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Thursday, December 02, 2004

ABBEY ROAD

For Christmas, in 1976, my brother Rod bought me my first LP, The Beatles, ‘Abbey Road’. That incident launched a lifetime love affair/obsession for me; it’s the alpha with no omega in sight. Within the year, using my meager allowance, I purchased ‘Revolver’, ‘Sgt. Pepper’, Magical Mystery Tour’, and both the red and blue greatest hits packages. I will always be grateful to Rod for sparking my interest in the Beatles, and thusly giving me a strong musical foundation. Again, here, there’s a difference between my favorite, and what I would call the best. ‘Revolver’ is the record I’m more likely to listen to, it has a magical quality I can’t quite put into words, it just feels comfortable, like on old friend. It was through this record that I began to understand the stereo spectrum and how to manipulate it. Certainly ‘Revolver’ is my favorite, but is it the best? It’s so hard to say, but I think, in the end, ‘Abbey Road’ takes home the blue ribbon. The production is super tight; the songs are fantastic, if at times rather silly (‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, ‘Octopus’ Garden’). Side two is a groundbreaking masterwork, and probably the coolest thing Paul ever had to talk John into. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ would be the most important album, but song-by-song, ‘Abbey Road’ is the superior album. Don’t get me going on the ‘White Album’, just don’t go there. Okay, I will go there, I don’t much care for it. Too many songs, and not enough good ones. ‘Blackbird’, please…I can’t stand all that McCartney crap…’Obla Di Obla Da’? What the hell is that crap? Awful. ‘Rocky Raccoon’? Just plain stupid. Cut the record down to the John stuff, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, ‘Savoy Truffle’ and I guess ‘Back In The USSR’, but that’s it. No, it’s ‘Abbey Road’ for my money.

Comments:
I'll let you guys hammer out the Beatles part of the Fred list. You are much better versed. I have no problem vouching for Sgt. Peppers because I believe it is worthy of all the hype it gets. It is sonically and creatively one of the best records ever made, especially given the tools they had available at the time to make it. It was also extremely revolutionary in terms of what was exceptable recording practice at that time. George Martin could have just as easily lost his job for some of the things he did which were contrary to record label "standards". By the time Sgt Peppers was recorded, the Beatles had already broken many rules and laid the ground work down for something like Sgt. Peppers to be done, but they executed this one brilliantly.

I'm not the hugest Beatles fan having rejected them as kinda wimpy when I caught the music bug as a youth, but do enjoy them a great deal today. Jackson is absolutely right about the White Album. As a matter of fact, the things he mentions are the very issues that kept me away from this great band for so long.
 
I think it's fair to say Revolver is the best and I'll tell you why--of all the things the Beatles bequeathed the world of pop music two stand out: 1) the notion of arranging for two guitars, bass, drums and voices in a careful, complex fashion (as opposed to the early model of the rock band, Muddy Water's band of the 1950s emulated by Dylan for example in which everybody just goes for their own on a set of blues changes); and 2) the notion that an album of pop music can contain diverse carefully prepared songs and still function as a cohesive whole (yeah, Sinatra and Sonny Rollins and Ray Charles and Ray Price and Nat Cole and Sam Cooke had made thematically coherent albums, ie, The Genius Hits the Road, Come Fly with Me, Night Beat) but the Beatles managed to show how you could make an album where each song possessed a separate world and yet the whole thing could remain coherent.

On both scores Revolver is the best exemplar among the Beatles discography. It's not the Beatles album I listen to most often (that would be the white album) but I think the objective argument for it's being the best is pretty clear.
 
I can only assume that's Mr. Chevorkas, and I must say I'm honored to be read by such as he. So we have at least one vote for 'Revolver' and that makes me happy, because As I said it's my favorite. I still think, songwise, 'Abbey' Road is stronger, but that's a matter of taste in the end. Guy's like Tony, Jason and myself listen with different ears than most, we're very close to production, and we hear that. For most folks it come down to the tunes, and people will listen to what they like regarless of how many 4-tracks were linked up, and what got bounced to the left channel to make room for the cello.
 
You know what tho'? while it's true we can think about the production, even for me at least it is the tunes and most of all the performances in the end. I mean, one of my two or three favorite singers of all time in Rebert Harris, the great lead singer of the Soul Stirrers from 38-51. I have very few decent transfers of the Aladdin 78s from that era. But that doesn't mean I don't listen to them as much or more than the best sounding and best recorded vocal performances I know and love (say, Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely).
 
Enjoying this discussion tremendously...

Here's another aspect of making pop music the Beatles made huge contributions to, and that is bands themselves actually wrestling control of the production out of the hands of record company producers and using the studio as a creative instrument. There may be others who fought the good fight before them, but they seem to be the first who made successful records with this new found freedom. I never bore hearing stories in the audio rags about how constrained the world of recording was in the 50's and early 60's. It doesn't shock me that big corporations were able to keep all this creativity bottled up and marching in order if you will, but nonetheless when I hear about it I'm always amazed at thier ability to set such standards and get away with it for so long without challenges or complete revolution. Chalk it up to cheaper gear and pioneers like the Beatles who showed us what we could do without menacing label types telling us how to mic a snare drum and shunning distortion of any kind.

Not all musicians/bands do well without the help of producers or recording themselves on there own. Some actually like the paternal aspects of the relationship, and still many others find a team and stick with it throughout the entire course of their career. I always give extra props to any artist who not only writes their own material, but produces and records themselves. I'm not a great song writer or musician, but I do know how hard it is to do all these things yourself and make it sound good ta boot.

Yes, it is the songs that ultimately make a record great. No doubt about that, but good production can make a great song(s) that much greater.
 
The Beatles certianly maged to get what they wanted from the staff at Abbey Road, but let's not forget Buddy Holly and Ray Charles who fought and won creative contrl over their recordings.
 
Guys,

Also, let's not forget that the Beatles had an industry/company guy as a producer. True he was open to experimentation. And true the BBC-trained engineers were not very creative and it wasn't until Geoff Emerick started engineering that the Beatles/George Martin combo got going. But Martin was still a record company approved producer.

A good producer is like a good editor, all the creative folks rail against 'em, but in the end they bring the music, creativity, and form along with valuable contributions.

It's true that the Beatles, and Hendrix s/ Eddie Kramer engineering, and Brian Wilson in the mid 60s began bringing electronic music type techniques into pop song (remember Usachevsky and Luening had begun doing tape music in the 1940s), but that didn't always make for the best records or the best engineering. Sometimes it was/is still better to capture a live performance in a real space with a simple miking technique. Sometimes I think the Beatles started us down the primrose path to studio-only, over-compressed, pitch corrected robo-pop.
 
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