The Fourteenth Book I've Read This Year.

Music At the beginning of the year, I had such plans, one of which was to read at least a book a week. Then the lockdown happened and in order to keep my sanity, I've moved onto a project based mentality which is currently to watch my way through Kurasawa's career in the afternoons and a Eurovision Song Contest each evening. We'll see how long that lasts. At the start of the lockdown, I was going to watch lots of Shakespeare and read Plato's Republic but I feel like my brain's shrunk so you make do with what you have.

On the upside, it also means I'm now able to say I've listened to all of The Beatles back catalogue in chronological order thanks to the late Ian MacDonald's superb book and this Spotify playlist which sequences the tracks in the same order as his scholarship.  After stuttering through the incredibly dense introduction which puts the group in the context of the 60s, their cultural impact and vice-versa, I'd read the entry for a given a track the give it a listen through the author's critically constructive filter.

MacDonald doesn't pull punches in the way a disappointed fan often doesn't.  He approaches anything past Sgt Peppers with the caution many Doctor Who fans view the John Nathan Turner era, still sublime in many ways but never quite reaching the heights of past glories.  As is so often the case, once any of the fundamentals of what made an artistic endeavor good begin to dissipate, usually the harmony between creators, it can't be recreated.  Boringly for The Beatles, it was the usual rock and roll standbys of too many drugs and too much money.

But by god, when The Beatles were good, they were sublime.  Sat in my armchair with Spotify pumping the tracks through my TV speakers, I was frequently in awe at what was achieved back then and how much of popular music, yes, even now, was defined by them either through appropriation or as a reaction to it.  The era which the author dismisses out of hand due the group's drug filled miasma still managed to produce All You Need Is Love, I Am The Walrus and Hello, Goodbye (arguably due in part to the group's drug filled miasma). 

Economical too.  It's extraordinary how many of their most memorable songs are under two minutes long and only about a fifth of the tracks break the three minute barrier.  Just sixteen last longer than four minutes.  The longest, the magisterially avant-garde Revolution 9 clocks in at eight minutes twenty-two (the shortest is Her Majesty from Abbey Road at twenty-two seconds).  MacDonald isn't interested in such metrics though.  At the top of each entry is a list of credits, recording dates and other info, but not track duration.

At the end of this magical mystery tour, what I've I learned?  Chiefly and cruelly that Ringo couldn't sing, his only decent song Octopus's Garden, the Love album released many years after the group split up containing the best arrangement.  That it isn't George Harrison's guitar which gently weeps but Eric Clapton.  That the reason that half of the production on Let It Be album sounds out of place is because John had Phil Spektor complete the album without consulting the rest of the group, finally hammering the stake into the coffin of his friendship with Paul.

On a technical level that the songs were not recorded in any semblance of the order they appear on the album or as single units created one after the other.  Their earliest songs still required more than one recording day to get right through George Martin's steady hand.  Also that up until Sgt Peppers the US distributors often butchered the running order of those albums to create more releases which meant American audiences experienced the music in a vastly different container to the UK.  Now, bring on Eurovision.

No comments:

Post a comment