March 25, 2007

beatles To me, The Beatles were, and will always be, rock music’s greatest group. While I hold The Beach Boys and Phil Spector also at the top of my own rock pantheon, whenever I hear a Beatles’ tune on the radio, it stands out between whatever the preceding and succeeding tunes happened to be. The amazing thing about the Fab Four’s music (beyond the fact that it changed the course of popular music and continues to influence hundreds, if not thousands of artists to this day) was just how prolific they were as musicians (their actual recorded output barely spans seven years), and how consistent the quality of the work was they produced.

Tracey and I have been working our way through the various episodes of their Anthology DVD series, and I was telling her that one of the best examples of the sheer quality of their work, is not the albums they released – spectacular as they were – but in the 45 RPM singles they would often release to accompany those albums. Spector might have owned that medium as his vision of how a record should sound, but it was The Beatles who turned it into a showcase for not just their talents, but the Lennon and McCartney (and, further on, George Harrison) personalities and ideologies as well.

Excluding both the way Capitol Records would haphazardly and recklessly distribute their product in the U.S. and Allen Klein‘s desire to milk the golden cow for everything it was worth (knowing the group was on the verge of disbanding) after becoming their business manager, The Beatles resisted the temptation to put LP tracks on 45s, but instead (at least by and large), chose and released their singles with great care, to compliment the albums they would release at or around the same time. Here, then, are my choices for the top 5 Beatles 45 RPM releases:

1) Hey Jude/Revolution (1968)
I’ve often said that when I heard “Hey Jude” for the first time, I sensed my musical world turn from black-and-white to technicolor; the record made that great an impact on me. I can still remember barely being able to sleep the night before a bunch of us who were in DeMolay at the time were to be taken into Boston to go record shopping. Since I was only 13, I can remember my Mom giving me a few dollars of spending money, and bringing this record home as a trophy. The folks tolerated “Hey Jude” enough; the dirty, gritty, hard-rocking “Revolution” was a whole ‘nuther thing altogether. My vote for absolute best rock 45 RPM record ever released by anyone, ever.

2) Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane (1967)
Lennon and McCartney taking their own fond childhood memories and turning them into a wonderful, double-sided piece of psychedelia. This single, released to buy some time between the Revolver and “Sgt. Pepper” albums, introduced to the world a more mature, all grown up Beatles. Lennon’s contribution is one of the finest melodies he ever came up with; McCartney’s features a rollicking bass line and a (in his own words) “clean sound” inspired by the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, released just a few months prior.

3) Come Together/Something (1969)
When Allen Klein came aboard to manage (actually, salvage) the Beatles’ financial situation, they were in dire need of cash as a result of the cash sieve that had been Apple, the company they had founded two years before. Seeking to make as much money as he could in a short period of time (he also had to have been aware that the group was near the end of it’s run), this double “A”-sided single coincided with the release of Abbey Road in September of 1969. “Come Together” features some fine, gritty Lennon guitar and some unusually-low McCartney harmonies. “Something” is a wonderfully-crafted love song considered George Harrison’s finest composition. Listen for some truly virtuoso McCartney bass runs working behind the rhythm.

4) Paperback Writer/Rain (1966)
Released along with their Revolver” album, I was introduced to these songs as a result of the “Hey Jude” album, a collection of Beatles singles released in LP format in 1970 to once again keep the dollar bills flowing into the Beatles’ coffers. It was these two songs (along with “You Never Give Me your Money” from “Abbey Road”) that led me to take up playing bass in my first rock band. McCartney’s “Paperback Writer” is a perfect example of what Beatles’ producer George Martin used to call a “potboiler”, but the real star of this single is Lennon’s “Rain” – an early piece of psychedelia featuring some truly inventive interplay between McCartney’s bass and Ringo’s drums throughout. The murky sounding guitar background was created by originally recording the song in a faster tempo, then slowing the tape down for the recording of the bass, drums, and vocals.

5) Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)
Released along with the fine Rubber Soul album in December of 1965, a perfect example of the creative duality unique to the Lennon and McCartney partnership. “Day Tripper” is a simple rocking piece that knows how to milk a fine guitar riff for everything it’s worth. “We Can Work It Out” offers a unique window into Lennon’s and McCartney’s personas: McCartney’s sunny optimism, seeking to talk and work things out, offset (even contradicted) by Lennon’s edgy, impatient pessimism. Put ’em alongside each other in the 45 RPM format, you have a perfect example of mid-’60s pop.

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