Recently, I did a listening project on the Beatles, which informed a project I’ll discuss in my next blog post, the project I mentioned in my last post.
Here I am posting my findings, as I posted them to my Facebook friends. This way people will have a frame of reference as I discuss the project in full. A huge thank you to Natalie Cannon, who has given me insights both on this listening project and the novel project that has resulted.
First, I will give my final numbers on all statistical points to be made. If you feel that there is a relevant numerical consideration overlooked or that you would like more detail on, please let me know. Then, I will discuss qualitative thoughts on each artist, on the band as a whole, and on Beatlemania. I will finish with assessments of each song I am More Than Neutral to, and a list of Hated Songs. I will not go into detail on Hated Songs, but if you are curious, don’t hesitate to ask and I’d be happy to discuss them further!
The final total of Hated Songs is 46. Songs More Than Neutral is 36, admittedly more than anticipated at the start of this project. However, before you Beatles fans celebrate, two of these songs I only like in cover versions, not as recorded by The Beatles. Also, 9 of these are covers of other peoples’ work, of which I prefer the originals of four of them. Songs I Actually Quite Like amounts to 5 and Songs I Love has 5 as its surprising final number. I expected two. Of these 10 songs I actually like, half of them are covers.
Most Negative Album is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with four Hated Songs and no songs More Than Neutral. Most Positive Album is With the Beatles, with five More Than Neutral Songs and one Hated Song. The Least Neutral Album is the White Album, with six More Than Neutral Songs and eight Hated Songs. It may interest you to note that no other album had more than six non-neutral songs total.
Before I get into comments on the artists, I want to take a brief moment to say that any comments made about drugs and drug use are not necessarily indicative of my views on drugs or drugs as artistic aids. Rather these comments should be read as comments on the specific drug use of these four men, and the consequences particular to that use.
Of the artists, the first I will discuss is George Harrison. I have some measure of positive feeling about him on the surface. I like his voice, but I dislike his songwriting, with more negative than positive feeling on songs he has written. I believe this is especially due to the Indian inspiration he gets into in later years. I really don’t like the sitar pieces he composes. As a person, it is more difficult for me to decide how I feel about him. I would say that I am initially fairly neutral, but once he gets into drugs seriously I feel that he deteriorates both artistically (in my opinion) and personally. Based on remarks from his ex-wife on their divorce circumstances I don’t think I am alone in this view of his personal development. Ultimately, I view him as more negative than positive.
John Lennon has been the most complicated issue for me. As an artist, I have a generally positive view of him. I understand and sympathize best with his work and aesthetic, and his voice is easily the best of the group. “Revolution 9” is a piece I find thrilling and slightly erotic, and there are songs where is voice reminds me of the essence of erotic pleasure and arousal. That being said, he was a terrible human being. I mean, terrible. His relationship with Cynthia fascinates me, but it’s a morbid and horrified fascination that is somewhere between stimulation and revulsion. And while she’s definitely a victim, she knew by the time she married him what he was, so I struggle to feel more for her than pity. It’s their son who is the ultimate victim. I will say (and as of now won’t say more) that it is reading about their relationship that has been the most useful part of this project, as it has given me the spark of a project that was laying dormant in my head. I think that further study of their relationship will lead to the insights I’m looking for to clarify where I want to go on this project, so that’s one good thing about doing this.
Lennon’s ex-wife credits LSD as the beginning of the end of their marriage, and I am inclined to agree with this assessment. While it helped him find some measure of peace, it is a false peace from all I can see. I agree with Julian Lennon when he said that to preach the things his father preached and then turn around and treat your family the way he did is nothing less than hypocritical. As for Yoko, as I am sure everyone will be anxious to hear about, well, they deserved each other. Artistically, they were a remarkable pair, although on a personal level I do believe she aided his denial and self-destruction. I don’t believe the crazies who claim she killed him. While their relationship was certainly bizarre, I do believe that they cared for each other in a very deep way, and I get very tired of conspiracy theories that make her out as the devil. He made his own choices. Period.
My moral code, however, has issues with my assessment of John Lennon. This may be difficult for many of you to understand, but in my personal moral code, if a person treats his loved ones the way John Lennon treated Cynthia and Julian, all their other accomplishments are moot. This is a very exacting code, I realize, but as a person highly susceptible to obsession, I have found that it is the safest way to regulate my own emotional health and behavior. John Lennon provides an obvious dilemma, then. On a personal level, a monster; on an artistic level, a master. In time, I believe, I will reconcile this by noting that Lennon intrigues me greatly (on both levels), but that ultimately I do not like or approve of him, and I will never purchase any of his work. “In time,” of course, is when I have managed to purge this project from my system and my exhilarating obsession inkling is choked out, so hopefully in a month or so.
I came into this project hating Paul McCartney, and in spite of genuine effort – including about an hours’ worth of guided meditation on compassion and open-mindedness – I came away feeling much the same. He’s written a handful of worthwhile songs, but he’s overwhelmingly responsible for more than half the songs I hate. I don’t like his voice. I don’t like his face. I don’t like his manner. There is something about him that I strongly distrust by instinct. It could be entirely in my head, but that doesn’t make it any less real for me. As a note on his voice, it’s disconcerting for me that he literally sounds like an entirely different person from song to song. Also, I think he probably shredded his voice, as each time I hear him (in my lifetime, not necessarily on recordings) he sounds worse, and if you listen to him in the late 80s, I would say he was already sounding quite depleted. As far as his personal life, he does have one redeeming thing, the best thing I can say for any of The Beatles: I find it utterly boring. I just can’t bring myself to care. (Actually, his treatment of Julian Lennon is a plus as well. So that’s something.)
Last (and let’s be perfectly honest, least), Ringo Starr. I do struggle to find something of value to say because I am so neutral to him. Perhaps slightly on the negative end. He’s a bit goofy, which is fine. I think his voice is actually quite nice, underrated even. Artistically, meh. On a personal level I have two notes. First, I see him negatively for the issues causing his divorce from Maureen, namely infidelity. Otherwise, my only note is not comprehending why he chose to have a stage name. I quite like his given name, and I feel it suits him well. The only thing I can figure is that it was his way to stand out.
On the whole, I don’t like The Beatles. When I like a band, I am saying that I would be willing to purchase at least 70% (often well over 90%) of their music. Ten songs is nowhere near. They have songs that annoy me, songs that creep me out, songs that literally make me angry, and many songs that I have absolutely no feelings on whatsoever, which is a very rare thing for me. I don’t like them as people. The more artistically they treated their performance, the less I liked it (on the whole). I still feel that it is safe to say that barring a handful of songs, I still hate The Beatles. One word can sum up why: Beatlemania.
You see, this whole project sparked from the chapter on sound recording in my Communications class. While reading facts I already knew about Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson, I got to thinking about the nature of obsession, mob mentality, hero worship, and how destructive this is for the artists and their loved ones. Being an avid fan of Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain, I have already done a considerable amount of pondering on the self-destructive impacts of this level of fame. However, in comparing Elvis to The Beatles, I found myself puzzled. While I don’t particularly like Elvis, he was entirely unique and exceptionally talented. There was nothing like him before, and there never will be again. The same goes for Cobain and perhaps especially for MJ. They were artists on a level of genius that most people could only dream of, among a list of modern artists that you could count on your fingers. The Beatles, though, have never seemed this way to me. Their early work is incredibly similar to those they idolized, as evidenced in the number of covers: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley. They’ve even got a Motown thing going on, which I appreciate, but still. Whenever they took on a song of one of the masters, even if they did it well, it still wasn’t as good as the original. McCartney’s work stayed mostly bubblegum except where it went a bit sideways and made me very uncomfortable. Ringo…. Well. I suppose one could call it unique to write a song about an octopus. George Harrison blends Indian music into their later work, but I personally don’t find this to be an improvement. And while Lennon’s work goes from excellent to visionary (the only one I would say that about), I feel the best of his work was produced after the band split. They may have been the first for some things, but I don’t feel they were necessarily the best, and unlike Elvis, Cobain, MJ…. I believe their iconic status is more a fluke than destiny.
As the bulk of Beatlemania was less about the music and more a product of teenage girls finding them sexy, I understand it even less on the sex appeal level. Was John Lennon sexy? Fuck yes. That I understand, in spite of my moral code. And George Harrison is attractive. Otherwise, the appeal is completely beyond me.
My biggest objection to The Beatles, in the end, is their fan base, and my project only confirmed this. As the Jeremy Clarkson issue reminds us, fans can be bat shit crazy. But some people are brilliant (even in their awfulness, like Clarkson or Lennon) and I can see how people get frenzied. What I don’t understand is fans assaulting the wives of the band members, threatening them, camping outside their houses. And it didn’t end when they split! If you read comments on the YouTube vids, which I did on each song, fans actually threaten the lives and health of those who comment that they don’t like The Beatles (or generally, without provocation at times), and even verbally attack Beatles fans who make negative (and perfectly valid) comments along with their praises of the group. I recognize that YouTube comments are not always a friendly, sane place to have conversations, but I’ve never seen an artist our group where every third song seems to have some threat of physical harm in the comments from rabid fans. I have my crazy, but these people are legit insane, and I could never be a Beatles fan because I don’t think I would feel safe to sleep at night ever again.
More Than Neutral Songs
- “Across the Universe,” written by John Lennon. I find this to be lyrically interesting, not musically repulsive, but a bit dull on the whole.
- “Ain’t She Sweet,” cover. This is a good cover with good vocals. It’s cute. Mostly I like this song because of reading that Lennon sang it to Cynthia when they were in art school. Which is pretty fucking cute, in spite of their unhealthy relationship.
- “All I’ve Gotta Do,” written by John Lennon. The harmonies in this give me chills, although the lyrics are boring and the music is basic.
- “All You Need is Love,” written by John Lennon. Let’s be honest, great lyrics. I do prefer this song generally in various cover versions I’ve heard of it, including it’s use inLove Actually.
- “And I Love Her,” written mostly by Paul McCartney, with John Lennon. I like the music in this, but lyrically it’s a bit blah.
- “And Your Bird Can Sing,” written mostly by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney. Great lyrics, beautiful harmonies, and I did get a twitch of a smile the first time the chorus played through.
- “Baby It’s You,” cover. I really like this song, but I do prefer the original by The Shirelles. Not their best cover, but I put it on this list to credit good taste.
- “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” written mostly by Paul McCartney, with John Lennon. This song makes me smile and is on this list for purely sentimental reasons. Because of sentimental attachment, I find myself largely unable to give useful qualitative commentary on it other than it makes me smile.
- “Besame Mucho,” cover. Again, this is a song that I happen to like a lot, but I vastly prefer the original version. It’s on here purely as a credit to good taste.
- “Blackbird,” written by Paul McCartney. This is a song I actually prefer only as it’s been covered by other artists, notably Sarah McLaughlin. Her version is beautiful. The Beatles version annoys me a bit, to be honest, but I’ve included it here because it obviously had potential as a song. He deserves that credit, at least.
- “Come Together,” written by John Lennon. Again, this is a sentimental one for me, so I have a hard time separating myself from it and giving any significant qualitative assessment. However, I LOVE THIS SONG. Love. It’s the only one I actually listen to on the radio when it comes on. I loved it before this project, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving it.
- “Day Tripper,” written mostly by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney. This one is the first in the Actually Quite Like category. The lyrics are just okay, but I really like the guitar and harmony, and this is the first song where I really thought about the sex appeal of Lennon’s voice.
- “Dear Prudence,” written by John Lennon. This is another sentimental one, and is perhaps the most strongly sentimental of the bunch. Taking that into account, I FRIGGING LOVE THIS SONG, it’s so cute and I grin excessively over it. Again, loved it before the project. I was fairly certain it would be the last one on the Love list, but I guess I underestimated John Lennon.
- “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” written by John Lennon. Too fucking cute. I mean, excessively cute. But that’s the limit, I’m afraid.
- “Don’t Bother Me,” written by George Harrison. I like the lyrics, and I quite like the chords, but the song on the whole is still closer to the neutral end of things than the love end of things.
- “Eleanor Rigby,” authorship levels in dispute. McCartney claims to have written the song wholly, where John Lennon claims to have essentially written the lyrics. Lyrically speaking, this wouldn’t totally surprise me, although “witnesses” and friends say that John Lennon wrote little to none of the song. I’m choosing to side with the majority of experts, who credit it as written by Paul McCartney with John Lennon, at maybe 80/20. As far as how I feel about the song itself, the music is good, but mostly I like the verses. Chorus is blah.
- “Hey Bulldog,” written by John Lennon. This I Actually Quite Like, particularly the chords and lyrics. Sort of took me by surprise.
- “I Feel Fine,” written by John Lennon. The lyrics are pretty meh, but the way they mesh with the excellent chords is its saving grace.
- “I’ll Be Back,” written by John Lennon. I like the way the harmonies and chords interact with the subject matter.
- “I’m Looking Through You,” written by Paul McCartney. Honestly, I like the lyrics but I don’t care for the melody line at all.
- “In My Life,” authorship disputed. John Lennon claims nearly full authorship, where McCartney claims more significant involvement. Experts generally list it as written by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney, and I am willing to concede that as fact for the purposes of this project. It may interest people to know further info on my feelings on this song. As it happens, I Actually Quite Like it. My mother (who also dislikes the Beatles and only likes a handful of songs) also quite likes it. This is the only song of theirs that we both agree on liking.
- “Julia,” written by John Lennon. I don’t really like the harmonies, but otherwise it’s a beautiful song and a lovely tribute.
- “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby,” cover. This is really a very perfect cover of this song, one of the few times I think the cover is better than the original.
- “Memphis, Tennessee,” cover. While I won’t say it beats the Chuck Berry original version, this is probably the best cover I’ve stumbled across of this song.
- “No Reply,” written by John Lennon, with Paul McCartney. I’m not big on the harmonies, and even though I like the lyrics I find them slightly stalkerish and vaguely uncomfortable.
- “Not a Second Time,” written by John Lennon. I really like the lyrics, and maybe if the song were less blah I would bump this up to liking it.
- “Please Mr. Postman,” cover. Okay, I’m going to be straight here. I Actually Quite Like this. But, while it is a good cover (and I appreciate that), I vastly prefer The Marvelettes original version. This isn’t bad, I just feel like the original was sublime. Hard to compete with that, you know?
- “Revolution 9,” written by John Lennon, with Yoko Ono and George Harrison. I HAVE SO MUCH LOVE FOR THIS SONG. Obviously, as it is the only song mentioned in the main portion of my analysis, it was the big takeaway, song-wise. I found it to be an incredible experience, and I’ll admit that something about it definitely turned me on. In my mind, this is the single best song The Beatles ever came out with. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I did read in my readings that McCartney didn’t want this on the album, but Lennon insisted. I’m glad he did, honestly.
- “She Said She Said,” written by John Lennon. This is lyrically interesting, with an intriguing combination of melodies and harmony. I’ll be honest, I’m not keen on the guitar in it, though.
- “Take Good Care of My Baby,” cover. I’ll be honest, I’ve always really loved this song, and this is the best cover I’ve heard of it. George Harrison’s voice is a good match. I prefer the original, but this is well worth listening to. Definitely gets points for taste in music and for a good production of the piece.
- “Taxman,” written by George Harrison, with John Lennon. Let’s be real, this makes me smile. I Actually Quite Like it. As I wrote in my notes, there’s just a lot of yes going on here. It’s not remarkable, but it’s enjoyable and poignant.
- “To Know Her Is To Love Her,” cover. This is a great song, and a pleasant cover, but otherwise unremarkable.
- “Twist and Shout,” cover. I like this more for sentimental reasons than anything else. I’ve never been able to say that I like this song on any real tangible basis, but I’ve always had an affinity for it, so it’s more than neutral. And let’s be honest, Lennon’s voice in this is the epitome of sexy.
- “Yer Blues,” written by John Lennon. Very sexy vocals. Brilliant guitar lines. I love the lyrics. I LOVE the song in general, actually. I had a very visceral response to this piece that took me by surprise.
- “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” written by John Lennon. It’s cute. It’s not especially substantive, but I appreciate the sass factor. Also, and this may be my imagination (because it does weird stuff sometimes) but I feel like someone is occasionally flat on the background vocals. Which is a bit annoying.
- “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me,” cover. This song has immense sentimental value to me. And I’ve never met a bad cover of it, but I still have to say that I vastly prefer the original from Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. This doesn’t say anything bad about The Beatles version at all. It’s a matter of vocal preference. Lennon and Harrison aren’t bad here, but I prefer Smokey. I always prefer Smokey, to literally everyone but Michael Jackson. They didn’t really have a prayer of winning me completely on this.
- “Act Naturally” (cover)
- “All Together Now” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Another Girl” (McCartney)
- “Ask Me Why” (Lennon with McCartney)
- “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” (McCartney and Lennon)
- “Birthday” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Christmas Time is Here Again” (McCartney and Lennon and Harrison and Starkey)
- “Come and Get It” (McCartney)
- “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” (Lennon)
- “Don’t Pass Me By” (Starkey)
- “Drive My Car” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “From Me to You” (McCartney and Lennon)
- “From Us to You” (McCartney and Lennon)
- “Get Back” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Getting Better” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Girl” (Lennon)
- “Hello, Goodbye” (McCartney)
- “Helter Skelter” (McCartney)
- “Here Comes the Sun” (Harrison)
- “Hey Jude” (McCartney)
- “I Am the Walrus” (Lennon)
- “I Need You” (Harrison)
- “I Saw Her Standing There” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “I Wanna Be Your Man” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Lennon and McCartney)
- “I’ve Got a Feeling” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Junk” (McCartney)
- “Lady Madonna” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Let it Be” (McCartney)
- “Long and Winding Road” (McCartney)
- “Love You To” (Harrison)
- “Lovely Rita” (McCartney)
- “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (Lennon with McCartney)
- “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (McCartney)
- “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (McCartney)
- “Oh! Darling” (McCartney)
- “Piggies” (Harrison)
- “Rocky Raccoon” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “Run For Your Life” (Lennon with McCartney)
- “She Came in Through the Bedroom Window” (McCartney)
- “Teddy Boy” (McCartney)
- “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” (McCartney)
- “Within You Without You” (Harrison)
- “Yellow Submarine” (McCartney with Lennon)
- “You Know My Name” (Lennon with McCartney)
- “You Like Me Too Much” (Harrison)