I picked this up from one of those bargain bins where they sell fire damaged or coverless CD’s for a couple of quid. I had heard rumblings on the underground about this group, “The Beatles”, and figured I’d give it a whirl. I detected that they might have something of a Led Zeppelin egotism to them by the way that they numbered rather than named their records, but I was glad to have picked up their debut as I like to start from the beginning with a band and then follow and grow with them. So 1 seemed like as good a place as any to start.
After the first listen I was blown away; a concept album marking the birth, life and death of the sixties, the so called “Love Generation”. The record starts with a traditional early sixties rock and roll as the quartet go through the various stages involved with being in love, the highs and the lows and diamond rings and all those innocent thoughts of a teenager. The tunes rock along with some pace and a couple of numbers could have been an actual hit back in the day and I wonder what would have happened if this four piece British lot had been born fifty years earlier. Songs like “Help!” and “She Loves You” have a bigger sound than best sellers of that era but that’s the advantage of modern recording technological advances.
“Yesterday” marks a change of mood, perhaps reflecting the shift in mood brought on by the Vietnam war. The lyrics seem to be addressed to a girl but read between the lines and it’s possible to imagine a brooding soldier on the eve of his shipping out to the danger zone remembering that only yesterday, his troubles seemed so far away.
With Vietnam came a drug explosion of apocalyptic proportions. The next two songs following on from “Yesterday” reflect this cultural awakening in their titles if nothing else. “Daytripper" is fairly self explanatory and “We Can Work it Out” should perhaps have been called “We Could Work it Out if We Weren’t So Off Our Boxes”. Then we take a plunge into a ridiculous acid parody about a big yellow submarine where the singer lives with all his mates. It is obvious what the band are saying about this time in history; they were all on drugs and things were great on the inside, safe from the cold, suffocating water outside of our “submarines”.
Still, drugs are bad and “Eleanor Rigby”, no doubt a Glaswegian smack whore, lives a lonely life because of it. The strings that drive this song are wonderfully evocative and conjure up thoughts of dismay and emptiness, but with an urgency that symbolises another change in attitude during the turbulent 60’s. The next song, though great, is a happy filler, an aside from the main storyline to offer some light relief before the next chapter unfolds. Perhaps it serves as a brief reminiscence upon the childhood which the teenagers dropping all the drugs have now left behind or something.
Then the contraceptive pill hit’s the market and the kids all go completely sex mad. No longer do they have to use the ox stomach prophylactic available until then. “All You Need is Love” is the sentiment and it doesn’t take much to imagine the naked sex orgies in the park that erupted in San Francisco in the middle sixties and spread out across the globe, not helping to stem the flow of AIDS admittedly, but can we blame then for not knowing? Perhaps this topic will be reproached later on in the record, we’ll have to see. This song also sees a brief reprise of the earlier number, “She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)” which ties the themes running through the record nicely.
“You say yes!” begins next track “Hello Goodbye”, so more sex there then. Could be about accidental rape through misunderstanding that one, but I don’t think that that was a big issue during the summer of love.
By this stage the music has become less rigidly stuck on rock ’n roll guidelines and there is much more going on in each song. This no doubt reflects the outpouring of new ideas and bolder statements being expressed at the time. The lyrics to “Lady Madonna” probably reflect a rise in the popularity of Christianity or something.
“Hey Jude”, back on the drugs. Actually this was one song I had heard before but Mum had turned it off half way through because she said it was about heroin addiction. I consequently turned down a hooker called Jude because I thought she was offering me up a wild night of Smack when in fact she was offering herself up in the third person for a wild night of her. Either way, I was probably better off out of that one. Still, this track is uplifting, a real standout on the album which, if I might add at this point, is an extremely long one, a bold move for a new band. Still The Mars Volta had the pomposity to do it, why shouldn’t these boys?
“Get Back” is probably about the vets coming home and getting accustomed to a place where they once belonged. This feeling of detachment was common amongst vets because the mundane sights of a normal existence were overshadowed by the more real and violent scenes of death and mutilation seared into their brains. The song doesn’t really reflect this feeling musically, but it’s a catchy little number and grooves along nicely behind it’s more serious lyrical tapestry.
“You Know It Ain’t Easy” seems to be a first person character study about the male hippy type (I forget his name now) who stayed in bed all week with his dial-a-hippy girlfriend and tried to get the world to put down its weapons of large scale destruction and stay in bed. He even had the gall to compare himself to Christ. Still, the band seemed to think that a significant enough moment to squeeze it in to their brief history.
“Something” is an epic ballad that might be the best love song ever written, but that’s coming from someone who likes Frank Sinatra’s less swingy numbers and likes a good cry and a milkshake sometimes. Exactly what this has to do with the historical context that this record has wedged itself in amongst is beyond me, but it’s always worth slipping a love song in to the mix for good measure. Got to keep the record company happy, these lads can’t afford to make outlandish demands and have unlimited studio time just yet. But on the strength of this debut they could wind up with that sort of power.
“Come Together” is an obvious call for unity to fight against wars and oppression and Nixon. History can tell us of the outcome of that little uprising. Why are we all glued to the internet today? “Come Together” has a darker, more sinister feel to it and perhaps looks back at this moment of the decade with the benefit of hindsight. Cunning.
Then, in the end we shrug our shoulders, give ourselves to time, to history and to our place in all of it and with a sad sigh we can whisper, “Let it Be”. This track (the last one on my copy as the real last track is scratched - still, I think it has a sad tone just suited to an ending and does me just fine) is, well you can read the brackets you’ve just read again for a description I guess. Or in other words, a fitting end to a brilliant album.