After the big media bask on the Beatles’ 50th anniversary of their explosion into American pop culture, I’ve been reviewing their recordings online the past week or two. It was a revelation to find everything remastered on YouTube. Someday I’ll collect all the recordings so I can go untethered from the computer. But for now, it’s been a wonderful listen.
Many things have struck me as I’ve listened to the first half-dozen British releases from Parlophone, especially the rhythm section. When I first tuned into the Beatles in 1979-80, I focused more on the guitar work, and the inventive stuff from 1966 on. I found myself really noticing Paul’s fine work on the bass. Competent, steady, and subtly inventive. The roots into American music were quite noticeable to me. And I have a new appreciation for what Ringo added to the band. The clownish/lonely heart angle was played up too much. The man is a darn fine musician.
I listened to the remastered Revolver for the first time earlier this morning. The “weird” stuff was less standing out in my ears and more struck me as rather seamlessly integrated into the album as a whole. Maybe Sgt Pepper gets praised as the “first” rock concept album. But even if its predecessor doesn’t have a clear “concept,” it is a rather tight and consistent thirty-five-minute piece of proto-psychedelia.
George Harrison gets three of the fourteen songs on Revolver. The feeling among his fans and critics as well was that the man was tutored well by the songwriting talents of his older bandmates John and Paul. Even at age 23 (when Revolver was written and recorded) George’s contributions on this release really belong in the orbit with the other songs. I was very surprised listening to “Love You To” which I’m not sure I specially recalled or regarded in the 80’s. Maybe I dismissed it as strange back then. But today I felt it a very strong contribution. I spent the rest of the album attending more to the guitar contributions of the so-called “quiet” Beatle. Pretty amazing, given his age. And the whole output here, which sounds very mainstream to us half a century later, still strikes me as astonishing even given what we know now.
Clearly his songwriting bandmates seriously underestimated his talents. It’s illustrative that George knew well that one of the secrets to making great music is seeking out collaborators and submitting one’s talents and abilities to a greater whole. George’s own brilliant emergence from the Fab Four was testimony to this, to be sure. His whole career post-1970 was filled with all sorts of creative relationships with other fine musicians. Lesson learned, and absorbed well.