The Gift Of The Fab(s). Or, Here Comes The Son(s Of God, allegedly): Why The Beatles Are Underrated.

The Fabs in Help!  Like puppies from the same litter.  “The Four Headed Beast” is how Lennon described them.

When I wrote the last post, about The Stone Roses’ Second Coming debacle, I mentioned that I felt I might have been a bit hard on them and possibly I might do well to redress the balance of having a big old moan by being enthusiastic about something for a change.

Classic miserable Northern male: No enthusiasm for anything because it’s grim up North.  (Capitals intentional).

As it is, I’m not a very enthusiastic person at the best of times.  I like to put that down to being northern and gritty.  Sometimes other northerners I meet do seem pretty enthusiastic about all sorts of things, but I put that down to them not doing it properly.  No amount of flat caps, whippets and clogs are going to compensate for getting excited about, I don’t know, anything much.  So I do struggle to look excited and enthusiastic about pretty much everything, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for a teacher to be, no.  On the other hand, virtually every single autobiography I’ve ever read has contained some reference to how nobody ever thought the writer would get anywhere, nobody had any faith in them and they thought, “Right.  I’ll show you, you bastards.”  Which I think is probably a fairly good motivation for most people.  Plus, if you’re enthusiastic about things that everybody knows really aren’t very good, it denigrates any genuine enthusiasm you might express in future.  I knew that when I was about eight, having been summoned (obviously on a rota) to the headmaster’s office to be patted on the head for a piece of work that I knew full well was even worse than most of the drivel I churned out there.

But, to trample all that underfoot, I am going to make the effort to be enthusiastic about something, even though I don’t really have any idea about how to go about that.

So, yeah, The Beatles are underrated.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Ringo Starr  Help! (1965).jpg
‘Underrated, you say?’

There is a possibility that I’m taking this tack in order to be mildly controversial because, if anything, a lot of musical snobs (which I don’t count myself as) like to be a bit snide about them.  I’ll address their stupid complaints later on.

The first exposure I had to The Beatles was my mother singing me ‘Michelle’ as a lullaby.  She mentioned them to me, but not in any great detail.   Not even what their names were.  I don’t think my mother knew many songs – she’s not interested in music really, even though she was a card carrying member of a communist folk club in the early 1960s.  I like that about her.  Mind you, Bolshevik would also be a perfect word to describe my mother.  I like that about her, too.

After that, I have a very clear memory of a programme on BBC on, I think Sunday afternoons called ‘The Golden Oldie Picture Show’ from the mid 1980s.  Pop music videos had been quite a big thing for a couple of years and, I suppose the concept was that a lot of pop songs from before the early 1980s didn’t have videos, so you didn’t hear the older bands’ singles on telly.  I know now that’s not true at all, especially for The Beatles, who often made rudimentary ‘videos’ for things such as The Ed Sullivan Show once they’d stopped touring.  Anyway, ‘The Golden Oldie Picture Show’ was presented by the then ubiquitous Hairy Cornflake, Dave Lee Travis, who even I knew was a twat.  Anyway, they made brand new, 1980s videos for pop songs from the sixties and most of them were very bad in terms of how literally the director chose to interpret the lyrics.

It turns out, as often is the case, there’s bits of it on the YouTube.

I don’t remember that episode.  The only video I remember was for ‘Ticket To Ride’.  The video was, as I remember, set on a boat and it was a bit slapstick, but not funny, as most slapstick isn’t.  But I’d not heard the record before and something went off in my head.

Later that year – if it was 1985, which sounds about right – I realised that it was possible to buy records.  For me to buy records, that is.  I knew other people bought records, but I didn’t know where to start.  Like putting someone who’s never read a book into a big library – where do you even start?  I started with The Housemartins, and I liked them.  You were also allowed to like them at my school, although you weren’t allowed to be into The Smiths, so I was secretly into them.  The Bunnymen?  Automatic entry to the weirdo kids’ gang, apparently.  I was into The Bunnymen too, but I didn’t tell anyone about that either.  Not when I was at school, anyway.  It might have made things a bit awkward with my nascent breakdancing ‘crew’ anyway.  I was already on thin ice with them because they kept finding books about my person, so I didn’t want to push it any further.

1980s weirdo Goths.  Backcombing and crimping hair was evidently worth it, even if everything else was pointless…

Once I had The Housemartins’ first album, I hammered that but had no idea where to go from there.  Had I read the music press, I’d have probably gone deeper, earlier into The Smiths and The Bunnymen, but I might also have found out what ‘indie’ actually meant, which I didn’t.

Diversion: Androgynous Eighties Confusion.

I’ve also mentioned how confusing I found the early 80s pop music scene, what with all that androgynousness flying around – although not really where I lived, if I’m being honest – so I didn’t feel that I could go into a shop and buy, say, a Duran Duran record, even though I would have if I’d been a bit braver.  I taped ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ off the Top 40 and made do with that on the quiet.  Madonna was a big deal in 1985 too, but I was under the impression that she was for girls.  Again, even though I was a bit obsessed with ‘Borderline’ and the video to ‘Into The Groove’ had made me feel funny in a good, yet mildly uncomfortable way.

Madonna: Into The Groove video still.  From ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, which she was pretty good in, I thought.  I’d never even considered inverting the nozzle of a hand drier, and certainly not to dry my armpits like Madonna did.  What a gal.

I didn’t really know what to think about homosexuality in those days, either.  I was pretty sure I wasn’t one and ‘puff’ and, especially, ‘gaylord’ were casually tossed around the playground as derogatory terms for lads.  Having said that, I did know a couple of gay lads.  The first gay lad I knew of was called Gerald.  I met him because, at school, I was into being in plays and, it turned out I was quite good at acting – at least in comparison to other kids at my school and I was generally the main part in school plays.  One year, Mrs Cowley asked me if I’d think about being in a play that the sixth form were putting on because they couldn’t find anyone older who was any good.  It’d mean hanging around with 17-18 year olds and I’d have been about twelve.  Mrs Cowley was always really good to me, so I said I’d have a go.  I went to the upper school – which was on a separate site, auditioned  and got the part, which was ‘Boy’ in ‘Waiting For Godot’.  When I went to the first rehearsal, I didn’t know where the auditorium was, so I asked some bigger kids and they asked me why I was going to the auditorium.  I told them and they brayed, “AHHHH!  Gerald’s in that!”  

I didn’t know who Gerald was, so I asked them what they were on about and they said, and I can still hear them saying it because it was weird,  they said, “Gerald’s this school’s first self-confessed gay,”  which clearly was a big deal.  To them, anyway.  They told me I was going to get bummed, which wasn’t the last time someone would tell me the same thing.

Waiting for Godot cast.  Not the one I was in, although there’s some pictures at my parents’ that I might replace this with at some point.  I really enjoyed the play.  You know, the futility, misery and violence of it.  Gerald and I would routinely kick the crap out of each other onstage when his character got irate because ‘Boy’ didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.

Anyway, I met the rest of the cast and they were all lovely.  Gerald apparently had no designs on my nether regions and I really enjoyed the whole thing.  It was good to be in a play with other kids who weren’t embarrassed about pretending to be someone else and who went for it.  It was exciting and also a couple of the girls were into The Smiths.  They were the first people I had a conversation with about them.

Apart from Gerald who, whether he was a ‘self-confessed gay’ or not, was a really nice kid; a bit later, I sat next to a kid called Peter in Chemistry who told me he was gay.  He was into Madonna and we had a bet about whether Madonna would be Christmas number one with, ‘Open your Heart’ or if The Housemartin’s ‘Caravan of Love’ would be.  In the end, we were both wrong because ‘Reet Petite’ by Jackie Wilson was.  I felt slightly vindicated though, because the video for Reet Petite was obviously inspired by The Housemartins’ stop motion plasticine video for ‘Happy Hour’.  Anyway, I thought that if you went and bought a Madonna record, the people in the shop would think you were either a girl or gay and I wasn’t confident enough to deal with that then.

So I didn’t feel confident enough to buy records I actually liked by Duran Duran or Madonna, but I did want more records because there’s only so many times you can play the same album over and over again without beginning to ignore it because you’re too used to it.  Like five minutes after you’ve got in a hot bath: no matter how hot it starts off, it’s going to feel colder very soon because you get used to it.

End of Diversion.

And then I remembered The Beatles.

When Britpop was a sort of thing in the mid 1990s, The Beatles were a big thing again.  It’s easy to forget that they’d been neglected a bit in the 1980s, because they were.  During Britpop, the psychedelic Beatles became, once again, mainstream.  In the mid 1980s, you did hear The Beatles, but ‘Ticket To Ride’ was about as late as you heard on the radio or the telly.  Maybe ‘Let It Be’ would get an airing now and then, but that’s not really very psychedelic, is it?  The acceptable side of The Beatles at that point in time was the early Beatles, by which I mean things like, ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘From Me To You’.  Mop top pop, in short.  The sort of things that the grannies would put up with.  Not when they went ‘weird’, as the Queen nearly described them in about 1967 (“The Beatles are turning awfully funny, aren’t they?” she said to the boss of EMI records, Sir Joseph Lockwood).  The Beatles’ biggest selling singles were those early ones.  Later on, they still sold well, but they weren’t leagues ahead of everyone else as they were in 1963-4.

The Beatles defer to The Queen.  John appears to be checking out her funbags.

So, I knew ‘Ticket To Ride’ and I knew ‘Twist and Shout’ and I’d heard a couple of those early singles here and there.  If not everywhere.  Cheers.  Oddly, I’d also heard ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and thought it was ace, which is surprising to the much older Middlerabbit.  It’s surprising because I’m surprised I had enough about me to appreciate it at all.  Anyway, I thought I’d pick up a ‘Greatest Hits’ that had those songs on it and went in town with my best friend at school, Paul Taylor.

Paul Taylor had a brother and a sister who were both about ten years older than him and they’d moved out, so he was basically an only child too.  His mother bought records occasionally.  I vividly recall her coming into the living room as we were watching ‘Apocalypse Now’ for about the five millionth time with a copy of ‘The Hollies 20 Golden Greats”, subtitled ’20 great sounds that grew out of the North’.  It had a picture of cooling towers at sunset, as if to illustrate the industrial roots of Manchester’s prime 1960s band. If you don’t count Herman’s Hermits (which I don’t, except ‘No Milk Today‘, which is fucking great) or Freddie and The Dreamers (which I don’t, full stop).  Paul Taylor’s sister was into Heavy Metal, specifically Ozzy Osbourne, who struck me as a moron who made cartoon records for people who liked baths even less than I did.  I listened to Paul’s mam’s Hollies record with her and I enjoyed a few of the songs, so I taped that off her.

The Hollies record that Paul Taylor’s mam had.  I feel ambivalent about this picture, in the traditional sense of the word.  There’s a lot of shades of brown going on there, like Emmerdle Farm’s titles used to be, but less bucolic.  Guess what decade this compilation sleeve was designed in…

Anyway, Paul Taylor and I would go in town on Saturday mornings and then walk the six miles home, unless it was summer, in which case, I’d turn off down Chanterlands Avenue (Chants Ave if you want to blend in) and walk to BR North’s cricket ground by myself and he’d walk the rest of the way.

In the record shops, I was disappointed to find that there didn’t appear to be one album with all the songs I wanted on it.  The best bets seemed to be what were known as ‘The Red Album’ and ‘The Blue Album’, which seemed to be related, at least in terms of the cover pictures, so I thought you probably had to have both of those or you’d be missing out.  Neither of them had ‘Twist and Shout’ on though.  The only album I could find with that on was a shitty looking compilation called, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Vol 1′ which had a crappy airbrushed cover that put me off.

The Beatles’ Red and Blue Albums on a horrible red carpet – not mine, I hasten to add.

So, I bought both the Red and Blue albums and decided to do without ‘Twist and Shout’, thinking that, with a couple of double albums, that would be plenty to be getting on with.  Especially considering I’d made do with one single album for about six months.  I’d quintupled my record collection in one fell swoop.  Good going, I thought.

Back at Paul Taylor’s house, we got cups of tea and put record 1, side 1 of ‘The Red Album’ on and sat back.  I’d heard most of them before on that side and I knew I liked them already, so I was pleased to have them to listen to whenever I wanted.  Side 2 though – woo!  Of the songs on that side, I’d only heard ‘Ticket To Ride’ and even then, only the once.  They astonished me.  I didn’t know about songwriting – I didn’t know they’d not written ‘Twist and Shout’ by then, either.  I didn’t know about guitars really and I definitely didn’t know about bass guitars.  I did know about singing – sort of – and, as singers, they were amazing.

  1. Singing and Harmonies.

And that’s the first, and maybe the most underrated aspect of The Beatles’ records.  The singing is wonderful.  I’d enjoyed The Hollies’ Greatest Hits, but Allan Clarke sounded a bit end-of-the-pier.  You know, light entertainment sort of thing and The Beatles definitely didn’t.  I couldn’t really tell the difference between John’s and Paul’s voices and, later on, I realised that they sang at the same time quite often.  The harmonies, especially on those early records soared.  I’d been impressed by Graham Nash’s harmonies on ‘I Can’t Let Go’ and Paul’s mam had commented on how high he could sing like it was an impressive thing – which it is – but it was so high, it was almost like a novelty.  A gimmick.  The Beatles weren’t gimmicky to my ears though.  They were like trees or animals – you know – natural and fantastic and everybody takes them for granted because they’ve always been there.  How things ought to be.  How could I have been alive for so long and never heard anything like this?  

Nice tree.  what if these buggers just started turning up out of nowhere, eh?

Around that time, maybe a few years later, for one reason or another – maybe it was just me – ‘Lovely Day‘ by Bill Withers was played quite a lot on the radio and telly (I’ve just looked it up and I see it was re-released in 1987, so that’ll be it) and the presenters all had exactly one thing to say about it, which was basically, “Woo!  Listen to that note at the end.  That’s the longest sung note ever.”  You know DJs, they like to have something to say about records and they all said that.  I thought it was impressive, but like Graham Nash on ‘I Can’t Let Go’, it seemed a bit of a gimmick.  Whitney Houston, too.  She did that melisma warbling thing on quite a lot of her records, which I gathered I was supposed to be impressed by, but wasn’t.

Diversion – First Job/Whitney Houston.

The first job I had was a couple of years later, after my ‘O’ levels, when DJs were droning on, asking rhetorically .how do you turn a duck into a soul singer and what must Bill Withers’ lung capacity could be and how long could he hold his breath underwater for, in the extremely long summer you get when you’ve done your exams.  Well, extremely long if you were going to sixth form, which I wasn’t because they wouldn’t have had me because they had no doubt I was going to fail all my ‘O’ levels (which I didn’t, so knickers to them).  I started my YTS on the 18th of August that year, but it was still a long summer and I got a job at a local small supermarket, called Gateway, at the top of our street.  It was shelf stacking.  By about eleven in the morning, I was having serious doubts about having left school and signing up for a YTS plumbing course because it had rapidly become apparent to me that actual, as opposed to school work was hard.  I had to sit down to price up the washing up liquid and the sweat poured off me.  I walked home and practically collapsed on the kitchen floor, expressing my horror at the reality of work.  My mother told me to take my shirt off, which was drenched in my sweat, get a shower and get ready for the other job I’d got, which was being a waiter at a hotel, a couple of miles from my folks’ house.

When I took my shirt off, my mother said, “Ah,” and pointedly looked at my chest.

I looked down and saw I was covered in hives.

“You’d better go to bed, Kid,” she said.  “You’ve got chicken pox,”

Chicken pox: quite bad if you get it when you’re older, apparently.

I was quite relieved that actual work hadn’t been the cause of my feeling so dreadful all day and even more relieved that I didn’t have to go to work as a waiter that night.

When I went back to Gateway a few weeks later, it dawned on me that they piped music through the shop all day.  My shifts were long.  Nine or ten hours, with a fifteen minute tea break in the morning and half an hour for dinner.  It turned out that in those days – when compact discs were very expensive – what supermarkets had was a sort of modified tape recorder which played one tape very, very slowly.  The tape had a grand total of four records on it.  ‘Shattered Dreams’ by Johnny Hates Jazz; ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston; ‘Breakout’ by Swing Out Sister and ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe.  I already disliked all of them except ‘Breakout’, which I quite liked.

Now, I’ve not timed those songs, but assuming they’re about three minutes long, that makes a total of twelve minutes of music that was on constant repeat for nine or ten hours a day, five days a week.  What it means is that I heard the same four songs, three of which I already hated, five times an hour each.  Meaning, I heard ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ forty five times a day, five days a week.  So, in one week, I would have heard it two hundred and twenty five times.  I stopped liking ‘Breakout’ by around half past ten on my first day back, funnily enough.

So, the point of this little diversion is this: I never liked Whitney Houston much because of all that warbling that she did and, even if I hadn’t minded it before I worked at Gateway, nothing would have stopped me loathing it by the time I started my YTS.

End of Diversion.

Anyway, it was apparent that The Beatles’ singing had something about it that other singers didn’t.  They sang the songs and they didn’t warble and wail for the sake of it.  To show off.  And nobody really talks about their singing much.  I think it’s because it’s become so deeply ingrained in the world that it’s just normal now.  You know, I compared them to trees and you don’t hear people getting excited about them, do you?  If we’d never had trees and suddenly they started turning up places, people’d go wild about them.  For a bit, anyway.  I suppose familiarity breeds not just liking, but also complacency.

Diversion – James Bulger.

In my third year at university, a toddler called James Bulger was picked up by a couple of twagging school kids who tortured and murdered him in Liverpool.  It was a big deal because it was a pair of kids who did it.  Things changed in the immediate aftermath of that horrible incident.

What changed was that, when you walked around town – and this was York, not where it happened, you noticed that, all of a sudden, mams were hanging onto their kids for dear life and not letting go.  Previously, you’d see little kids wandering off, or being left outside shops while their mums did the shopping.

And that lasted for about a fortnight, and then it was all back to normal.

It’s an unpleasant analogy, I know, but it’s always stuck with me, how parents reacted to the horror that had befallen poor little James Bulger, but not for very long.  And that’s what I mean about The Beatles’ singing.  I expect, at first, people were amazed and then they just accepted it as being normal, and stopped thinking about it.

End of diversion.

Their voices were, as I’ve said, different.  It’s not even possible for me to say that Paul’s voice is like this and John’s is like that, because it’s more complicated than that.  The Paul who sang, say, ‘Yesterday’, was recognisable as the same man who sang ‘I’m Down’, but where one was vulnerable and gentle, the other was raucous and on the brink of excited delirium.  Same for John.  George didn’t have range that those two had, emotionally or musically and Ringo definitely didn’t, but they all had character which, I think is another underrated element of The Fabs.

The Beatles – reciprocating with their fans.

   2. Character and Personality.

The Beatles had personality.  Like Samuel L. Jackson’s justification for not eating dogs in ‘Pulp Fiction’: personality goes a long way, and The Beatles had it in spades.  Some people in bands before and after also had character, but it doesn’t often manifest itself throughout every last thing that they do.  You get pop stars and musicians who are entertaining interviewees whose records seem a bit on the generic side.  You get recordings that have character in them,but the people who made them might seem fairly bland and you wonder where it came from.  But with The Beatles, it was everywhere: interviews, films, records, clothes, you name it, everything they did had character.

Sometimes the personality of such people can seem somewhat exclusive – not inclusive, you know – a bit cliquey.  But what they had was charm and everybody was invited to the party, young and old, men and women.  When they were cheeky, it was cute.  When they were serious, it wasn’t (often) po-faced, although John, certainly, tended towards it at times, especially later on.

Macca: managing to keep his thumbs out of the picture for once.

Paul was the pretty boy, as much as any of them were and also the most old fashioned in a way.  Les cheeky.  People talk about how strange he he these days, but I can’t say I agree.  I think, all things considered, it’s surprising how normal he is, since he’s been Paul McCartney since he was 19.  By which, I mean that he’s been screamed at and had people trembling in front of him for over fifty years.  If you’d been Paul McCartney since 1962, you’d have gone a bit peculiar.  It can’t be easy when everybody’s acting twitchy around you.

Lennon: fixated on mocking the afflicted when it was considered alright to do so.

John went similarly weird, which must be an almost inevitable consequence of permanently having people around you who write down everything you say and look for hidden depths in every last word.

Paul and John together were perfect though.  No, of course it couldn’t last and making it stop must have been difficult.  Hull based racist and philandering poet Philip Larkin made a couple of statements about The Beatles, the most famous of which is in ‘Annus Mirabilis’ from 1967, but not published until 1974:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP…”

Philip Larkin.  My mother had to go to Hull University library one day in the early 1980s and noted Larkin checking her out.  She said it was a bit creepy.  I can’t think why.  Check Phil out, eh, ladies?  Don’t get too excited though because he’s dead.

But Larkin also wrote, “When you get to the top, there is nowhere to go but down, but The Beatles could not get down…”

Which is to say that The Beatles, by the late sixties, all felt a bit trapped in their Beatledom and there was no precedent for what to do when you were in a band as successful as they were when you were sick of the sight of each other.

George Harrison and C.Y. Gopinath.  “Can you not just fuck off and leave me alone?  Hare Krishna.  Yes, you can sling yer hook anytime you fancy, Binsy.”

George?  He was a strange one.  The quiet one.  But with John, Paul and Ringo, what else was he supposed to be?   Being a couple of years younger than the others, he took a while to get going, especially in terms of writing songs and his earlier songs – up to and including The White Album – have a common theme to them which isn’t easy to put into words because it’s more of a sound than a word and that sound is, ‘meh’.

Don’t Bother Me – “Leave me alone.  Meh.”

Think For Yourself – “Leave me alone.  Meh.”

Taxman – “Leave me alone with my money.  Meh.”

Piggies – “I don’t like you greedy people.  Leave me alone.  Meh.”

If I Needed Someone – “If I didn’t want leaving alone, I’d like to be with you.  But I do want leaving alone.  Leave me alone.  Meh.”

It would be unfair to suggest that George exclusively wrote songs to make people go away, because sometimes he wrote sanctimonious flannel about how much better he was than everybody else and how much of a pain in arse everybody else was.

When he went into his cosmic Indian phase, he wrote most-likely-to-be-skipped-track-on-Sgt. Pepper, “Within You, Without You”, which is a very bad record indeed.  A very unpleasant sounding record which, to its credit, draws the listeners attention away from the horrible lyrics.

We were talking, about the space between us all
And the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late when they pass away

We were talking, about the love we all could share 
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there, with our love
With our love we could save the world, if they only knew

Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you

We were talking, about the love that’s gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?

When you’ve seen beyond yourself 
Then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we’re all one
And life flows on within you and without you.

Which could be summarised glibly thus: “I’m fucking cosmic and you’re all breadheads.  Leave me alone.  Meh.”

Later, with “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something”, he moved away from his one dimensional, “You’re shit: I’m great, go away,” schtick.

John was certainly seen as a looney by the late sixties.  Macca was still fluffy and granny friendly until relatively recently, when people started noticing what happens when you treat people the way the world’s treated him all his life.  Ringo was Ringo, which was already a form of lunacy, and everyone finally got the message and left George alone so he doesn’t have to put up with all us nobheads who were less cosmic than he was.

But, to be fair to loonies John, Paul and Ringo, George was the maddest bastard out of the lot of them.

I know it’s bad, but I really enjoy the story of what happened when the deranged and genuine nutter broke into his house and stabbed him.  I don’t enjoy the thought of him getting stabbed, I hasten to add…

The bloke broke in and came face to face with George, who responded to the armed, mentally unstable intruder who thought he was possessed by shouting, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna” at him, which turned out to be about the worst thing anyone could have done, so he stabbed poor George repeatedly, who just kept shouting, “Hare Krishna” at him until Olivia entered the scene and brained him with a lamp.

Ringo: lugubrious.  “Peace and love.  No autographs.  Peace and love.”

And, of course, they had Ringo.  Ringo has come in for a lot of stick over the years and nowadays, it’s almost as if he’s been alive for too long.  Seen too many things.  And now he looks like he just wants it all to be over.  I mean the “No autographs, peace and love, peace and love,”  Ringo has turned tail and become an utterly charmless twat, which is the opposite of the lugubrious faced, friendly everyman that he was until, well, until he gave up the booze, I suppose, which is a shame.  But I hope he’s happy after all the joy he brought to the world when he was fab.  In those days, he was their secret weapon.

A quote that’s often mistakenly attributed to John, but actually originated from Jasper Carrott in the 1980s was, “Ringo’s not the best drummer in the world, in fact, he’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles,” and everybody laughed because Ringo’s got a face like a big, daft, wet labrador who can’t remember where he’s buried his bone.   Saying he’s not the best drummer in The Beatles is saying that Paul was a better drummer, which is bollocks.  If you want to listen to Paul drumming, you need to get yourself to the first two songs on ‘The White Album’, which I’ll come to later in more depth.  So, ‘Back In The USSR’ and ‘Dear Prudence’.  Ringo was pissed off with everybody falling out, so he naffed off on holiday and the other three recorded those two songs.  Now, I think Paul does a decent job on them, especially the first one – not least because it’s a more straightforward Chuck Berry sort of song.  On ‘Dear Prudence’ however…  Well, it’s not terrible.  He starts off a bit unsure of himself and, by the end, our Macca’s got himself into it and does a fine job.  Ringo, on the other hand, was perfect for The Beatles because his drumming also had character, which Macca’s doesn’t.  Not to the extent that Ringo has, at any rate.  Fair dos.  Who does?

Are there better drummers than Ringo?  I suppose so.  Certainly there are faster, flashier drummers before, during and after.  John, Paul and George always told him what to play.  Listen to the drumming on ‘Ticket To Ride’.  That’s unusual drumming, and it works perfectly.  ‘Rain’, the b side of Paperback Writer is often held up as an example of Ringo being a great drummer, and it is.  And he played it faster than you hear it.  They played faster and slowed it down to put the singing on it so it’d sound bigger.  While we’re on the subject, Paul’s bass on ‘Rain’ is enormous and absolutely ridiculous.  How could he have thought, “Oh, I’ll do this…”?  But listen to Ringo on Revolver, Sgt. Pepper.  Astonishing drumming.  Truly.  And it’s not cold, calculated, clinical drumming because it’s got heart.  Jasper Carrott can fuck right off.

Jasper Carrott: check this twat out.  And then ignore him.  Meh.

Still, back to me, me, me.

I loved the Red and Blue albums and they only made want to dig deeper, but I didn’t really know where to go after that.  I spent quite a lot of time in record shops, holding a copy of the Red and/or Blue albums and checking the tracklists of their ‘proper’ albums to see what I’d get most value out of.  It was a bind because I’d pretty much blown all my money on those two and I had to be careful not to throw what little cash I had on a dud.  Also, the Red album had an awful lot of Rubber Soul on it and I liked all of those songs, but I didn’t want to splash out on a record that I more or less already owned.  Revolver is far less well represented on ol’ Red, but I thought that might mean it was crap, so I didn’t know what to do.  So I didn’t do anything apart from tape what I did have so I could listen to it on the bus, whilst traipsing the streets aimlessly, as I often did.  Well, not totally aimlessly because I took the dog with me and he seemed alright with it.

Taping them revealed a problem though.  It sounded crap on headphones.

Diversion – Pete Townshend.

Around this time, The Who had brought out another Greatest Hits, the title of which escapes me, but the cover had ‘The Who’ written in orange on what looked like a rainy window pane.  It was cheap on tape, and Paul Taylor’s brother had it, so I taped that off him and enjoyed it.  His brother also had the video of ‘The Kids Are Alright’, which is excellent – I’ll have to give that another watch.  It’s a lot of television performances and interviews and it was really entertaining, so I used to borrow that quite a lot.

One of the clips had Pete Townshend being interviewed in black and white, doing the spokesman for a generation thing, staring at the floor and talking about The Beatles.  I’ll see if it’s on YouTube.  Ah, here you go and I’ve even set it at the relevant place.

If you don’t want to watch Pete Townshend, about whom the best thing I ever heard is that he looks like everyone looks when they see themselves in the back of a spoon, the exchange goes like this:

He’s been talking about how The Who don’t have any quality and that’s for the best.  A girl in the audience – and I love that audience – suggests to him that The Beatles have quality, don’t they?

Pete tells the kids an anecdote about how he and John Entwistle were listening to the latest Beatles record in stereo.  They realised that the way that the record was mixed meant that all the singing was in one speaker and all the instrumentation was in the other.  He admits that the singing is quality, but, and I love this, when they listened to the instruments by themselves, “…it was flippin’ lousy,”

It’s bollocks, of course.  He just wanted to use The Beatles to back up his oh-so-controversial opinion about how the public wouldn’t recognise quality if it bit them.  I still love it though.

End of Diversion.

It sounded crap on headphones because of what old big nose said: the singing was all in one ear and the instruments were all in the other, which was alright when you played it through speakers, but it did my head in on headphones, so to speak.

The Red and Blue albums were both entirely in stereo and a lot of the songs were like that, especially the earlier stuff – up to about the songs I now knew were on Revolver, at least, so it put me off buying their other records.   So, I mainly listened to the Fabs on speakers and didn’t get anything else by them for a fair while.  The records were very expensive as well in comparison to other albums.

Six or seven months down the line…   There was a fantastic little second hand bookshop at the top of Mayfield Street on Spring Bank which was were I used to buy my Steven King books from for about 50p, because I couldn’t afford new ones.  It was called Crystal Books and it’s now an Asian supermarket.

The ‘Paradise Mini Market’ now stand where Crytal Books used to.  I don’t remember the sun shining much down Spring Bank when I went.  Perhaps the Gods were angry about second hand bookshops and happier about supermarkets.

Apart from selling dead cheap paperbacks, they had a very small record section which only ever had about ten records in it – all second hand.  Nobody ever bought any of them and, equally obviously, nobody sold any records to Crystal books but I still used to look at them every week on the walk home.  They had a Madness album with the front cover showing them outside a Tube station and a Genesis album with three line drawn characters who looked a bit like Tenniel’s illustrations in the Alice books.  I didn’t want any of them, but it did dawn on me that you could probably get second hand records cheaper than newer ones.  So I went and found a couple of second hand record shops and went to see what Beatles they had.

John’s son at Golden Oldies records: I used to go in there about three times a week and the bastard still used to follow me around and make sure I wasn’t robbing empty records sleeves.  I confronted him about it once.  I said, “I’m in here three times a week.  What, exactly, would be the point of me nicking empty fucking record sleeves?  I’d never be able to come back.  I spend loads of money here.  You don’t actually think I’m going to nick empty record sleeves, do you?”  “I dunno,” was all he said and he continued to follow me around every time I went in.  For years.  Maybe I just looked furtive.

In the Golden Oldie record shop which, at that point was on Prinny Ave, I looked in The Beatles’ section and it was groaning under the weight of them.  The prices were about a tenth of what they were new and I wondered what was wrong with them.  John, the proprietor asked me if I was alright and if I was looking for anything in particular.  I told him I was after some Beatles albums, but I didn’t know which ones and that I was a bit concerned about the stereo separation that Pete Townshend and I both weren’t so keen on.

“Well, you could always get them in mono, son,”  he said.


“Mono.  It means the same sound comes out of both your speakers.  Or headphones.  That’d solve your problem.”

“Oh.  Right then.  What are the best albums, then?”  I asked, naively, but it was alright because John was alright, even if it turned out his nepotistic son was a bit of a pain in the arse.  So I got Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul (as insurance in case the others were crap) in mono for ten quid.  Pristine copies.

Everyone was selling their old Beatles records because they’d just come out on compact disc and that was the future and made everything sound better, so we were told.  Nobody I knew had a cd player, so I didn’t even bother looking.  And the cds were even more expensive than the records were.   Brand new anyway.

Back home, records and kettle on, headphones at the ready to check out if Golden Oldies had been lying to me, my mind was blown.  Over and over again.  Revolver was amazing.  Even Rubber Soul, most which I already had on the Red album had hidden wonders, especially ‘The Word’.  I taped them and went back to see John whenever I had any money and bought the rest of their albums in mono – except Let It Be and Abbey Road, which didn’t come in mono.  All for next to knack all.  And, non-existent reader, I still have them.

I’ve still got my Red and Blue albums in stereo as well, which came in handy when I wanted to examine the harmonies and playing in closer depth, without one or the other distracting me from what I was listening for.  And they weren’t ‘flippin’ lousy’ either, thanks very much, Pete Townshend.  In fact, the playing was, to my ears, awesome.

3. The Playing.

As I’ve written about character and personality and how that found its way into the grooves of the records as well as everywhere else and that turned into sticking up for Ringo’s drumming, it seems about right that I should go into the rest of them a bit.

coming up band shot.JPG
Look at all those Maccas!  All of them playing different musical instruments.  Because he can, you know.

Paul is, without doubt, the closest The Beatles had to a virtuoso.  John wasn’t, George wasn’t and Ringo might have been, but nobody would have believed it, what with his wet labrador face and self-deprecation.

I’ve said that I didn’t really know what a bass guitar was when I first got myself a couple of Beatles’ records, but it was Paul who, though listening to them, showed me what it was and, more importantly, what it could do.

I’m no bass player, although I can play it a bit.  I’ve got a bass, and I enjoy playing it from time to time.  I drove my daughter daft by learning the bass line to ‘I Want You Back’ by The Jackson 5, which is my favourite single of all time.  One of the best bass lines ever, if you ask me, but Macca’s no slouch.  ‘Rain’, as I’ve said, is almost unbelievable in terms of the bass line, but there are so many more: ‘Dear Prudence’, which I’ve already talked about his nervous start on the drums, has an extraordinary bass line.  ‘Taxman’ alone has been ripped off by The Jam (‘Start’), Beck (‘The New Pollution’), Ride (‘Seagull’), Shack (‘I Know You Well’ – and if you don’t know Shack, get yourself a copy of ‘Waterpistol’ and thank me later). .  Maybe he did, as George Harrison always said with a sneer, overplay on ‘Something’, but it works and it’s good stuff.

To be fair, he didn’t start getting good on the bass until about ‘Rubber Soul’ (1965), but up to that point, you could hardly hear the bass on records.  The bass player was always the lowest member of a band, lacking the attention directed to singers and lead guitar players and the visceral attraction of drummers.  But Macca changed all that forever.  Even though bass players might still not have generally reached the heights of creativity and, well, grooviness that Paul did from ‘Rubber Soul’ onwards, that’s their problem.  Paul kicked the door down and if bass players don’t want to walk through it, tough shit.  Best bass player ever?  He’s a contender and if you don’t think he is, you’ve not been paying attention.

Apart from his singing, which is full of personality and technical aptitude and his bass playing, which was revolutionary, he’s no slouch on the guitar either.

On records after about 1964, he plays quite a lot of the guitar parts that people assume are George – because it’s played on a guitar, I suppose.  The guitar solos on: ‘Taxman’ – a quite brilliant, innovative and attacking Indian sort of thing; ‘Another Girl’, ‘Ticket To Ride’.  Plenty of others, too.  Listen to ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’, the guitarist is, basically, playing Jimi Hendrix lines and that’s Macca.  It’s him all over Sgt Pepper.  It must have pissed George off.   In fact it did piss George off, hence his famous, “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all.  Whatever it is that’ll please you…” line to Macca during the Let It Be film.

And let’s not forget that he’s by far the best piano player in The Beatles, too.

Lennon: maybe he didn’t just mock disabled people all the time.  Maybe he just got confused by guitars.  It certainly sounded like he did sometimes.

John, as I’ve said, wasn’t going to win any prizes for his guitar playing in The Beatles, but he was mainly a rhythm guitar player and they, like bass players, are often overlooked as being minor players in comparison to singers and lead guitarists.  Jimi Hendrix, nobody’s idea of an ordinary player said of Eric Clapton (who I really can’t be doing with), “I’m going to burn him because he can’t play rhythm guitar,”  And Hendrix knew a thing or too about playing the guitar.  Lennon, too.  He said, “I’m the rhythm guitar player and that’s an important job because it drives the band.”  He also said, “I’m not very good technically, but I can make it fuckin’ howl and move,”  And he could.  Anyway, he did play lead on a few records: ‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘Hey, Bulldog’, the jazzy, 1920s pastiche on ‘Honey Pie’, ‘Get Back’, the loud single version of ‘Revolution’,they’re all John, and they’re all great.  You don’t always want technical magnificence on pop records and, while he couldn’t have given anyone anything even approaching technical guitar playing in a million years, I’m not convinced that those people who could do that could give anyone anything like John put down on those records.

George Harrison: nice perm, George.  Nice ‘tache, George.  Nice suit, George.  You get the drift.

Which leaves George, who beat Paul for the lead guitar role when Macca made a balls up of a solo live in the very early days, even before Ringo joined.  George’s audition was playing a guitar instrumental called ‘Raunchy’, which he’d evidently spent time learning. George didn’t have the natural talent that Paul had for playing instruments- who does? – or John’s talent for wordplay or song construction.  Mainly connecting with people was John’s talent, if you ask me.  Ringo?  I think he was talented, in all sorts of ways, even if not in the gauche, flashy, obvious ways that people tend to expect.  George though, well, it’s not like he had no talent, but in a band with John and Paul, it’s going to be hard, isn’t it?  What George had, yet again, in terms of his playing, was character.  In the early days, maybe he was a bit generic rock ‘n’ roll, and not brilliant at it, but his slide guitar playing from about 1967 only sounds like him.  I’ve tried to play slide guitar like George but it sounds nothing like him, even if I’m playing the same notes.  Anyway, listen to ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’, it’s beautiful playing.  When Macca let him have a solo, George, like John Squire later, would obviously spend a lot of time working out exactly what the best thing to play would be.  The best thing for the song.  I don’t think George lacked an ego in general, but he seemed able to put it to one side when he played the guitar, even if Macca had to tell him to shut up occasionally.  Like on ‘Hey Jude’, he wanted to answer vocal lines with guitar phrases and Macca wasn’t having it, which was the right move.  At least somebody reined in an excesses in terms of guitar solos which Squire could have benefited from after 1989.

4. The Songs.

Stamp Out The Beatles Sweatshirt:  which goes to show that there have always been controversialists, doesn’t it?

If there’s one thing that even people who claim not to like The Beatles will concur with, it’s that they wrote some of the best songs ever.  Because how could you not?  In ‘The Rachel Papers’, Martin Amis has the protagonist putting on Sgt Pepper’s to set a good mood before he invites a girl into his room and he writes, “…to be against mid-period Beatles is to be against life,”  and I agree with him.  People who claim not to like The Beatles?  I appreciate it’s more my problem than theirs, but I just don’t believe them.  I don’t agree with Martin Amis about, well, most things to be honest, but I’m with him on that.  Plus, it’s a cheap shot, isn’t it?  A cheap way of being a bit controversial: “Oh, I don’t rate The Beatles.”   Yeah.  Right.

Supertramp: better than The Beatles.  Allegedly.  Pff.  Meh.

I used to work with a girl at a school and she’d claim she didn’t like The Beatles and insist that fucking Supertramp, for fuck’s sake, were better.  I automatically assumed she was just trying to wind me up, so I laughed at her and told her that, of course she liked the fucking Beatles.  And that was our entire relationship.  More or less.  She enjoyed it when I told her I didn’t have anything bad to say about anyone I’d ever been out with because they were all great, but apart from that, she’d stick her head around my classroom door in the middle of a lesson and tell me that she hated The Beatles and I’d laugh at her and tell her that she didn’t because she loved them.  Like everybody else.

Maybe some people aren’t moved by them.  But I can’t comprehend that.  It’s like saying that colours are overrated.  Or that they don’t like chips.  Of course you fucking do, shut up.  I accept, quite happily that people don’t like The Kinks, The Who, Star Wars, tea, coffee, even chocolate and pretty much everything else, but The Beatles?  Give over.

4. The Consistently Getting Better.

The reality is that most bands’ first clutch of material tends to also be their best and it’s just diminishing returns ever after.

Not always though.  Some bands don’t start out so great and improve up to a point, and then they get worse.

Take The Stone Roses.  When they started, they weren’t very good.  They worked at it and became great and then, almost immediately, forgot what it was that made them great and lost it.

Love, Arthur Lee’s band and one of my other big favourites: first album, sort of alright in a Rolling Stones/Byrds sort of way, then Da Capo, the first side of which is fantastic and a huge leap forward from the first record (side b is crap) and then Forever Changes, which is preposterously good.  After that, turgid blooze rawk.

But The Beatles?  Well, it’s not my favourite, but Abbey Road, the last album they recorded is a lot of people’s favourite album and I can see why.  Apart from anything else, with their last hurrah, the Fabs invented the 1970s’ glossy sheen.  So the likes of ELO and Supertramp, for fuck’s sake, could give people the wrong end of the stick for another ten years or however long it was.  Too long.

The early albums – when most bands’ albums at that time were mainly filler – were really good to start with.  It’s only the fact that as they went along, their albums became so ludicrously excellent that the first few records aren’t held up as outstanding.

Beatles For Sale:  A bit on the crappy side, to be honest.

Yeah, alright, ‘Beatles For Sale’ is a bit of a blip but, apart from that, they went up and up.  Personally, I think their albums started getting stupidly good around the time of ‘Help!’.  The first side of it, anyway.  Then – Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour (Alright, an EP), The White Album and Abbey Road.  I’m not a fan of ‘Let It Be’.

Rabbi Saul:  Shit bootleg but I do like the cover.

But you can’t put a fag paper between any of those albums.  You can see the improvements and who else was putting out records as good as that, before or since?

And yeah, of course there’s some weak material on the albums which, incidentally, came out within four and a half years of each other.  Six albums?  That are that good?  And almost none of their ridiculously good singles are on any of those albums: Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, Paperback Writer (and Rain), Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Hello Goodbye, Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Revolution and some others that I don’t rate quite so highly.

So, what’s not so good?  Revolution No. 9, the music concrete experiment from The White Album tends to be number one but, get this, I’m into it.  I don’t know if it’s high art or anything, but I appreciate it on a comedy level.  The deadpan recital of dance moves, “The Watusi.  The Twist…”, Yoko’s interjection, “You become naked,”.  There’s plenty going on and, while it’s nobody’s idea of catchy, it’s entertaining.

Flying, the – more or less – instrumental from Magical Mystery Tour gets a pasting but, once again, I’m into it.  It’s slight for sure, but it’s still got character, like almost everything the Fabs ever did.

On the other hand, ‘Blue Jay Way’, also from the Mystery Tour is unmitigated, interminable shite.  It also lacks character, unless you count George’s attempt to do the opposite of “Leave me alone.  Meh,” by trying, “I invited you to your house and if you don’t get your arses here soon, I’m off to bed.  Meh.”

There are other rubbishy songs on their records too.  Off the top of my head, I don’t like ‘Run For Your Life’, ‘Love You To’, ‘I Want To Tell You’, ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ – although the 2017 remaster improved matters considerably for that one -, ‘Within You, Without You’, ‘Good Morning’, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, ‘Yer Blues’, ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’ is a bit grating, ‘Good Night’ is too schmaltzy.  Most of those are George Harrison songs, who I feel a bit sorry for.

But who doesn’t have the odd crappy track on their albums?  Are there any flawless albums?  The Stone Roses come pretty close but, while I appreciate ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, especially as a live opener, I don’t want to listen to it ever again.   Forever Changes is borderline perfect, but I could do without ‘Bummer In The Summer’.  I can’t think of a single album by anybody that’s totally perfect.  Maybe you can.  Good for you.  I’m sure I could find something wrong with it.  Like George Harrison would.  Meh.

The Beatles are underrated in terms of the quality and quantity of their recorded output, and that’s not even taking the films into consideration.  Who’s produced anything like that over such a short space of time?  They were busy buggers, you have to give them that.

5. They Wrote The Book.

Apparently popular right wing twat Richard Littlejohn likes to say, “You couldn’t make it up,” in the face of realities that he dislikes, but you also couldn’t make The Beatles up because nobody’d accept their story as being remotely credible.

Pretty much everything that you’ve seen bands do since the sixties was done first by The Beatles.  They set the template.  They might have invented less than they popularised, but they made new ideas palatable enough for general consumption due to points 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Beatlemania and being in films was following Elvis’ lead, but he went crap when he started making films and The Beatles just kept getting better.

They basically did invent folk rock – adding Dylan’s lyrical influence to their beat music.  From there came The Byrds, who were put together specifically in order to emulate The Beatles.  Indie music – certainly from the 80s is totally indebted to The Byrds’ early output – that jingle jangle guitar sound and high, lazy singing about girls.

Psychedelia wasn’t invented by them, but nobody did psychedelic pop songs as well as they did.  Not as consistently and with such variety, anyway.  Certainly not with the charm.  The English, whimsical, Lewis Carroll, Edwardian fixation on taking tea in the garden side of psychedelia?  I think The Beatles pretty much did invent that, frankly.  I’m a bit less keen on the American brand of psychedelia – although I do like it – because I think their take on mind expansion was so deeply tied into the Vietnam thing.

The Beatles and wives with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  They invented that.  Yeah, it’s their fault.

Retreating to India and getting a guru, then realising that he’s dick and being mildly bitter about it.

You name it, whatever it is that bands do, The Beatles did it first and, in all likelihood, they did it better than those who followed.

The influence of The Beatles in western culture is almost all pervasive, which isn’t always a great thing, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, isn’t it?

6. The Slagging Off That They Get From Some People.

“The Beatles are overrated,”

You hear it a lot.  I’m just redressing the balance.

Diversion – Will the rower.

In my first year at university, I knew a kid from Rayleigh in Essex called Will.  He was the biggest man I’ve ever met.  Honestly.  He was getting on for seven feet tall, had to have special shoes made for him and had hands like baseball mitts.  He had shoulders like a dray horse.  He was also the gentlest kid you could meet.

Once, I asked him if he ever get any aggro in pubs, thinking that he can’t have because who’d be that fucking stupid.  He could pick you up with one hand and crush you like a Ribena carton if he felt like it.

But I was wrong because, it turned out, he told me he got almost nothing but aggro when out and about in pubs and clubs and when he told me that, I realised.  “Of course he gets aggro when he goes out – because he’s such a big bugger.”

To utilise a canine analogy, Will was like the biggest dog in the park.  What that means is that lots of little dogs are terrified of him and like to do nothing more than yap at him whilst making sure their owners are holding them back.

Big dog, little dog.  The usual, inevitable scene.

I know what they meant, these people who would start on Will, even though I wouldn’t have because I’m the same, albeit in a slightly different way.

York University, if you’ve never been, is a collegiate university: the colleges are all connected by bridges over a vast, man made lake.  I can swim and everything, but every time I walked from one college to another over a bridge, if I had a bag with me, I’d get an almost overwhelming urge to chuck it into the lake.  If I didn’t have a bag, I’d want to hurl myself in.

It puzzled me, why my brain wanted me to do either of these things, because they struck me as being stupid ideas, but I worked it out in the end.

I was worried in case I accidentally dropped my bag in it and my idiotic brain’s solution to combating that worry was to suggest that if I threw it in, I wouldn’t have to worry about it any more.  If I didn’t have a bag, I was worried about falling in, so throwing myself in would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about it.

York University, lake and bridges: I never hurled myself – or any of my possessions in.  Reputedly it was full of bad diseases that the Chemistry department dumped in it.  There were lots of ducks there and, the word was, killing one would get you sent down.  Quite right, too.  Ducks are alright, I wouldn’t eat one.

It’s stupid, but’s it’s also human, which aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

In short what I was doing, was biting the bullet.  I didn’t want to have to deal with whataboutery, I wanted to deal with what I was worried about.  Which, I expect, is pretty much exactly the same thing that the people who used to start on Will were doing.  you know, what if this man mountain starts on me?  And, rather than tell their brains that they’re being stupid, they too chose to bite the bullet and confront what their brain was  telling them was something worth worrying about.

I suppose the only difference is that I’ve never actually chucked anything – including myself – off a bridge in order to relieve tension and plenty of people started on Will.

People are reluctant to think that their own brain is stupid at times, especially when they’re pissed. Or scared.  I don’t blame them.  What else have we got?

End of Diversion.

Which is, more or less, what I think about people who say that The Beatles are overrated.  The Beatles are Will in pubs, or big dogs in the park, or bridges at York University.

There’s a line in ‘Naked’, the Mike Leigh film – which I like a lot, although not as much as ‘Nuts In May’– in which the anti-hero, Johnny asks his ex-girlfriend’s flatmate,post-coitally, “Have you ever thought, right, that maybe you have already had the best moment in your life and all we have got to look forward to is sickness and purgatory?”  Which might be, I think, one big reason why people don’t like the idea that The Beatles are (still) the best band ever because that means that we’ve already had the best moments of our lives in terms of beat combos and all we have to look forward to is cack like Stereophonics or something.

David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s ‘Naked’: ‘clever’ cinematic insinuation ahoy.

I don’t believe that all people who say that The Beatles are overrated say it because of that.  I’ve already said that it’s an easy way of getting noticed.  You know, slaughtering sacred cows and being controversial.  But that makes these people, basically, Katie Hopkins, and that’s not a very good idea.

You can say there are better guitar players, better singers, better drummers, maybe not better bass players but I bet you can find someone who reckons Macca’s no good on the bass on the interweb without breaking into a sweat.  And there are.  But it doesn’t make any difference, because what we’re talking about are bands.  And bands are about the way that the individual elements coagulate and produce something more than the sum of their parts and, assuming that none of The Beatles are the best in their field in terms of anything that they ever did, they did alright, didn’t they?

Jimi Hendrix often comes out towards the top of ‘best guitarists’ charts, but would he have been any good in The Beatles?  He’d have been a great guitar player, but it wouldn’t have worked.  In the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Noel Redding – the bass player – was chosen because Hendrix liked his hair.  Had you put Hendrix with some virtuoso bass player, it would have been too much.

Yes.  What I’m saying is, in terms of musicians, ‘better’ doesn’t mean better.  Which lacks a bit of surface validity, doesn’t it?  But isn’t that often the way?

It’s a tendency for humans to think that if a bit of something’s good, then a lot of it would be even better.  And it doesn’t work like that, which is a shame because things would be much more straightforward if it did work like that.

What is better, is balance.  Chips are ace, but if you eat millions of chips, they’re not going to do you any good and, anyway, you’d get sick of them.

Diversion – Stand By Me.  Again.

I referred to the film ‘Stand By Me’ in a post about my former friend Dave – but I only really talked about one line in it.  It’s a charming film and there are a lot of very sweet moments in it.  Little things, you know.  One of my favourites is when the kids, who are on an adventure looking for the body of this other kid who reputedly got hit by a train, are sitting by their campfire, chatting.

A question is asked, “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Vern, the chubby kid, gives the performance of the film with his well-it’s-obvious-isn’t-it answer of, “Cherry Pez.  Dur.”

Cherry Pez: not worth having without the dispenser, which you always lost so there was never any point buying any more.  Has anyone ever bought more than three packets of Pez in their entire lives?  I have my doubts.

And I love that: the line and the way the kid delivers it.  It’s perfect because it’s such a stupid answer, delivered with the idiot’s total self-confidence that it’s also the best answer.  In fact, it’s a stupid question in Vern’s mind because what the hell else would it be?

End of Diversion.

Even you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, Cherry Pez is probably the worst thing you could pick because there is absolutely no variety  in Cherry Pez.  Even if you said, “Apples”, at least you could rotate between Granny Smiths and all the rest of them.  Same with “sausages”: there’re a lot of different types of sausage out there.  Cherry Pez is the perfect answer for a fairly dim, young lad to give though.

The Beatles aren’t the musical equivalent of Cherry Pez, although if any band had a bit of Cherry Pez about them, it was the Fabs.  The thing is that The Beatles’ output is so wide and varied that there’s something for almost everyone.  And, similarly, there’s something that you’re not going to be into.  For most people, that thing is ‘Revolution No. 9’, which is their equivalent of, I don’t know, sprouts, or something.

Personally, I don’t like sprouts but I do know that for some people, Christmas dinner would be less good if they couldn’t have sprouts with it, even though I don’t like them.  So, it’s good that they exist, isn’t it?  Nobody’s forcing me to eat them, nobody’s forcing anybody to listen to ‘Revolution No. 9’ and, anyway, if you’re not into that, you’re going to find something palatable elsewhere on The White Album, aren’t you?

Which, in itself, is balance, isn’t it?  You’re not going to like everything when there’s that kind of variety.

Take Oasis.  Not a total one trick pony because they’re a two trick pony.  Well, one and a bit, maybe.  Oasis songs tend to be slow – can you think of any fast Oasis songs? – and bear one of two sentiments: 1. Rrrrr!  2.  Ahhh!

And that’s about it.

Diversion – Oasis?  Oh, they’re just Beatles rip offs.

Oasis’s rise to fame was when I realised for certain that, if you tell people something, they often just repeat it, regardless of whether there’s any evidence to support it.  Most recently, Jeremy Corbyn has been victim of this sort of ‘received wisdom’.  It’s often said that, “Corbyn is unelectable”.    I can dig it that not everybody’s going to like him or want him running the country, but unelectable he ain’t on grounds that he’s the leader of the opposition.  Maybe he won’t be elected, but that’s not the same thing, is it?

Nazi bastard Joseph Goebbels famously stated, “The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous,”

The more famous Nazi bastard, Hitler had primary rules, one of which was, …”people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

And that’s what’s happening to Corbyn, among other primary rules of Hitler (His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong.) are being used to distort the public’s view of him because they’re scared of what might happen if a genuine socialist government, as opposed to a Tory in Red clothing, like Blair, gets in.

Anyway, back to Oasis.  In the 90s, you couldn’t move for Noel Gallagher claiming that Oasis went out of their way to sound like The Beatles.  And people just lapped it up.  Despite the fact that no Oasis song bears any resemblance to any Beatles record.  Alright, he dropped plenty of Beatles’ lyrics into his songs, but that’s not the same thing, is it?

He also talked about how great their b sides were, and people still parrot that.  Oasis b sides that are held up as being magnificent?  ‘Acquiesce’, which is cheap and a rip off of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ by Dusty Springfield.  ‘Rocking’ Chair’?  Just bab, man.  ‘Half The World Away’?  It’s alright, but it’s pretty nunty.  If Donovan had done it, nobody would have creamed themselves.

Oasis copped a lot of tunes from various places, but I can’t think of anything they took from The Beatles.  Yeah, alright, the piano at the start of Don’t Look Back In Anger was from Lennon’s solo single ‘Imagine’, but that was just tacked on to the front of it.  It had nothing to do with the song.  On the other hand, The New Seekers, T-Rex , Neil Innes , The Kinks, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Slade, Mott The Hoople, Sex Pistols and, I could go on, but I can’t be arsed.  The gist is that Oasis were 70’s rip off merchants in the main.  Far more Glam Rock than anything else, yet if Noel told journalists that they were ripping The Beatles off, they believed him and quite a lot of the people who read the papers just parroted the same.  And now it’s just accepted as reality.  Odd, isn’t it?  There you go.

End Of Diversion.

To copy The Beatles is something that is easier said than done.  Apart from anything, there are no obscure Beatles’ songs.  Sometimes you get people who’ll say things like, “Hey Bulldog” is the best Beatles record, I mean, it’s alright – I like it a lot –  but it’s a bit of a green vinyl choice and what’s the point of that with The Fabs?  It was also in Yellow Submarine, which even I had seen as a kid because it was on telly a lot.  Even if I didn’t make the connection between that and what was on the radio.  Even though they appeared in person at the end of it.

Diversion – Green Vinyl.

“(S)he’s a bit green vinyl,” was how Dave and I would describe people who wanted to be wilfully obscure about something.  What we meant was that, if you met someone and were talking about records with them and it was starting to become a bit of a contest about who had the most obscure records, if you mentioned a record you liked and whoever you were talking to wanted to trump you, they sometimes said, “Oh yeah, I’ve got that on green vinyl.”  Meaning, not only did they know all about the record that you considered a bit rare, but they had the same thing and theirs was even more obscure than yours.

Hence, Leanne, who was unusual in that she was a girl who was into the same sort of stuff as Dave and I were was great but, a bit green vinyl.  Out of contrary contrariness, I have made a point of always avoiding green vinyl.  Like it matters.

End of Diversion.

You can’t be green vinyl about The Beatles’ records.  Maybe you do like ‘Hey Bulldog’, as I’ve said, I do, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s in their top ten best records.

Diversion – Covers Bands.

I’ve never been in a covers band because I’m too much of a snob about it.  Well, that was true until about a month ago, when I was asked to sit in with some people I used to play with, to cover for their guitar player because he was on holiday.  And had a fight with the groom of the wedding they were supposed to be playing, so they were a guitar player down and asked me if I’d do it.  I wasn’t super keen because, as I’ve said at length, being in a band is, no matter what anybody tells you, a pain in the arse.  But I’m quite good mates with the groom’s mother and he’s a lovely kid.  And he specifically asked me if I’d do it for him and I’m not that much of a prick these days to throw nice people’s nice words back in their faces.  So I said I’d do it.  When I told the groom I’d do it because he’s a nice kid, he then asked me if I’d play Sally Cinnamon as his wife-to-be walked down the aisle, on an acoustic, I agreed to that as well.  Because she’s called Sally and they’re both dead into The Roses.  I didn’t mention that it’s about a lesbian.

Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 21.46.39
Middlerabbit: somehow managing not to make a balls up of Danny and Sally’s wedding.  I’ve got a stupid look on my face because I’ve got my pleccy in my cakehole whilst fingerpicking.  The current Mrs. Middlerabbit has been disappointed in what she describes as my ‘lady nail’ – my right thumb, which I have relatively long in order to do the folky acoustic guitar thing because I’m a massive fanny.

I’ve got stacks of gear from when I was doing it properly and couldn’t bring myself to flog, so I dug out a couple of guitars and an amp and asked what songs we’d be playing, so I could learn them before wasting everyone’s time at a practice room.

The songs they wanted to do were alright.  I mean, I like quite a lot of them to some extent.  There were a couple of Oasis songs in there which I wasn’t arsed about, but they were also a piece of piss to learn, so I didn’t mind that.  The groom had requested a few Stone Roses songs, which was easy too because I already knew them.  The rest of the set was things like The Beatles, The Stones, The Who and The Kinks, mainly, so I was alright with all those, but some of their choices surprised me a bit.

For instance, we did ‘The Seeker’ by The Who, which I’m not bothered about one way or the other, but I was surprised about, basically, a wedding/christening/Bar Mitzvah band playing that to a wedding crowd.  We also did ‘Substitute’, which made a bit more sense, if we were going to be doing Who songs.

The Beatles songs we did were ‘Come Together’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘One After 909’ (which I don’t like at all)and ‘I Feel Fine‘.  I like them, particularly ‘I Feel Fine’, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe the songs chosen were picked because they liked playing them.

And that’s the thing about bands.  Some songs are a lot of fun to play and not at all what people want to hear.  Some songs are quite boring to play, but exactly what people want to hear.

Anyway, I was only sitting in, really, so I figured I’d just keep my mouth shut as I was only doing the one performance, and make sure I worked out how to play Sally Cinnamon on an acoustic guitar so that I didn’t sound like a pissed up busker strumming badly.

So, come the wedding, I got through Sally Cinnamon on my own on the acoustic and managed not to to get shitfaced before going on with the rest of the band that night.

It all went well.  Probably because the weather was really nice and everyone was in a good mood.  And pissed as farts.  There was some dancing, if you could call it that, but I put the lack of good dancing down to us rather than the crowd because we were playing some pretty dirgey songs.

Afterwards, the band asked if I’d play another wedding with them a couple of weeks later and I was free, so I agreed.  Since then, I appear to have replaced the lad who brawled with the groom so I’m tempted to stick my oar in about what we ought to play at weddings and things.

My perspective is that wedding bands, without getting too poncey about it, are dance bands.  And what that means is, you have to play songs that girls want to dance to, because lads aren’t often going to get up and cut some rug unless there are women there to do it with.  What that means is, maybe we shouldn’t be playing things like  ‘The Seeker’, not because it’s flippin’ lousy – cheers – but because girls don’t want to dance to The Who.  The Who are, possibly the least appealing band to women in the history of the world.  Not all women, obviously.

As we’re playing weddings, it also tends to be people of a certain age.  Most of whom are the last people to start getting green vinyl about anything.  I mean, ‘Come On Eileen’ gets a lot of stick – not from me, I think it’s a great wedding record – but it does the job.  Same with ABBA.

So, what I think we ought to be doing, as a dance band, is sixties soul covers mainly.  I mean, it’s what The Beatles did to start with, isn’t it?  If we’re going to be doing Beatles songs, there’s no point doing ‘Ticket To Ride’, as much as we’d enjoy playing it, because you can’t dance to ‘Ticket To Ride’.  ‘Drive My Car’ would be a better choice.  ‘She Loves You’, stuff like that.  If possible, ‘Come On Eileen’.

I’ve not said anything as yet, but I’d be surprised if they go for it because I think they enjoy playing certain songs and worry about their credibility.  I don’t worry about my credibility because I don’t have any and, I now realise, probably never did, really.  If we’re playing weddings, it’s not about us, it’s about them.

Which is the absolute opposite of my approach when I was in bands who wrote our own songs.

And I think that’s right.  Still, it’s not my band and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do it before it gets on my tits anyway…

End of Diversion.

The thing is, you can’t rip The Beatles off and you can’t not rip them off, either because they’ve already done everything a band consisting of four skinny white boys can do  (my fixed belief about boys in bands is that you can’t be fat and you can’t be muscly because it doesn’t look any good).  The best guitar bands have all comprised scrawny arsed lads.  You can try to be green vinyl about The Beatles, but what’s the point?  It’s The fucking Beatles.  you’re not going to impress anybody by trying to be obscure about the most famous band in the world ever, are you?  Stick with The Red Crayola, like Leanne, if you want that.  On green vinyl.

The fact is, if you’re any good – melodically, vocally, harmonically, instrumentally – but the sum of those elements add up to greater than the individual parts, you’re going to get compared to The Fabs, whatever you do.

And why not, eh?  It’s what the world wants.

And that’s about it, really.

It’s nowhere near it.  I’m lying, but as this blog website thing has a word count and I’m getting up to 13,000 words about The Beatles and me, I think that’ll probably do for the moment.

I will say this though…

Unlike Vern, I wouldn’t want to only eat Cherry Pez and, even though The Beatles went through so many different styles of song and recordings, I can’t just listen to them exclusively.

But, every time I have a break from The Beatles and go off listening to something else for a bit, whenever I come back to those albums that John sold me when I was about 16, I always think the same thing and that’s, “Why do I ever bother listening to anything that’s not The Beatles?”

Even though I know how it works – and listening to The Beatles exclusively wouldn’t work – it happens every time.

And I quite enjoy that about my brain.  Even though it’s a fucking idiot.

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