Who They Are: John, Paul, George and Ringo. From Liverpool. If I have to say more than that to explain The Beatles, then I’m frankly stunned, shocked, and amazed that you are actually reading my website. If this is you, please check in via the comment section on what actually drew you here, and why you keep you reading me. “Know Thy Audience” is as key a concept in the internet era as “Know Thyself,” so I’m legitimately interested if there are any readers here who are not at least a little bit Beatle Savvy.
When I First Heard Them: Earliest childhood: The Beatles were a ubiquitous part of my younger days, as was likely the case for any musically-sentient kid in the 1960s. My favorite album of theirs when I was young was Beatles VI (1965), culled from my Dad’s record collection. That was one of Capitol Records’ kluge releases for American and Canadian markets, combining album cuts and singles from what’s now known as the “core catalog” as released by EMI in the United Kingdom. (It was not until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that the catalogs on both sides of the Atlantic aligned). Beatles VI was released near the tail end of the era when the Beatles were still recording cover songs in the studio and playing increasingly futile live shows, where the primitive amplification of the era wasn’t up to the task of drowning out a stadium full of screams. There aren’t (m)any widely-loved classics of the Beatles canon to be found within Beatles VI‘s grooves, but it’s still a favorite record of mine. As with so many things, our positive childhood moments resonate differently than those we experience when we’re older and, nominally, wiser. As a young’un, I also appreciated the fact that The Beatles released material that worked for musically-oriented grown-ups as well as it did for curious chiddlers: I have most fond early members of Yellow Submarine (the film, and its songs), and of hanging out with a friend who had the Magical Mystery Tour album, which I think inspired my earliest critical musical conversations with a smart peer.
Why I Love Them: The Beatles so transformed rock music as a self-contained, self-composing, and self-aware quartet that it’s honestly hard, all these years on, to really sense just how transformative they were. They’re like the Citizen Kane of rock n’ roll: radical and revolutionary in their own time and own approach, but then so influential upon everything that followed, that it’s hard to see, after the fact, just what was so special about them when the broke every mold that tried to contain them. They were blessed with three titanic songwriters, four brilliantly unique personalities, some of the best technical support ever provided any rock group (looking at you, George Martin and Geoff Emerick), and a quartet of player’s players, great and innovative at what they did, and how they did it. (If you’re a rider on the popularly reductive “Ringo was a crap drummer” bus, then, well, please don’t bother commenting to explain your silly position; as far as I am concerned, if the only thing he ever did was create and play the rhythmic pattern on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” then his standing as an idiom-altering icon would be secured). As a youngster, I mostly appreciated the singalong and clever lyrical elements of The Beatles’ work, but as a musically-literate adult, I even more deeply adore the ways that they truly reinvented Western instrumental and vocal music, merging four-on-the-floor early rock tropes with Eastern music, jazzy music hall fare, Sinatra-esque balladry, Stockhausen-styled experimentalism, dark cabaret, smoky blues, and whatever else crossed their interest horizon. They also set the standard in terms of groups having distinct and defined personalities, publicly and privately. The fact that I could start a long flame war on pretty much any active internet site by stridently declaring that Paul is the best (or, at least, my favorite) Beatle, half-a-century after the group’s demise, is a stellar summation of the ways that the Fab Four still live in the cultural consciousness of the musically literate elements of the Western world. And probably the Eastern one, too. And all the ones in between. (Note: I credit the cuts below to the canonical UK release albums of The Beatles’ catalog, and not to the American versions in which I first heard many of them).
#10. “A Hard Day’s Night,” from A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
#9. “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” from Beatles for Sale (1964)
#8. “The Fool on the Hill,” from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
#7. “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” from The Beatles (1968)
#6. “A Day In the Life,” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
#5. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
#4. “Revolution,” from “Hey Jude/Revolution” single (1968)
#3. “I Am The Walrus,” from Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
#2. “Eight Days A Week,” from Beatles for Sale (1964)
#1. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” from Revolver (1966)