Monday, December 18, 2006

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Brian Williams, of NBC Nightly News, ran a report tonight on Baby Boomers and their love of the music of their youth. Well, naturally. Everyone loves the music they grew up with. The music that was the background for their first date, first prom, first kiss, first…well, you get the idea.

If I compiled a list of my favorite songs from the 1960s, when I became a teenager and went through so many important--and terrible--events in my life, I'd have to pick the groups that influenced me and everyone else, and top of that list would have to be the Beatles.

What seems incredible now is that the Beatles' most creative period took place over a period of a short five or six years…about 1963 to 1969. That's when the group members themselves were still youngsters in their twenties! Think about what you were doing in your twenties.

I thought of Beatles songs that to me were the best, most representative of what I loved about the group. I picked three…there are lots and lots more, so I had to boil them down to a manageable amount. You can pick your own, but this is my blog and I get to pick mine first.

The first would have to be "She Loves You," which I think is one of the great pop/rock songs of all time. It starts out with Ringo's drums, goes right into the powerful three-part harmony of John, Paul and George, and in a couple of minutes tells a story. When our parents, and those who didn't listen, heard this song what they heard was "Yeah, yeah, yeah," and the Little Richard-like "Oooooo," which got the girlies screaming as the lads shook their mop tops. That was all theater, though. The song is about a guy who is very noble. He has been told by a girl to tell her former boyfriend she still loves him. The guy imparting the information doesn't take advantage, doesn't tell her, "Yeah, well…he doesn't love you, but I do," which would be a ratty thing to do. No, he goes to his buddy and tells him, "You think you've lost her, but you haven't, because she still loves you. Go on, forget your pride and apologize to her. She loves you, and you know you should be glad." Not only is it a great and memorable melody, but the vocals are excellent. John, Paul and George never got their full due when it came to their three-part harmony, but even the Beach Boys would have to admit those guys had some great vocal moves, each voice perfectly complementing the other.

I believe the song owes a lot to George Martin, the producer, and maybe George Martin is the true genius behind the genius of the Beatles. At least I think he is. The way the song ends, not fading out, but with the echo-chambered "Yeah, yeah, yeah…" harmony ending on a slightly discordant note is pure brilliance and is a perfect ending to what I think is a perfect song.

My next favorites would be the tandem of "Strawberry Fields," and "Penny Lane." I heard these songs the day they were debuted on American radio in 1967, while sitting in a basic training barracks, listening to a radio we weren't supposed to have. After nearly 40 years I still remember the power of those two songs, for two different reasons. John's song evoked the mystical, whereas Paul's song evoked nostalgia. George Martin called that record the beginnings of Sgt. Pepper, and I never could figure out why they weren't included on that album. The songs showed the individual directions the artists were taking; that even though the compositions were signed Lennon/McCartney, it was obvious that each song was thought up by a mind going in a different direction from the other. What is amazing to me is that they made those songs work so well, even though you'd probably admit that the other guy's song probably wasn't this guy's cuppa tea. Paul and John worked just as diligently making each other's music sound great as they did on their own. And they had George Martin working on them, polishing away rough edges, making sounds that no one had made before, sharing a vision.

As of the time I write this, I have not yet heard the CD, The Beatles Love, which is done by Martin, deconstructing and then rearranging some of the Beatles songs. I will hear it at Christmas when I give a copy to my wife. Remember, don't tell her I'm giving it to her. I want it to be a surprise. It'll be a surprise to me, too, but I expect to like it, because as much as I love the originals, I don't think a little tinkering will hurt them. This album will be on the shelf with the originals, but will never take the place of the originals.

The Beatles to me don't just represent an era in my personal life. When I think of the Beatles and their great songs I think of the influence they had on all aspects of our culture. Imagine (hey! what a great title for a song!) what music would be like today if it hadn't been for the Beatles.

My musical tastes don't start and end with the Beatles, but they are very large in my life. I see a songwriter like George Gershwin representing his era brilliantly, and I see the Beatles doing the same with their era. Gershwin's songs are still played, still recorded endlessly. But Gershwin didn't sing his songs. The Beatles' songs will live as long or longer than Gershwin's music, but their voices will also be there to remind everyone listening how vital they sounded in their day, and how vital they will always be.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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