop lyrics, this clash of content and atmosphere yields a true, unique classic that differentiates itself from the more conventionally structured songs on the album.
Nearly every track can qualify as a highlight, however, from the legendary Can't Buy Me Love where nearly every note constitutes a memorable hook to the beauty of And I Love Her to the classic melody of the title track. Practically all of the songs seem essential parts of the band's legacy, first rate pop the likes of which you'll seldom encounter on any album from any era.
Ultimately A Hard Day's Night is the first truly great Beatles album. By taking the standard pop formula as far as it could go they paved the way for their future more adventurous, artistic triumphs. For sheer entertainment the album is difficult to beat, packing more hooks than can be found in most rock artists' careers into a mere half hour runtime. The album can be said to be the foundation for all that followed, and the fact that the band produced material far superior to the content of A Hard Day's Night is a testament to the extent of their genius.
After the pop masterpiece that was A Hard Day's Night the group was left with something of a dilemma. They'd gone as far as they could go with their light pop formula, but weren't yet ready to make their next big artistic step. The result, unfortunately, is pure regression, as the Beatles released an album inferior to its predecessor in nearly every department. While allowances must be made for the fact that the band had only a modicum of time to craft a new album due to the studio's unreasonable expectation of two albums a year, nonetheless Beatles For Sale is a severe disappointment, a reversion to the format and quality of their earliest work.
One aspect of this regression that immediately manifests itself is the most unwelcome return to the six cover system. Either as a repercussion of not being able to compose a sufficient amount of new material in the brief space between A Hard Day's Night and their next deadline or perhaps as a kind of nostalgic gambit the group opted to adhere to their old album structure, complete with covers constituting nearly half of the entire album.
Worse still, the selection of material to cover can be quite problematic, hence the banal, tedious Mr. Moonlight, a track widely reviled by Beatles fans and quite rightly so. While none of the other covers are comparably flawed, they're still not the most inspired selections, and once again detract from the overall listening experience.
Unfortunately, the originals fail to fully redeem the album, as the quality of the band's songwriting has deteriorated somewhat since their last outing, resulting in an array of inferior offerings that neither show progression nor equal their stylistically similar counterparts on past LPs. This isn't to say that the originals are bad; they're all at least decent, with some greatly entertaining highlights such as Lennon's tale of lost love in I'm A Loser and the catchy What You're Doing. Eight Days A Week is somewhat overrated, as it's a tad on the primitive and slight side, but it's still studded with a plethora of irresistible hooks that make it, if not a classic, at least a highly enjoyable experience and one of the album's stronger offerings.
Ultimately Beatles For Sale is a frustrating showing for the band, marred by the defects that had seemingly been conquered on their previous effort. The group's spectacular songwriting had proven to be their greatest asset, transfiguring their well intentioned covers into a chronic annoyance. Furthermore, on this outing even their stellar songwriting began to suffer a bit, most likely due to the inevitable burnout that arrives when you're expected to produce far too much good material in a short amount of time. Nonetheless that originals remain strong for the most part, guaranteeing that the album is at least pretty good, if not up to the group's recent standards. The album's often derided as a total misfire, but despite its myriad flaws this is far from the case, as even when the band falters they're still light years above most pop groups, and there are far too many good originals to wholly write the album off.
Help! is a definite improvement over Beatles For Sale in nearly all respects, but there are still some flaws that prevent the album from attaining the level of greatness that it aspires to.
One improvement can be discerned simply by reading the track listing. While the lurking specter of extraneous covers has yet to be fully eradicated, there are only two of them this go around as opposed to the six cover structure that three out of their four previous albums had adhered to. It still irks me that there are any covers present at this stage of the band's development, but while they're consummately superfluous to the album they're at least thoroughly inoffensive, consisting of the cute Ringo sung Act Naturally and the primitive but energetic Dizzy Miss Lizzie. Two more originals in their place certainly would have been vastly preferable, but by reducing the total number of covers by four they've taken definite strides toward addressing one of their past work's most glaring flaws.
Unfortunately there are some problems with the originals as well. After an auspicious start to his composing career with Don't Bother Me, Harrison's subsequent follow-ups, I Need You and You Like Me Too Much, are a tad on the bland side, a pair of unremarkable pop songs that fail to betray his future brilliance. Harrison's songwriting was far from the composing aptitude of bandmates Lennon and McCartney, and while it's understandable that he'd need more time to hone his songwriting acumen the resulting misfires end up marring the album as a whole.
Not all is perfect with Lennon and McCartney's original material as well. While some of the songs, like the hyper catchy title track, the gorgeous Yesterday and the superb You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, are amongst the band's best material to this point, that itself is the very problem; while the band had progressed enough to produce timeless classics such as those three, they were still incapable of sustaining this level of quality throughout the album, and the resulting contrast between brilliant offerings like Ticket To Ride and inferior tracks like the entertaining but shallow and generic Another Girl truly exposes the defects in their lesser works.
These lesser tracks are far from bad, and could constitute highlights on some of their earliest albums, but when viewed in this context, wedged between legitimate classics, they truly detract from the experience, appearing like amateurish anachronisms. Most of them are sufficiently strong that one can still derive at least a modicum of enjoyment from them, but they still impede the album's progress, preventing it from reaching the level of some of the band's subsequent artistic triumphs.
In this regard the LP can be perceived as a transitional album, depicting the band in the limbo between their humble beginnings are more ambitious future projects. Thus the group is able to fill part of the album with the kind of classics they'd begin penning on a regular basis while still devoting an abundance of space to their earlier style standard pop throwaways.
Ultimately, however, while the album's flaws prevent it from being in the same class as their later works and it lacks the consistency and pop perfection of A Hard Day's Night it's nonetheless a high quality outing, with highlights that are an indication of the musical brilliance to come. Even the material that can be comparatively called filler still is hardly bereft of merit, and some clever hooks can certainly be found there as well. The group makes some strong advances on Help!, be it the songwriting growth evidenced on songs like the title track or the excising of prominent stumbling blocks like the dreaded six cover formula, and the resulting product is a very good album that transcends its flaws and delivers a memorable, entertaining experience to the listener.
Rubber Soul marked a true turning point for the band, as they made the gigantic leap from being an excellent pop/rock outfit to being one of the most adventurous, creative, diverse and talented groups of all time. Rather than being at the zenith of conventional rock they opted to transcend the medium as a whole, producing material that was unlike anything the music world had ever heard.
From Harrison's usage of a sitar on Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) to often eschewing romantic clichés in the lyrics to delivering a serious product with true artistic pretensions the Beatles had become the most innovative band of their times, revolutionizing the genre without sacrificing the fantastic pop melodies they had provided for their whole career. Thus they simultaneously operated in the confines of rock music while enhancing their work by going above and beyond the genre, a daring balance that they pulled off brilliantly.
The songwriting has risen to a new level once again, as every track on the album can be called at least a minor classic. Whereas on Help! the stronger tracks mingled with lesser songs thus diluting the experience, on Rubber Soul every song is excellent, boasting some of the greatest melodies of all time. The tracks are alternately beautiful (as in Norwegian Wood, Michelle and In My Life), rocking (as in Drive My Car, The Word and Wait) or irresistible catchy pop (such as You Won't See Me and I'm Looking Through You). Some tracks are so inventive that they defy easy categorization, such as the brilliant Nowhere Man with its revolutionary lyrics in a time when nearly all their contemporaries (with a few notable exceptions like Dylan, who helped inspire Lennon to pursue loftier goals in his words) were composing generic love songs.
Furthermore, on this outing Harrison's originals not only fail to mar the experience but even contribute considerably to it, with the infectious pop of Think For Yourself and the pretty If I Needed Someone. Harrison's facility for songwriting dramatically improved in a short period of time, and while he's hardly on equal footing with Lennon and McCartney in this regard at this stage of his development he's still a great asset for the band, augmenting the already strong playlist with his impeccable originals.
In all Rubber Soul is a true masterpiece, and one of the greatest albums in rock history. Marrying the immaculate melodies of albums like A Hard Day's Night to more ambitious songwriting, arrangements and production, the Beatles crafted an LP far ahead of its time and accordingly one of the most influential albums of its era. While it would be an egregious mistake to dismiss its predecessors as inconsequential childish fluff, the Beatles didn't truly come into their own until Rubber Soul, when they elevated themselves from mere rock stars to four of the most significant, pioneering figures in musical history.
While the Beatles had made a spectacular artistic breakthrough on Rubber Soul, by no means were they content to rest on their laurels and simply rehash the formula they'd perfected on their last album. Accordingly Revolver goes much further than Rubber Soul with regards to artistic pretensions, continuing to redefine what the musical medium was capable of.
Moreover all three songwriters, on an individual basis, were undergoing startling metamorphoses. This even applies to Harrison, who displayed tremendous growth on the album. While Taxman is far too slight and whimsical to constitute the piece of 'social commentary' it's often labeled as, it is the first instance of the band even alluding to such social concerns. Elsewhere he began his prolonged flirtation with Indian stylistics on Love You To, a revolutionary step in an industry that had previously shunned all foreign influences of that nature, content to stagnate in popular formulas. On this go around Harrison has even achieved a level of mastery of the sitar, rather than simply utilizing it as an exotic substitute for a guitar as he had on Norwegian Wood; he likewise is to be resoundingly commended for making a sitar driven song rock, a feat that he manages on Love You To. These progressions don't come at the expense of an impeded pop sensibility, as his more conventional offering, I Want To Tell You, is quite a strong track as well.
McCartney's evolution largely manifests itself in the forms of more serious, deep songs. Whereas in the past he'd been limited to his primary forte, light pop tunes, on this outing he expands into the realm of more artistic, dark works. Thus Eleanor Rigby, a moving ode to loneliness, strays from McCartney's usual territory with its bleak pathos, while For No One is a heartbreaking ballad of the collapse of a love affair. He compensates for these grim interludes with tracks like Good Day Sunshine, which is so aggressively cheerful that even its high quality melody can't prevent it from being consummately grating if you're in the wrong mood for it, and songs like the jovial sing-along Yellow Submarine, the absolutely gorgeous Here, There And Everywhere and the catchy Got To Get You Into My Life continue on in his usual pop mold, but the more serious tracks demonstrate his true growth on this album.
Lennon, however, has undergone the largest change of any of the band's members. As a ramification of his exposure to LSD, Lennon was inspired by his resultant acid trips to the point of creating a whole new genre. Tracks like She Said She Said contain the roots of the psychedelic movement, an acid drenched number depicting a conversation between two people engaged in the process of tripping. The most revolutionary track on the album, however, is the ultimate proto-psychedelic anthem Tomorrow Never Knows. Featuring encoded vocals, myriad sound effects like tape loops and ambient elements and quasi-philosophical lyrics it's unlike anything that had predated it in the realm of rock, effectively opening the generation's eyes to what music was truly capable of. His more conventional contributions to the album are excellent as well, from the enervated charm of I'm Only Sleeping to the rockers And Your Bird Can Sing and Doctor Robert, but they can't match the sheer innovation and experimentation of his psychedelic epic.
In the end Revolver is a true work of genius, tackling both adventurous and more mundane material and excelling at both. The experimentation never hinders the melodies, rather enabling the melodies to go in new directions never thought possible, transcending the medium as a whole. Bereft of filler and infused with a healthy dose of the Beatles' special magic, Revolver is a timeless classic, a masterpiece that still sounds just as fresh today as it did decades ago, with Tomorrow Never Knows somehow sounding just as cutting edge as it had at its initial creation. For both innovation and melody Revolver can't be topped, making the album not only one of the Beatles' finest but likewise one of the greatest albums of all time.
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has been the recipient of perhaps more accolades than any other album in rock history, alternately lauded as 'the greatest rock album of all time' or 'the most innovative rock album of all time.' There's certainly merit to both claims, but, as always, generalizations like these breed controversy, ergo when most people address the LP they tend to have extreme reactions rather than discovering a safer middle ground.
But then again there really should be no middle ground for an album of this caliber, as even if the validity of the strongest claims are questionable it doesn't change the fact that the LP is an exceptional sonic experience.
With regards to the degree of its innovativeness, right from the start some superficial 'firsts' manifest themselves, such as being the first album with the lyrics printed on the record sleeve and the first album with a hidden final track (if a brief period backward repetition can be said to constitute a track).
The album's true innovations, however, lie elsewhere. SPLHCB goes one step further than Revolver in establishing the artistic potential of the rock medium. Thus it inherits many of the accoutrements of the future art rock genre, from intricate orchestration to myriad sound effects to the utilization of a mellotron. One innovation that I'll decline to attribute to the LP, however, is the oft repeated claim that SPLHCB is the first concept album; while an assertion could be made that it's a concept album due to the repetition of the title track (the first rendition acting as a welcome while the latter functions as a goodbye, thus implying that the whole album is a concert performed by this fabricated group), there are no thematics or stylistics linking any of these songs together, thus refuting its potential status as a concept album.
Even when stripped of its inventiveness SPLHCB is an incredible album, filled with the band's peerless songwriting. Harrison only contributed one track to the album, the excellent song Within You Without You, another case of Indian stylistics being translated into a strong pop song that still manages to retain both an authentic, organic Indian flair while likewise retaining the catchiness and form of pop music.
The remainder of the album is credited to the Lennon/McCartney duo (not to imply that they actually collaborated much on the composition of any of these songs), and they're uniformly excellent, boasting incredible, creative melodies and immaculate production.
The title track is an infectious rocker that segues into the Ringo-sung pop classic With A Little Help From My Friends, while Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds is a phenomenal psychedelic anthem inspire by a picture Lennon's son drew. Getting Better is irresistible pop with a dark edge while Fixing A Whole is a glorious minor masterpiece with incredible vocal melodies in both the verses and the refrain. She's Leaving Home is the kind of beautiful ballad one expects from McCartney and Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite is a fusion of pop and circus music, an unlikely marriage that works brilliantly. When I'm Sixty-Four is charming fluff, Lovely Rita is a cute romantic pop song and Good Morning Good Morning is one of the few rockers on the album, and a good one at that.
The LP's masterpiece, however, is the fantastic A Day In The Life, a dark, haunting, multi-part song that's simultaneously catchy and unnerving. Boasting both the best melodies and best lyrics on the album, the track is a definite candidate for the group's best song.
Ultimately SPLHCB is worthy of most of the hype that surrounds it, a brilliant album that pairs superb songwriting and ubiquitous clever experimentation, with the two complementing one another as opposed to clashing. While it may not deserve its reputation as the best album of all time, or even the best Beatles album of all time, it's nonetheless a true classic, and one that will endure for years to come.
Magical Mystery Tour is a criminally underrated album, generally lambasted for being a rehash of their more widely renowned 1967 masterpiece. It's true that from a stylistic perspective Magical Mystery Tour is conspicuously reminiscent of SPLHCB, but given that the album is likewise qualitatively similar to its predecessor this resemblance hardly constitutes an insurmountable stumbling block.
Magical Mystery Tour is yet another masterpiece composed during one of the greatest streaks of quality in rock history, and I see no problem in operating in the same vein as one of the band's greatest triumphs. Few groups have gone through as many musical transformations as the Beatles, ergo they should be forgiven for remaining formulaically static every once in a while.
The album's greatest asset, of course, is its brilliant songwriting, as the band had hardly lost a step in the brief period between Magical Mystery Tour and SPLHCB. The title track is a catchy tune that welcomes the listener to the album in the same fashion as its predecessor's title track had introduced their last album, achieving similarly positive results. Elsewhere The Fool On The Hill is a touching story of isolation containing an excellent melody, while Flying is a trippy instrumental that manages to be hypnotic despite its diminutive length.
Harrison's sole contribution is the menacing psychedelia of Blue Jay Way, an ominous track unlike anything he'd penned before. Additionally, as usual, McCartney composed a few slight pop throwaways that are extremely catchy despite their lightweight stature, such as the retro sounding Your Mother Should Know and Hello Goodbye, a song that despite its consummate stupidity can't help but bring a smile to your face.
The album also includes the warm, disarming nostalgia of Penny Lane, Baby You're A Rich Man which is actually the product of grafting an unfinished Lennon song to an unfinished McCartney song, and the timeless love anthem All You Need Is Love. Strawberry Fields Forever is a pivotal tune in the history of psychedelia, while the album's best track, the surreal, magnificent I Am The Walrus, is the greatest LSD-induced song of all time, with its array of psychotic images and its unbelievably catchy absurdity.
Overall Magical Mystery Tour is a true classic, the inheritor to SPLHCB that may not deviate much from its predecessor but nonetheless comes close to equaling it. The Beatles didn't need to revolutionize the face of rock with each installment in their catalogue, and can be forgiven for an album that's simply excellent as opposed to groundbreaking. Magical Mystery Tour sustains an unbelievably high level of quality for its duration, and deserves the same kind of recognition that the Beatles' most lauded works tend to receive.
Generally simply referred to as 'The White Album' due to its minimalist white cover, the Beatles' eponymous outing was considered to have the most stylistic variety of any album of its time, and remains one of the most diverse collections of music to this very day. Rather than revolutionize the face of rock music again the band instead opted to prove their mastery over virtually every genre, tackling musical directions that were thought to be incompatible with them without any sign of inhibition or trepidation, sounding as if they'd been playing these types of music for the entirety of their careers as rock musicians.
Thus the group darts from pop to folk to doo-wop to hard rock to satire to avant garde experimentation to psycho rave-ups to lovely ballads to blues to disillusioned character assassination, all without ever losing a step (save for one notable exception). The band's versatility is amazing to behold, as they seemingly effortlessly perfect each genre they attempt, a feat that's a testament to the limitless genius of the group.
The exception to this procession of high quality offerings (and an egregious one at that) that I alluded to earlier is the album's most ambitious track, the notorious Revolution 9. It's easily the worst song in the band's entire canon, largely because it's scarcely a song at all; rather it's an extremely lengthy sound collage sporting headache-inducing dissonance and overlapping sound bites. While its artistic pretensions are admirable the reason the band's prior innovations worked was because they always possessed a foundation of strong songwriting. Divorced from any kind of overarching melody the track becomes something akin to performance art at its worst, a pretentious, self-indulgent ordeal that one will never want to experience again after their initial, traumatizing listen.
Fortunately nearly every other track on the album is brilliant, with a diversity that prevents the lengthy double album from growing monotonous or redundant. From the best cut, Harrison's classic While My Guitar Gently Weeps (which boasts an incredible Clapton solo, as Harrison had invited him into the studio to ensure the professionalism of his fellow bandmates during the recording) to the rocking Beach Boys parody Back In The U.S.S.R. to the proto-metal Helter Skelter the band excels at every musical form they tackle, resulting in a true masterpiece.
While there are some comparatively slight tracks there's nothing I'd term filler, and nothing I wouldn't miss were it excised from the album (save Revolution 9, of course). Beyond its superficial diversity the album also evokes a broad spectrum of emotions, being alternately humorous, moving, cathartic or simply depressing, and the double LP always executes each tone with total, penetrating precision.
Thus the album is yet another true classic, boasting the same incredible songwriting endemic of their later work. Its remarkable diversity makes it stand out from the rest of the Beatles' catalogue, and this not only makes it a unique installment in the band's discography but likewise a unique entry in rock history itself.
The initial edition of Yellow Submarine was bifurcated into two halves, with the first consisting of exclusive Beatles material culled from the animated film of the same name along with two previously released songs (the title track and All You Need Is Love), while the latter half was comprised of new instrumentals composed by the band's court producer, the 'fifth Beatle' George Martin. Thus only half of the album was truly composed of Beatles content, a fact that's apt to repel most of the band's fans who would otherwise have been interested in it.
The reissue of the album rectifies this problem while proceeding to exacerbate the situation in ways that differ from its predecessor. While it excises the problematic instrumental content, it transfigures the soundtrack into a compilation of sorts, wherein eleven out of fifteen tracks overlap with previous releases, rendering the album an exercise in redundancy.
To be honest I would have preferred the elsewhere unavailable Martin tracks to an armada of eminently available Beatles tunes, but sadly the initial edition of the album is no longer in print, leaving this frustrating pseudo-greatest hits collection as the only remaining form of the album.
Due to this imbalance of new and old material I'll only be assessing the album on the basis of the four exclusive tracks; while the added tracks are obviously superb, they've all already been addressed elsewhere, and as I have no need for doubles they're purely superfluous for me and can't be considered positive assets for the album.
Unfortunately three of the new tracks, while decent, are thoroughly unexceptional; All Together Now depicts McCartney in his more childish mode and, while entertaining, is little more than a pleasant throwaway, while Harrison's Only A Northern Song and It's All Too Much are rather standard psychedelic tunes that lack sufficiently interesting melodies and thus simply end up sounding dated.
The remaining track, however, is a classic, and ultimately the sole reason for acquiring the album. While the Beatles, unlike contemporaries such as the Stones and the Who, were never known for their riff rockers, Hey Bulldog proves that when they wish to they can excel in this department as well, sporting an excellent riff and a series of catchy vocal melodies. While the song can't fully redeem the egregiously poorly constructed album in and of itself, it certainly greatly enhances it and single handedly merits a purchase for hardcore Beatles fans.
In the end, while not a bad album Yellow Submarine is riddled with defects, with too many prominent omissions to cast it as a viable greatest hits package and far too much overlap to recommend it to fans familiar with the Beatles catalogue. While three decent tracks and one true classic are enough to warrant a passable rating, it's hardly something that anyone save Beatles completists should have a need to track down, thus branding it as the group's worst album released while the band was still active.
Despite its subsequent release, Let It Be was recorded prior to the Abbey Road sessions, thus making the latter their real swansong, and it's a truly fitting swansong for the Beatles' legendary career at that, not to mention one of the greatest final albums of all time.
The album sounds far more mature than their eponymous classic, cultivating a more focused, serious atmosphere as well as an intensity that leaves the listener emotionally exhausted by the LP's end.
This isn't to say that the album lacks diversity, but rather its tone and method of production give it a more unified feel that compounds its potency. While excellent on a track by track basis as well, it's an album that's truly more than the sum of its parts, with each song coming together to form a brilliant artistic vision.
This greater maturity and cohesiveness doesn't come at the expense of innovation either. This inventiveness manifests itself on the second side with a suite of unfinished song fragments woven together to constitute a singular musical conglomerate. Thus a parade of half-baked ideas and creative half-thoughts are transfigured into a work of considerable richness and beauty, with each section complementing the others while retaining their individual strengths. From the beauty of She Came In Through The Bathroom Window to the rocking tone of Mean Mr Mustard to the devastating Carry That Weight each track flows together to create a one of a kind musical experience that's simultaneously entertaining and deeply moving.
The fully realized songs from the first half are excellent as well, from the moody, psychedelic anthem Come Together to the irresistible poppy black comedy of Maxwell's Silver Hammer to the band's longest track, the bludgeoning melancholia of I Want You (She's So Heavy). Even Ringo contributes an original track, the charming Octopus's Garden, while Harrison offers two of his most beloved songs, the beautiful ballad Something and the sweet optimism of Here Comes The Sun.
The Beatles had been on a streak of amazingly high quality releases, and Abbey Road definitely continued that tradition. Be it the strong songwriting of the first side or the brilliance of the suite on side two, everything on Abbey Road is excellent, radiating the unique magic and genius of the band. Each fragment on side two is imbued with more personality and contains more ideas than most group's fully fleshed out numbers, and when masterfully woven together with the other fragments they become part of a truly special aural experience.
Thus the group disbanded at their peak; whereas most of the contemporaries would linger around and degenerate into self-parody, the Beatles preserved their legendary status by quitting while they were still on top, leaving an untarnished legacy in the annals of rock. Abbey Road is the perfect swansong, displaying each merit of the group in full force. Both emotionally and musically rich, Abbey Road is an incredible album and, in a true testament to the group's brilliance and versatility, is excellent while sounding wholly unique from its predecessors rather than rehashing the same formula time and again. While they were all masterpieces, out of Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles and Abbey Road the only two that really explore the same territory are SPLHCB and MMT, thus demonstrating the limitless creativity of the band.
Prior to the Abbey Road sessions and in the midst of the disintegration of the group the Beatles recorded a sufficient amount of material for a new album (with this content supplemented by a bit of the legendary roof concert in order to reach the appropriate length). The final product was an extremely raw, ragged record, so the band gave the material to alleged murderer/production guru Phil Spector with the hope that he would be able to transfigure this sonic chaos into something listenable for mass audience consumption.
This is where the fan bred controversy begins, as most assert that Spector butchered the album, and this bastardization incensed fans to the point that it became necessary to issue a pre-production treatment entitled Let It Be Naked in an effort to appease the outraged legions of Beatles followers.
This anger at Spector's production wasn't confined to fans, as McCartney was furious with him for his orchestration on The Long And Winding Road. The widespread consensus was that Spector had irrevocably ruined the album, and thus many Beatles fans scoff at the resultant LP and either disparage it or simply fail to acknowledge the record's existence.
This is a true pity, as Let It Be is an excellent album. The band was still at a creative peak when they recorded it, and strong melodies and hooks abound. While Spector's production certainly isn't ideal, it's hardly capable of obstructing or diluting the strong songwriting that's ubiquitous on the album.
Not all of the album's rawness was dispelled by Spector's production, and this is for the best, as it gives the record a homey, welcoming feel, a disarming vibe that makes the album feel like a very relaxed, inviting listen.
There are no weak tracks (unless you count the short joke Dig It as a weak spot, though it's so brief that it can scarcely be considered a full fledged song at all, and it's over far too quickly to constitute filler), and there are many classics, from the beautiful mysticism of Across The Universe to the bitter I Me Mine to the well renowned rocker Get Back. I've Got A Feeling employs the trick from Baby You're A Rich Man by fusing a McCartney song and a Lennon song together, thus creating a minor classic, while the title track is pure catharsis.
Thus the sheer quality of the material transcends any production issues, resulting in yet another excellent album from the band. It may not be quite up to the standards of records like the white album and Abbey Road, but it's still a masterpiece in its own right, a highly charming, enjoyable listen that differentiates itself from its predecessors with a unique raw atmosphere that's wholly unlike the usual immaculately produced Beatles fare we're accustomed to.
While technically a compilation of sorts, Past Masters can still qualify as a regular album, as it has literally no overlap with the band's preceding LPs. Rather its material is derived from singles, EPs and alternate versions, with thankfully only a modicum of the latter with the emphasis on previously unavailable singles content.
As the album's track listing can attest to, myriad of the band's most popular songs were never placed on any full fledged LPs, thus explaining the presence of early behemoths like She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand.
Whereas Past Masters Volume Two predominantly focuses on the band's more mature, artistically ambitious work, Volume One is limited to the band's early work, which itself is the album's greatest and most insurmountable defect. The album is largely comprised of vacuous love songs, and while, needless to say, they're extremely catchy, well constructed love songs a parade of sappy sentimentality can grow a tad monotonous after around forty minutes. While amongst the band's most beloved output, tracks like She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand and From Me To You are hardly on par with the group's top tier material, resulting in an album that may sound good but is ultimately exceedingly shallow, with a level of innocence and simplicity that can become rather grating over time.
None of the tracks present are amongst the band's best work, as they had yet to truly come into their own as an innovative, creative force, ergo the songs sound dated and somewhat generic, certainly influenced by their contemporaries rather than produced from their own unique artistic vision. As the album proceeds this grows progressively frustrating, as the LP depicts very little in the way of musical or lyrical progression from the band.
Once one accepts these deficiencies, however, they'll find what ultimately is a very strong product. The Beatles' early output may be rather derivative and superficial, with few betrayals of their true genius, but the band still exhibits their innate talent on numerous occasions, and for what they are most of the songs are exceptionally well written.
The songs may be simple pop, but it's still pop culled from the archives of the greatest pop group of all time. Thus the songs are filled with irresistible hooks, and while little positive could be said about the lyrics the insanely catchy music is enough to compensate for the childish word play.
There are a few nuisances; for instance the Germanic versions of She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand are fun a few times for novelty value, but ultimately they're utterly superfluous and merely take up space on the album. Likewise there are four covers present, and I've already established that Beatles covers, no matter how well executed, are anathema to me.
Nonetheless it's a very enjoyable record, some light entertainment that's not the least bit taxing for the listener. It's hardly representative of what the group was capable of, but as a historical document it's a great display of the Beatles' early years, with sufficiently strong tracks that it can be enjoyed independently of its historical context as well.
The songs are too well written to be called guilty pleasures, as the Beatles brilliance is evident throughout, albeit in a very different and much more limited form what it would develop into. The album is certainly recommended for fans of the group, showcasing a very important stage in the band's development, while also providing a set of very strong pop songs that exemplify the best the band had to offer in that phase of their growth.
Whereas Past Masters Volume One depicted the band in their more innocent, less ambitious form, Volume Two focuses on their more sophisticated, artistic period, and the result is an album vastly superior to its predecessor in all departments.
Past Masters Volume Two contains some of the band's very best material, from the immortal classic Hey Jude to the political anthem Revolution to the timeless rocker Lady Madonna to the proto-psychedelic Rain to one of the group's few riff rockers, the Hendrix covered Day Tripper.
Virtually every song is excellent (save the overly protracted joke You Know My Name (Look Up The Number), which has about as much redeeming value as Revolution 9), and the album demonstrates just how brilliant and prolific the group were during their peak years.
Not all is perfect, as while the single version of Get Back surpasses the rendition on Let It Be, the single versions of that album's title track and Across The Universe are inferior to their LP counterparts. Even so they're still excellent songs, they're merely less of a compelling reason to obtain the album than the wholly new material, which after all are the primary catalysts for inspiring a purchase.
While it's difficult to ascertain why the group bifurcated their output between singles and LP tracks, as most bands fail to compartmentalize their material and have a tremendous amount of overlap between the two, it's a testament to the Beatles' genius and prolific nature that they sustain the same level of quality on both their albums and singles, with tracks that never betray their origins. The group was simply generating brilliant songs at an alarming rate, never tossing off half baked ideas in favor of intricate songwriting.
Thus Past Masters Volume Two is an essential purchase for all Beatles fans, as it's the only non-greatest-hits-compilation way to acquire timeless classics like Hey Jude and Lady Madonna. It boasts as much top notch material as any legitimate Beatles album, and provides a quality listen comparable with anything else the band has to offer.