Sketches: The Beatles

Beatles

Gentle Reader,

I’m writing this before I head to the Oregon coast for a vacation/anniversary trip, because I have no doubt that my brain will be mush when I return. That’s the thing with vacations – you need a vacation from them. Takes awhile to settle back into the normal routine, especially when you have a body as finicky as mine. I’m not anticipating sleeping very well while we’re gone, which always leaves me a wreck, but perhaps I’ll be surprised.

So, let’s talk: The Beatles. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain. I watched Ron Howard’s documentary Eight Days a Week and have been on a Beatles binge).

There’s nothing I can say in this brief post that hasn’t already been said in the dozens of thick, heavy books that have been written about this legendary British band. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other group that has been as analyzed, scrutinized and emulated as the Fab Four. (The Rolling Stones might come close. Might). John Lennon was a huge jerk but also a genius. Paul McCartney has more edge than people realize. George Harrison was underutilized and underrated during his time with the band. Ringo Starr is a truly great drummer. The four of them together created one of the greatest groups in music history. They opened doors, broke ground, paved the way for others to follow.

Instead of offering up yet another article wondering why Lennon left his wife Cynthia for Yoko Ono (but seriously…why?) or attempting to pinpoint exactly why the band broke up, allow me to share with you some of my favorite Beatles songs:

5. Twist and Shout

This is a cover of a song first made famous by the Isley Brothers. Recorded at the end of the Please Please Me sessions, Lennon, sick with a cold, tears his voice to shreds. It’s awesome.

4. Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Another cover, this one written by Larry Williams. The Beatles made no secret of their love for African-American musicians. This was recorded live at Shea Stadium, where 56,000 fans gathered on a hot summer night in 1965. The fact that the screaming was so loud that the band couldn’t hear themselves, yet they produced this, is amazing.

3. Ticket to Ride

The harmonies. The first, tentative steps toward a psychedelic sound. The sweet lead guitar solo. Yeah, man.

2. In My Life

Was there ever a more nostalgic song? Do any other words really capture the moment when you come to understand that you can’t go home again?

1. Don’t Let Me Down

The rooftop concert. The last time the four would play together live. (They actually recorded Abbey Road after the Let It Be album, though it was released last). In the middle of all the fighting, they look like they’re having fun just playing together. Poignant.

Bonus: Tomorrow Never Knows

This song is weird. I know it’s weird. It’s not theologically accurate in any way. I’m not claiming that it is. I love this song precisely because it’s weird. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to find a good YouTube video, so you’ll have to go hunting yourself.

Extra Bonus: Layla

Not a Beatles song. Eric Clapton wrote this for Pattie Boyd, who was married to George Harrison at the time. Eventually Boyd and Harrison divorced. She married Clapton, Harrison was at the wedding and they all remained friends until the end of his life. That’s rock ‘n roll for you.

George Martin, the man who produced all of The Beatles albums, said (and I’m paraphrasing, because it was in a documentary and I’m not sure I can find it again) that their music was simply fun. Even toward the end, when tensions mounted and things got difficult, at the end of the day these four men enjoyed making music together. That comes across in every song. While they aren’t my all-time favorite band (that honor goes to Creedence Clearwater Revival), The Beatles make me happy.

I think we’ve forgotten how to sit back and enjoy art. It all has to be heavy, has to have a message. That is appropriate sometimes, but there’s also space for frothy pop songs and rock that exists only because guitar shredding is cool. It’s okay to do the Macerana or the Floss. It’s okay to jam along with a song you’ve heard a thousand times, fingers flying across your air guitar. It’s okay to smile, even in the midst of all that’s wrong in the world.

Really, you know, you should be glad.

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For all posts in the Sketches series, go here.

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