Friday, February 23, 2007

Turns out Rubber Soul and Revolver are pretty good after all...

Speaking of the Beatles, last year I finally heard Rubber Soul and Revolver for the first time. I know that sounds unlikely, but it's true. I went through a period in high school when I was listening to the Beatles constantly, from a tape I'd made from my step-brother's LP of their #1 hits. As a result, I am incredibly familiar with their early super-hits, like "She Loves You" and "Love Me Do" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Later, I became obsessed with Sgt. Pepper and The White Album and Abbey Road (I even had these on vinyl!). These are the records that form the core of their "classic rock" body of songs, along with "Hey Jude" and "Let it Be" and so forth. So I shifted to agreeing with the conventional line that had the later, "more mature", music as being better than the earlier "pop" hits. But Rubber Soul and Revolver are in the middle, don't have too many songs that got played on classic rock radio, don't have the super-massive hits, and do have a couple of songs that I professed to hate (such as "Michelle", which I'm still not sure about).

By the time I'd heard the two both referenced many times as the best Beatles albums (when it wasn't still Sgt. Pepper), I wasn't listening to them much at all anymore. In fact, I'd taken the Beatles for granted for ages. They're always there, aren't they? It was Woebot's appreciation of "1o Unfamiliar Beatles Tracks" from last year that inspired me to listen to my own Beatles records (cds in my case). I dragged out my Beatles for Sale and A Hard Day's Night cds, and we listened to them a lot during the rest of the year. It's really hard to deny this music.

I find, now, that I listen to the Beatles more closely. The thing about them always being there is that we (or, well, I) tend to not really notice what's going on. And the Beatles were so good at making pop music, made it seem so effortless, and have been so absorbed into the pop landscape (plus the deliriously wonderful vocals are so upfront in the mix) that it's been easy to miss the sheer inventiveness in so much of their music. I like Woebot's line at the end of that post from last year, where he says: "I think if we’re ever going to stop the rot that’s eating away at music, we need to go back and have another look at The Beatles."

Anyway, back to these records. In his comment about "I'm Looking Through You", Woebot says: "Probably the most well known of all of these selections by merit of the fact that literally everyone in the world has heard "Rubber Soul"." Of course, this made me laugh. Not only had I never heard the album or the song, but for years I'd only ever heard Steve Earle's cover of it on Train a Comin' (in the liner notes Earles says of the song: "This is the stuff I cut my teeth on - Middle Class White Boy Roots Music." Compare with David Thomas' increasingly ridiculous-seeming assertion (quoted by me here) that not only do the Beatles not play "rock music", but they "will be a footnote in 50 years and forgotten totally in 100". Sure.) Then when Pitchfork did their 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s thing last year, "Tomorrow Never Knows" was the second-highest placing Beatles song--and I couldn't even say I knew what it sounded like!

So, yeah, I bought the albums, happily found them both used. And of course I was already somewhat familiar with a lot of the music on them, though not all of it. But listening to the albums as albums, straight through, this was new for me. As the subject line suggests, it turns out they're pretty good after all.



Anonymous Silby said...

Since Revolver was released in CD format with all the tracks from the original British version, it sometimes comes out ahead of Sgt Peppers on some 'greatest albums' sureveys. But Rubber Soul is just as good. CHeck out

March 12, 2007 2:08 AM  

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