Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Last Beatles - 1968

For this writer, the last real Beatles LP is the colloquially titled The White Album (The Beatles) or the singles "Lady Madonna" and "Hey Jude"; the camaraderie that was The Beatles ended when the four returned from Rishikesh, not as a band, but as individuals. The White Album itself sounds more like a collection of solo tunes with a smattering of group efforts, but Rishikesh proved the last of The Beatles' songwriting collaboration. There were always distinctions in the individual songs; no one mistakes "Eleanor Rigby" as a Lennon tune; no one questions "I Am a Walrus." But the collaboration is there, and continued to be there throughout Rishikesh and even through The Beatles sessions.

The Beatles next project, ultimately Let It Be, but tentatively titled Get Back, was conceived in late 1968 and begun in January 1969. The intention was to create a Beatles LP less conceptual and more like Rubber Soul or Revolver. Additionally, (this I explain for those of you who live under rocks), the concept was to capture on film the writing, rehearsal and recording of a Beatles LP, with the ultimate goal of showing The Beatles preparing to return to the stage. Had the concept been born with Rubber Soul, it would have succeeded; indeed, A Hard Day's Night could be seen as a catalyst to the project.

Tensions, though, were high, fueled by a sudden maturity (and Yoko), and the project, bruises, scabs and all, was shelved soon after the historic rooftop concert atop Apple headquarters on January 30, 1969, with Harrison actually quitting the band, and then Lennon quitting the band and then... (Hard to keep it all straight.)

The project was a success, ultimately - the band created a myriad of songs for Get Back, rehearsed and recorded them, and then played them live - if the rubric is to be honored. During the sessions, The Beatles also introduced many, nearly all, yet to be recorded songs that would later appear on Abbey Road including "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Something" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." The Beatles of Help and Revolver and "Ticket to Ride" were gone, but the "failure" that is Let It Be, is still one of this writer's favorite LPs.

With regard to Elvis's '68 comeback, one has to wonder if Paul's idea for Get Back/Let it Be sprung from watching Elvis as he launched himself back into music relevance. Similarities abound. The Elvis show was made for TV (unlike Let It Be), but unique then was the concept to bring a live stage show to a small audience using the most basic of instruments available. Years later the practice would essentially evolve into Unplugged. Get Back was reality TV, regressed to it's earliest form. 

As the Fab Four began to experience the disillusion that eventually overcame the hippie movement in the late 60s, and understanding that they were each heading in different directions, there was a need to inject new life into the band and possibly add a vitality that would bring them together and carry them forward. John, for his part, wanted a raw, live. sound to dominate the album. Indeed, despite the cold and damp of those rooftop recordings, "Get Back," "Don't Let Me Down," "I've Got A Feeling," "One After 909" and "I Dig A Pony," were all played during the concert and the recorded material mixed into the final versions released on the album. While much of the material sounds raw and live, Phil Spector's heavy hand gave it polish, albeit too much polish, like when they oil the lanes of a bowling alley. Paul hated the orchestration of "The Long And Winding Road," despite the fact that it was the biggest hit from the album (this writer loves it, btw). Some may relate the issues that The Beatles had with how Kurt Cobain felt about Nevermind, which he thought wasn't raw enough, that it was over-engineered and all too refined.

In retrospect, the original version of the LP is superior to Let It Be Naked, but had Naked been released 47 years ago, the familiarity of the offering may have superseded the over-the-top 1970 original.
On the back of the LP, released after Abbey Road (though it should have been The Beatles' penultimate collection), the cover included an unusual codicil: "This is a new phase BEATLES album...essential to the content of the film, LET IT BE was that they performed live for many of the tracks; in comes the warmth and the freshness of a live performance; as reproduced for disk by Phil Spector." One can only imagine Spector penning that statement to the chagrin of Paul and John (with George Martin rolling his eyes). The pronouncement that this was a "new phase," was erroneous of course, The Beatles would disband before the LP's release. It would prove a bit of non-prophesy in that it suggests a new Beatles for the 70s. The Beatles, though, quintessentially 60s, were not a 70s band. Inspiring the likes of ELO, CSN, ELP - all the initials and everybody else, The Beatles would not have fit into the coming rock era; Lennon fit, McCartney and Harrison fit, even Ringo fit, but The Beatles would not. By 1967, 50 years ago, the 60s were experiencing their swan song. Indeed it is always darkest before the dawn; for the late 60s it seems it was brightest before the dusk. Ahead on the horizon there may have been peace and love, but there was also Kent State; there may have been Monterey and Woodstock, but there was also Altamont. The Beatles were a part of what was best about the 60s. The 70s would hold no place for them. The 70s instead would belong to The New Yardbirds (Zeppelin) and Pink Floyd, to a different Joni and The Ramones and Blondie and Talking Heads; to "Imagine" and "Band on the Run."