A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Supplementary Episodes

I published a post about the last episode of our humble A Year With The Beatles podcast at the end of last month, for those of you keeping up. The show was a limited series of podcasts that explored one studio album by The Beatles each month as hosted by my oldest and best friend Graeme Burk and co-hosted by me, along with many other fine people as guests.

But what I didn’t tell you here on The Delete Bin was that during the course of our project, we recorded a number of supplementary episodes in the series beyond just those 12 albums.

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For those of you who are completists, here is a list of those episodes for your amusement and edification that you may have missed, and with links to each!

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A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Let It Be

220px-letitbeWhen George Harrison returned from visiting Bob Dylan and The Band, who were happily holed up in Upstate New York and busy inventing Americana by the end of 1968, he described the situation to which he was returning as “the winter of discontent that was The Beatles”. That’s pretty harsh. But things really were that bad, with relations between the principals having deteriorated over the course of the year. Nineteen-sixty-nine didn’t promise to be very much more bearable for The Beatles. And it wasn’t!

No one could say they weren’t busy, though. They’d made a film and had a lousy time of it. They’d recorded hours and hours of material for a new record but no one wanted to do the necessary with the tapes in order to turn it into an album. Internally, the whole Beatles thing was a giant pain in everyone’s ass by early 1969. This isn’t even counting the money-hemorrhaging business pursuits of their company Apple Corps, or the fact that discussions around future management of the band and its catalogue were becoming more and more heated and unproductive.

In the middle of all this, they really were trying to get back to where they once belonged. They wanted to kick all the psychic crap they’d accumulated just from being Beatles to the curb and make a stark, honest, and liberating rock n’ roll record without any studio trickery just like they’d done in their early career. The result is the only Beatles album I don’t love; Let It Be. Read more

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Abbey Road

beatles_-_abbey_roadA recurring theme in my walk through The Beatles’ discography and therefore their history too, has been the mythic quality of their story. For me and for many fans, The Beatles are more than just a rock group. They were a generational ideal, or at least representatives of what talented people could do when they came together to form a common identity.

When we think of any band we love, this is often the common denominator; that in the making of art, mortality is subverted somehow. The Beatles went beyond the realm of the musical in this. They were cultural paragons, and collectively a symbol for that which can potentially change the world for the better. That’s a lot of pressure on four musicians in their twenties. It couldn’t last. Nor did it.

It’s been noted by both McCartney and Starr that when The Beatles recorded Abbey Road, they weren’t doing so with the idea that they’d never record together as a band again, as bad as things were getting by 1969. Maybe in retrospect it just seems like it. But there is something of the journey to Avalon about this record. Read more

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: The Beatles (AKA “The White Album”)

thebeatles68lpJohn Lennon famously said that if you listen to The White Album, you can hear The Beatles breaking up. You can certainly hear that each member had a lot of things to say, and with many different ways to say it musically speaking, from traditional rock n’ roll, to wistful bucolic folk, to quasi-baroque black humour, to proto-prog excursions, to noise-rock, to the churning collage approach of avant garde, and beyond. The fact was, the band was going through a metamorphosis even as the political and cultural landscapes were changing all around them, drifting into darker territory from the multicoloured promise of the hippy dream just one year before.

They’d drifted pretty far from those shores themselves since their manager Brian Epstein died, the man who kept them together as a group with a common purpose. They’d come to find themselves on different paths from each other, too. Even in the band photos on the inner sleeve of this double disc magnum opus, there isn’t a group shot to be found. Rather we find John, Paul, George, and Ringo in separate quadrants looking a little worse for wear. Even in the middle of all of that, they made one of their most striking and influential works, even if on some tracks they performed as solo artists who used “The Beatles” as a banner under which to produce their individual material, rather than as a band. So what you can also hear on this record is them trying to find their voices as individuals, all the while using any voices they had to hand.

Among many other things which The Beatles represents, my friend Graeme and I are joined once again by musician, podcaster, and critic Alex Kennard who celebrates this album as his favourite of their catalogue. As usual, we discuss our favourite tracks, and we talk about how to approach this listening to this album given its magnitude. Unusually, maybe, we don’t talk about whether the record should have been a single disc. Because that would be dumb.

And Alex has a pop at Clapton, and praises “Revolution 9” to the skies.

You can decide if he’s right yourself by listening to the episode right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Magical Mystery Tour

thebeatlesmagicalmysterytouralbumcoverThe Beatles had a heck of a 1967, with plenty of ups and downs to characterize the year. One big “up” was the success of Sgt. Pepper in June that helped to change the game for peers, fans, the music industry, and for The Beatles themselves. Another was the discovery of Transcendental Meditation, which initially helped them to gain perspective on their own fame and the demands of the material world. They would double-down on their involvement with it by joining their newfound guru, Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, in Rishikesh by the start of 1968. That’s another story.

But back to 1967.  A big “down” in this very same year was the loss of their manager, Brian Epstein, who died due to an accidental overdose of prescription drugs in August while the band were away in Wales on a TM course. This set the band adrift in terms of their commercial destinations, an area that Brian had always tended as their manager. In fact, Brian had been their ballast as a unified group all around. By the end of 1967, they were on their own. So they decided to keep working.

They made a film, Magical Mystery Tour, that was shown on British TV on Boxing Day. Around the same time, they put out a couple of EPs with some new songs they’d worked up and had featured in the film along with a few that hadn’t been. A few of those songs were about their childhoods back in Liverpool, a theme which the film also touches on. Given the loss of their friend, it probably seemed like a good idea to reset things with such an affectionate nod to their roots during what must have been a very confusing and upsetting time. In so doing, they managed to create the most childlike and optimistic releases in their catalogue. It’s certainly their most “scouse” record, which is to say it’s overtly rooted in Liverpudlian culture.

Eventually, Capitol records who distributed Beatles releases in North America put all of the songs on the EPs together into a bang-up full album called, well, Magical Mystery Tour. And for once they were dead right to do so, so much so that Parlophone and Apple included the album in the cannon of official Beatles releases (so, we did too!). It’s a record that John Lennon once called his favourite Beatles album “because it’s so weird”.

Joining us this time around for our magically mysterious tour of the Beatles discography is British TV expert, visual artist, and film history author Jim Sangster, who as it happens is also from Liverpool. He even recorded his part of the episode while being only a short hop and a skip from Woolton, the site of the first meeting between Dirk and Nasty themselves. This is appropriate in that this really is the most Liverpool of The Beatles’ albums by some distance. There’s lots of cultural references to unpack here, and Jim’s the man to help us do it even when it gets graphic (which it does). We also review the aforementioned film Magical Mystery Tour, famously pasted by critics at the time. Only this time, it’s our turn!

Listen to the episode right here.

And from here, Good People, I must leave you until the dawn of 2017 (or thereabouts) when, if the stars align as they should, I will return with a mix of new songs to kick off our New Year. The podcast will continue, too of course. Until then, happy holidays everyone. Thank you all for joining me in 2016 by reading, subscribing, leaving your comments, and sharing on your social feeds. Until we meet again, friends …

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandAfter the revelatory sonic achievement that was 1966’s Revolver, it would have been almost impossible by the next year to imagine that The Beatles could go anywhere else to try and top it. But, that’s what they went ahead and did. Now, this is a tricky subject for many, of course. During the nineties especially, the supremacy of Sgt. Pepper was severely questioned when compared to the quality of Revolver, in part thanks to Britpop that held the latter album as a holy text, and rightly so. During that era particularly, cries of “overrated!” were common as applied to Sgt. Pepper.  But for me, even though Sgt. Pepper is not my favourite Beatles album as much as I love it, I can easily concede the point that it is the Beatles’ creative pinnacle. Seriously.

This isn’t just because it’s the most striking work in their catalogue that helped to redefine the album format as we now know it today. It isn’t because of the technical accomplishments it represents, which also transformed the way that the recording process was approached, with samples, studio effects, and intricate non-rock arrangements playing integral parts to create a record that made everyone’s jaw drop when they first heard it. It isn’t even strictly because it had so much cultural impact on the time of its release, inspiring not only the fans to embrace pop music as art and not consider it to be a part of the showbiz treadmill, but also their peers and their work. I think it was mostly because it was the purest example among many in The Beatles’ catalogue that found each member exactly where he was artistically with crystal clarity.

Paul McCartney was enamoured of Brian Wilsonesque sonic landscapes and character-driven drama, and with an idea in his head that the record could be the one to go on tour instead of him and his bandmates. John Lennon would go full on into his Lewis Carroll fixation and interest in Victoriana, adding a child-like sense of wonder that had never emerged in quite that way in his writing before. George Harrison created his most sumptuous track to date, marrying Indian classical music to Western pop music and delivering the best of both. And Ringo Starr, if you didn’t get it before this, proves himself to be the master of the drum fill, adding so many great parts to the songs his bandmates wrote with almost inconceivable precision. With all of these elements in place, the album is a theatrical, optimistic sea change, not only for The Beatles, but for pop music too.

As is our custom, my friend Graeme and I, along with our mutual friend and fellow Beatles nut Shannon Dohar discuss this great work, including our favourite tracks, our thoughts on the role this record played in music history, and about how it simply makes us feel to hear it. In addition, we talk about Eric Idle’s superb 1978 Beatles parody, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash and about what makes it so damn funny, along with being legitimately tuneful as well.

You can listen to the podcast right here, Good People.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Revolver

RevolverWith the significant maturity spike as shown in Rubber Soul, it is almost inconceivable that The Beatles were only on their way up when it came to making sophisticated music and recording it in a revolutionary way in time for their seventh album, Revolver. They had a number of factors that helped them do this beyond their own burgeoning interest in the album format during a time when their touring days were grinding to a halt.

First, by 1966 they had a number of peers doing similarly revolutionary and left of centre work from the Stones’ “Paint It Black”, to the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, to the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”, along with so many other examples. Second, they had new fangled studio technology that helped them get what they wanted more easily, with automatic double tracking, tape varispeed, and improvements in amplification and microphone technology. Third and finally, they had producer George Martin, and a young engineer named Geoff Emerick to take their creative ideas and turn them into practical sonic realities to create what was their most sophisticated and varied album to date, a work that still has impact on recordings today fifty years after its creation. The amazing part is, as groundbreaking as Revolver was, The Beatles were only getting started as to where they would take the album format, not only for them but for their peers, too.

During this month’s episode of A Year With The Beatles podcast, my co-host Graeme Burk and I are joined by writer, musician, songwriter, and seasoned podcaster in his own right Alex Kennard. In addition to talking about the record and our favourite moments as taken from it, we also talk about Howard Goodall’s documentary on how The Beatles were exemplars of western composition by the 1960s. That decade was a time when a movement of modernist and post-modernist composers had largely given up on the conventions of classical composition in order to explore new territories, often leaving general audiences behind. The Beatles re-positioned those conventions in pop music to breathe new life into them. There is some argument as to the validity of this interpretation of history, and also some thoughts on what most surprises us on a compositional level when it comes to The Beatles.

To listen to this month’s episode, make with the clicking right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Rubber Soul

Rubber_SoulThe Beatles demonstrated a significant spike in maturity by the time they began to write songs for their sixth record, Rubber Soul. This revealed itself in the way they recorded the album, deliberately meant to be an artistic statement and not just as a memento of their live act. Their new maturity also revealed itself in the arrangements of the songs, incorporating new instruments and the influences of music from other cultures, too. It certainly comes out in the vocal arrangements that are gloriously layered in a way that, as great as the harmonies always were on Beatles records, reaches a sonic zenith here with the best singing of their career as a band to date.

Possibly the most striking sign that the Beatles had truly come into their maturity as a band, a recording entity, and as individuals is the songwriting. There are love songs on this record as expected. But, they aren’t just the paeans to puppy love as they were on “Thank You Girl” or “From Me To You” from two years previous. As Moe Berg from Canadian band The Pursuit of Happiness once said: “I don’t write songs about girls anymore. I have to write songs about women. That’s where the Beatles were at by Rubber Soul; they were adults now. So, here on this set of songs love is far more complex, often provoking as much ire and insecurity as it does warm feelings of affection. At times, it gets pretty dark and overtly so, where in the past those feelings of anger and resentment were less obvious behind a pure pop sheen. Basically, Rubber Soul is the first of their records aimed at grown-ups, or soon to be grown ups, and not specifically at teenagers screaming from the stands.

To discuss some of these themes in this episode of the podcast, my good friend Graeme Burk and I am joined by NPR Books editor Petra Mayer to talk about these very themes, and other bits and pieces to do with The Beatles sixth UK record. Speaking of teenagers screaming from the stands, we also talk about an historic performance not just in Beatles history but in all history; The Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Listen to the podcast right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Help!

HelpIn 1965, Beatlemania was still raging on, and the Beatles rose to the occasion with their fifth album, Help! Their songs further delved into some of the genres that they had explored previously, including folk rock, R&B, country, and probably most notably for the first time chamber pop with their game-changing song “Yesterday”. They even had room for one more cover song for the road in Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzie”.

Saying that, the band were growing up as both songwriters and as people, bringing more of their personalities to the fore as writers. This is certainly reflected in the songs on this album which is a continuation of the more sophisticated approach to subject matter hinted at earlier, including some of their most personal songwriting to date. And that personal side of things would only become more developed as the year went on.

Additionally, the Help! record would serve as a showcase for the songs that would appear in the movie of the same name, in which the band also appeared. Playing out like a sort of surrealist Marx Brothers affair, The Beatles solidified their image as happy (and also edgy) lads from Liverpool, although even by this time some of the cracks in the union, however small, were beginning to show.

My old friend Graeme Burk, and my newer friend Shannon Dohar talk about all of this and more in this fifth episode of our A Year With The Beatles Podcast.

Have a listen to it right here.

Enjoy!

A Year With The Beatles Podcast: Beatles For Sale

BeatlesforsaleNineteen sixty-four was a busy, busy year for The Beatles. They expanded their songwriting capacity and output, made a movie, cut a record, went on tour that took them all over the world, and cut yet another record; this one, Beatles For Sale. Historically speaking, this album never got the love it deserved, wedged between two movie-oriented titles that generally get more props. Also, the record features a lot of covers of old rock ‘n’ roll numbers after having established themselves as independent and very skilled songwriters in their own right.

Is this record a step backward in that respect? Is it a stop-gap album to capture the potential market for being on the Christmas lists of teenagers during that busy year with its title “Beatles For Sale” containing no irony? Or does this album contain more obvious traces of the band they would become even more so than ever before, which was one that was truly revolutionary? Is this a goodbye to their early career, or a hello to the next phase? Is it both somehow?

My friend Graeme and I address these very questions  in this fourth episode of our podcast A Year With The Beatles. We are joined by Joanna Ashwanden who is a writer, blogger, and former high-school English teacher. More specifically, she was our high school English (and drama) teacher, now living in England. So, that’s why we are particularly well-behaved on this episode! For our extra credit homework, we discuss the Beatles fan club Christmas messages recordings the band did between 1963 and 1969 (so that you don’t have to!), and ponder how those recordings can be understood in parallel to their career as a whole.

Listen to the episode right here.

Enjoy!