We Can Work It Out... what is the best Beatles era?
- Credit: © HULTON ARCHIVE
What was the best Beatles era, the lovable mop-top fab four of the early 60s or the long-haired, moustached experimental musicians of the late 60s? Andrew Clarke and Judy Rimmer come together to disagree
When the screaming stopped, that's when The Beatles became real artists, real giants of the music industry, argues Arts Editor Andrew Clarke. As The Tremeloes observed: 'Silence is Golden'.
In 1966 The Beatles stopped touring and immediately their ambitions grew ten-fold. They no longer had to make music that needed to be reproduced on stage using equipment that was little better than the speakers used to make public service announcements at train stations.
With legendary producer George Martin in tow they could now disappear into Abbey Road studios and experiment. They could push the newly invented eight track and then 12 track recording machines to their very limit. They loop, they record and play sounds backwards, they could overdub to their hearts content and more importantly they could write what they wanted to write and let their imaginations run riot.
As good as Rubber Soul was, Revolver was a giant leap for Beatle-kind with tracks like Tomorrow Never Knows exploding in some unheard of fourth dimension. No longer was it just rock'n'roll either. Eleanor Rigby and Here, There and Everywhere explored the subtle corners of what would become the singer-songwriter genre and allowed George Martin to pen some beautiful string arrangements. It emphasized the fact Martin wasn't just a glorified engineer he was a fantastic musician in his own right.
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Also, it allowed George Harrison to emerge from his shell, writing the rock classic Taxman at the same time as he was pioneering world music with his Indian-flavoured Love To You.
This sense of experimentation, their imagination, their daring only increased as the years passed – we will draw a discreet veil over Revolution No 9 and You Know My Name Look Up The Number (everyone should be allowed to fail at times) – but as their musical achievements blossomed, their personal relationships began to crumble to a point where they could no longer work together and the final tracks on Let It Be were recorded as a trio without John Lennon who had already left to form The Plastic Ono Band.
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Although, they all achieved greatness as solo artists, they were never as great or as groundbreaking as they were as members of The Beatles. Together they were greater than the some of their parts. Together they reimagined the scope, the ambition and the musical variety that popular music could embrace.
Here are The Beatles greatest moments:
Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane: The audacious one-two punch of two classic singles being released as a double A-side. This sophisticated, ear-bending pairing signaled what was to come on Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band later in 1967. Nostalgic in content (both songs were about growing up in Liverpool) but forward thinking in terms of production (Strawberry Field spliced together two different takes in two different tempos and Paul gave space to a virtuoso piccolo trumpet part on Penny Lane), these songs showcase The Beatles at the pinnacle of their songwriting and their inventiveness.
Get Back: A back to basics rock'n'roll number with an infectious rhythm and hummable melody. It proved after some pretentious wandering through drug-fuelled mind-fields on The White Album, that they could still play as a band and turn out great songs.
Revolver: It's 1966 and it's all change. The psychedelic whirligig known as Tomorrow Never Knows with its tape loops, backwards guitar and tape loops resembling swooping seagulls tell us that nothing will be the same again but regardless of the experimentation on display this is an album stuffed full of great songs and beautiful moments. Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There, Everywhere, Good Day Sunshine, And Your Bird Can Sing, For No-OneGot To Get You Into My Life virtually every song is a polished diamond – even Yellow Submarine.
Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The 1967 game-changer that became the huge hit that made the world sit up and take notice. It's a great album but it's not as consistently good as either Revolver or Abbey Road. I never particularly got on with When I'm 64, Lovely Rita or Good Morning, Good Morning – but I will argue that George Harrison's Within You Without You is a frequently skipped gem; just listen to his sublime vocal melody. For me the standout tracks are the title track, With A Little Help From Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, A Day In The Life, Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite and She's Leaving Home.
Abbey Road: It's sitting that this is The Beatles last recorded album (Let It Be was by and large recorded earlier but not revived and finished until after Abbey Road's release) as this is, in my view, their masterwork. Abbey Road is the culmination of ten years hard graft in the clubs of Hamburg, the long stadium tours of the US and the hundreds of hours spent messing around in recording studios. Every song is a winner and every Beatle has his chance to shine. John comes up with three instant classics Come Together, I Want You (She's So Heavy) and Because, Paul returns to his rock'n'roll roots with Oh Darling and explores his dark side with Maxwell's Silver Hammer while George unleashes two timeless classics Something and Here Comes The Sun and Ringo cements his position as the children's and grandma's favourite with the fun Octopus's Garden. And in a final piece of togetherness Paul and John construct a seamless opera for side two as six songs swirl and weave themselves in and around one another to form one last, uninterrupted piece of musical brilliance before they bow out with a guitar duel and drum solo on the fittingly titled The End…. And then offer us a brief tribute to Her Majesty….and then it really was The End.