Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1134: The Beatles

I broke a tooth last week and this afternoon I had to get a filling. Dentistry has come a long way since the last time I got a filling – I can hardly feel it.

Much more painful was the Boston Bruins losing for the second straight game to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The needle to the jaw was far less painful.

Disc 1134 is… Help!
Artist: The Beatles

Year of Release: 1965

What’s up with the Cover? The Beatles spell out some nonsense message in semaphore. Yes, you probably think this spells “Help!” but it doesn’t – it spells “NUJV”. As a result, it’s just four guys sticking their arms out at different angles, taking this cover from clever…to stupid.

How I Came To Know It: This is one of the most famous pop albums of all time, so that’s how I know it. In terms of why it is in my collection, Sheila is a Beatles fan, and she bought it years ago.

How It Stacks Up:  We (Sheila) have seven Beatles albums. Of those seven, I’d put “Help!” in at #4, which is respectable.

Ratings: 3 stars

The good news is that “Help!” was a pleasant surprise – I really enjoyed this record in places. The bad news is that I have low expectations when it comes to the Beatles, so it was easier to impress me than the average guy drinking Rolling Stone magazine’s bathwater.

OK, that was unkind. Rolling Stone magazine also overdoes it over the Stones and Dylan, and I don’t talk trash that way about them, do I? Also, there is a good reason that “Help!” is one of pop music’s most revered records. There is some pretty amazing songwriting on this record, and smart production makes that songwriting shine.

Listening to “Help!” I felt the weight of its influence on music. These songs have pop structures that have become the norm in radio friendly pop, and while other bands were doing great things in rock and roll in 1965, the Beatles were one of the best at it.

My preference for the Beatles is later in their career, and the sugary pop music topics on “Help!” didn’t catch my attention. Lots of “boy meets girl” and “boy loses girl” stuff that felt a lot like a movie soundtrack (half the record was a movie soundtrack – and a good one at that).

The album adheres almost exclusively to radio friendly “under three minute” songs, and crams 14 of them into only 35 minutes of playing time. I didn’t mind this. The Beatles know how to craft a pretty melody, progress it along a path that seems carefree and natural and then resolve it with a minimum of fuss. It leaves you sated but not overstuffed.

This record has some of the most recognizable pop songs, and the grand-daddy of them all is “Yesterday.” I’ve heard this song a hundred times, and probably over 20 people cover it, but it never loses its magic. I don’t love the Beatles, but I freely admit that “Yesterday” is a five star song.

On this listen I was drawn to “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” with its build that is both triumphant and regret-filled and the artful use of the tambourine. The whole album has a lot of tambourine, but the Beatles employ it well every time.

By contrast, I found “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” creepy and predatory, with the singer ostensibly insisting someone treat their girlfriend better, but really wanting an excuse to steal her away. It reminded me of the Ohio Players’ “Backstabbers” although I prefer the latter.

The Beatles even make room for a couple covers of American songs, with the very country “Act Naturally” and the classic rock “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and both are as good as the original (the latter being buoyed by George Harrison’s amazing guitar work).

This album is solid and even important in the history of music, but as is so often the case with Beatles albums, I wasn’t as inspired as is expected by the crowd. What can I say, I can’t Nujv the way I feel.

Best tracks: I Need You, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Yesterday  

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