Tonight I am flying to Liverpool to visit with our only church in Northern England which is pastored by J. Pemberton. This will be my first trip ever to Liverpool--although I've wanted to go there for much of my life.
I have been a big Beatles fan since I was a kid. I think I was 4 when I first started getting to know the most famous songs like "Michelle" and "Yesterday." When I was 8, my sister borrowed "The Beatles Greatest Hits 1962-1966" and "The Beatles Greatest Hits 1967-1970" as well as "The Beatles: Love Songs" (which is no longer available). These three albums had probably 60 to 80 songs on them and that was when I became fanatical about the Beatles. Around that time, I saw "The Complete Beatles"--A Fantastic 2 hour documentary on the Fab Five and I started to read all the major books about the Beatles: Philip Normans, Peter Brown's, and others.
I didn't discover "the White Album" until my senior year in high school, and it was the summer of my senior year that I listened to Abbey Road over and over. In 1992, my friends Greg, Mike and I went to Abbey Road and crossed the famous crosswalk outside the studio (which is featured on the album cover). There is a picture of me doing that somewhere but I lost it. I have it on video though. And when I was about 17, my Dad took me to see "Rain"--A Beatles impersonation group. They were uncannily perfect. It was the closest thing to living back then and is still one of the best concerts I've ever seen.
There's a lot that makes the Beatles fascinating: the first major, global, rock group, 4 very distinct personalities, the early period of instantly catchy hits juxtaposed against the complexity and psychedelic nature of their second era, their sense of humor, and their spiritual journey--as crazy as it might have been.
But for me, there are two things that really stand out about Beatles music.
The first is that it is unnaturally, consistently catchy and melodic. Most bands never put out two good albums in a row. You are lucky to ever compose a song that is remembered 10 years from now. Perhaps if you are very lucky and talented (U2), there may be 5 to 10 that are known worldwide and the average person on the street can hum. But with the Beatles, there are tons of songs that people around the world, of all cultures, all ages, and all socio-economic classes and musical tastes can sing or know well. "Yesterday," "Michelle," "All You Need is Love," "Yellow Submarine", "Let it Be," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Something", "Come Together," etc. "Yesterday" is the most recorded song in musical history. The list could go on and on. And for every well known song that many people love like such as "Michelle" there are five times as many wonderful songs that are less known like "Blackbird" or "Across the Universe" that are equally wonderful. For any other band, these lesser known songs would have been their one great hit.
And the strange thing is that it all came from 4 young kids from a then, dingy, working-class section of Industrial England. How did these 4 kids come up with a Mozart-like ability to create tune after tune that is ridiculously full of melody. And it never stopped. Abbey Road, their last full studio album has a song like "Here Comes the Sun" which is just as melodic as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." Most of the genius was Paul McCartney and John Lennon (Actually it's Paul's songs that are usually preferred by people, even though John is the one who is thought of as the edgier writer). But George's songs were great and even when Ringo comes up with "Octopuses Garden" or "Goodnight", it is ridiculously catchy.
The song that always sticks out to me is "And I Love Her." This quiet song has a guitar part that reminds me of Latin American (Chilean) music and it always blows my mind that such an odd sounding song (which sounded nothing like the music of the time) could be written by a bunch of kids in Northern England. Where did the musical depth come from? The chord progressions?
The second thing that sets the Beatles apart was their experimentation. They went from a simple song like "She Loves You" to the complexity (and orchestration) of "A Day in the Life". Much of this came from the production of George Martin who took Lennon and McCartney's wild ideas and made them real in the studio. They experimented with stereo, they used orchestra instruments, they made lyrics abstract (as opposed to "She loves you yeah yeah, yeah!"), and they subverted their own image rejecting commercialism and they still remained the biggest band. The White Album has everything from bluegrass, to country, to burlesque, to 50's orchestra band music, to psychadelic rock , to an imitation of surf music. A band no longer had to be one thing or play in one genre---they could be anything.
And when the band broke up just weeks before I was born, they left on top. They never went into decline like every other band does. Their final songs were better than their early songs. I'm actually glad they broke up. I'm glad we never had to see them flame out musically.
There is a Beatles tour in Liverpool. The purpose of my trip is not to see the Beatles, but the church, so I won't be doing that. But maybe on one of my future visits I will do so. Yeah, yeah, yeah.