Friday, February 29, 2008

Beatles 1: Meet The Beatles!

So this is where it all started. Derek Taylor, a longtime Beatle insider, called them “the twentieth century’s greatest romance”. That’s a pretty fair assessment, and one that’s not so obvious to those whose view of the band comes from a historical perspective. The Beatles influence still pervades pop culture, yet in subtle ways that make them easy to dismiss. That only makes it more fun for some of us to smile and nod whenever someone begrudgingly comes around to the idea that “maybe they were pretty good after all”. (On a strictly personal level, The Beatles still fascinate us, and while we listen to countless other things these days, too many things in our life revolve around those guys—hair, glasses, why we play music, etc.)

The music is timeless, obviously; otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about them today. For the price of fourteen CD packages—once available in a nifty box with a rolltop wooden cover, but now as a complete set in stereo, as well as a limited one in mono—you can get the whole picture, adhering more or less to the boys’ original intentions. But Americans of a certain vintage were introduced to the first half of the catalog via a slightly different context, and while the Beatles catalog has been standardized worldwide for decades now, some of us still hold a fondness for the way things used to be.

The repackaging of Beatles material started before they had even hit American shores. Vee-Jay’s Introducing The Beatles replicated Please Please Me, the first British album, almost track for track, with several cuts slipping in and out depending on the edition and cover. However, it was solely on the back of Capitol’s marketing machine that Vee-Jay’s album moved any copies.

In the UK, singles and LPs were considered separate entities that should not be crossbred. But in the US, you don’t look a gift horse in the wallet. Capitol’s first LP starts off with the smash single “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, followed by its American B-side, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “This Boy”, the British B-side. The rest of Meet The Beatles! consists of eight songs from the British With The Beatles LP, which had been released the previous November, and sports a nearly identical cover design.

Following the one-two-three punch at the start, side one concludes with “It Won’t Be Long”, “All I’ve Got To Do” and “All My Loving”. Right there we have six songs that could be considered among their greatest. Side two isn’t as strong, but does give the less dominant members their own spotlights—George sings the first song he wrote, “Don’t Bother Me”, and Ringo attacks “I Wanna Be Your Man”, previously offered to the Rolling Stones. Capitol was also wise to include Paul’s cabaret bit—“Till There Was You” from The Music Man—to appeal to the parents. “Little Child”, which is over before you know it, and “Hold Me Tight”, which seems to slow down unintentionally, are goofy but fun, and “Not A Second Time” provides a striking closer.

All together it’s still a very entertaining album, packaged in that iconic sleeve. And the liner notes are priceless. Forty years later it was a selling point in the limited Capitol Albums, Vol. 1 box set, and maintained its headline status ten years after that, when the “U.S. Albums” series finally made all the American versions purchasable digitally and physically. The rest of the empire may scoff, but this was how many of us met them.

The Beatles Meet The Beatles! (1964)—5
UK CD equivalent: Please Please Me/With The Beatles/Past Masters

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No, really, what’s it all about?

I am a writer, and I am a musician. While anyone can learn how to be either, I believe both have always been in my DNA. Therefore, I write about music. That’s what you’re going to see here.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be without music. My earliest exposure came via the radio and my parents’ record player, so when I began my own journey, those were the places where I heard things. So you can expect to find the occasional lament of the state of radio, alongside references to old records.

However, that’s not to say I’m a total Luddite. I love the convenience of CDs and MP3s/iTunes, but I do miss the vinyl experience. I still think of albums as records, and understand the math that goes into the album side. Listening to an album also involves reading the liner notes, studying the label, checking the inner groove for secret messages, and considering the significance of its place in the rack alongside its brothers. As a product of my generation I’ve also had a fondness for the art form of the mix tape, and the possibilities held by a Maxell XLII-90. That’s something that will be explored here as well.

I admit to being something of a snob, if an open-minded one, which will be more apparent as this blog grows. I will be writing about things I like and don’t like, and while I may not always be able to explain why, I’ll certainly try. I may even contradict myself along the way. But I’m sure you’ll find me to be consistent, even in my inconsistency. A quote from the late great Lester Bangs at the top of the page gives this blog its title, and many of his other asides will certainly find their way into this forum, whether quoted directly or alluded to.

My aim is to update the blog on a regular weekly schedule. I’m fully aware that there are lots of blogs and review sites in cyberspace, and many of them take approaches that are beyond my capabilities. But hopefully visitors will find something in my voice that will warrant return visits. Comments are welcome, and appreciated. I hope you’ll enjoy what you see, and spread the word.