Truth be told, the Fab 4 put out a tremendous quantity of work. They kept doing their thing after the breakup. You can listen to a lot of the stuff they did as solo artists and imagine that nothing really changed. Yes, "Imagine."
The Beatles' amazing run ended with the "Let It Be" album and Phil Spector's orchestral adornments, right? Or did it end with "Abbey Road?" The train wreck of the Beatles' breakup leaves us confused over what their last album was.
Beatles historians can fall over themselves fawning over the various albums. The CW (conventional wisdom) has it that "Rubber Soul" was the group's first truly artistic album, that "Revolver" took that art to a higher level, and that "Sergeant Pepper" was the true masterpiece. Historians view "Magical Mystery Tour" as flawed, and consider "Abbey Road" the final triumph. "Let It Be" just sort of floats out there as an uneven sort of denouement.
The demands of the critics probably wore on the four guys. How could the Fab 4 just keep turning out material that would have their admirers have one orgasm after another? Who needs that kind of pressure? My assertion would be that all of the Beatles' work had merit. It just went through various iterations. The four guys and their handlers did what all musical pros do: try to turn out albums that contrast with each other and offer fresh styles and ideas. Fans don't fully understand this.
Fans figure that if they really go head over heels over an album, the next album should be fundamentally the same - just "more of same." They think they want that, but they really don't. The movie "Jersey Boys" was excellent in how it peeled away the facade of the music industry and showed how creative people respond to the public's demands.
In "Jersey Boys" you see the heroic characters arguing how "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" will represent that "next new thing" in pop music sounds. The highlight scene in the movie, I feel, is where we see Frankie Valli triumphantly performing this song with his backing that had horns, just like Sinatra would.
What will the next "new" sound be - a sound that captivates? It's like trying to forecast the stock market - much harder than you might think.
When the Beatles departed from their "merseybeat" sound, it was genuinely risky for them. Would the public accept the group ascending to an artsy level, rather than just appealing to fawning teenage girls? We saw the latter formula work wonderfully in "A Hard Day's Night." Why not push it a littler further? Well, the Beatles wanted to stand for something different. This they asserted in "Rubber Soul" which came out at Christmas time in 1965. Author Robert Rodriguez said this album "hinted at greater ambitions." This is typical fawning with cliche-ridden talk by the group's historians, as surely "Rubber Soul" was more than a mere "hint." It was more than a stepping stone or prelude. It was a destination. So, let's admire it as a stand-alone product.
Rodriguez went on to say "Rubber Soul" challenged the "existing rock paradigm." I didn't learn the word "paradigm" until I was in college. When first hearing it, I didn't connect it to the word spelled as "paradigm." I was relieved to finally make the connection. The late author Edwin Newman indicated I wasn't the only one going through this. Edwin had a tongue-in-cheek chapter name in one of this books: "Paradigm Lost" (a takeoff on "Paradise Lost" of course).
"Revolver" was the album that followed "Rubber Soul." Artistically I think it ranks even with "Sergeant Pepper." What "Revolver" lacks, in comparison, is thematic unity.
The Beatles got a break that spurred their creativity, leading up to "Revolver." They were supposed to put out their third movie. The Fab 4 couldn't come together on what would be a good script. The movie idea was shelved. Thus, much of the time that had been opened for this got vacated. They were one month into recording for "Revolver" when they performed live in Wembley, England. A crowd of 10,000 listened. The CW is that it was an uninspired concert. We read that rumors were rampant of the guys breaking up.
Truth be told, the Beatles hadn't really lost any of their passion. What happened, was that they were writing music that was designed more for the studio than for organic live performances. It was difficult and almost futile to perform some of this stuff live.
Prior to "Revolver," the Beatles were clearly John Lennon's group - his was the dominant artistic influence. Paul McCartney made his fateful ascent with "Revolver." Paul was destined to have a lifelong presence as a significant creator and performer.
George Harrison had to do something drastic to assert his own artistic presence, and this was done with an affinity to the music and culture of India. I have written before that Harrison seemed rather a mystery. He is credited with writing some of the Beatles' best songs. As a solo performer his gems were lost in a sea of forgetful, redundant-sounding material, causing one critic to say he put out "treadmill albums."
I once speculated that John probably helped George along, to the extent of even feeding him material. It comes across as conspiratorial, of course. But I have read accounts that support my theory. In one case I read where John did some "coaching" of George. A song is really such a simple creation. A classic can be written down on one sheet of manuscript paper. A classic can often be written in just minutes. This aspect of pop music has long fascinated me.
"Revolver" is known for the studio "tricks" the Beatles used. This interests me not at all - I just want to appreciate the core songs.
"Revolver" has been described as "psychedelic." That's a buzzword from the tumultuous times of the '60s, more a word of fashion than of concrete meaning. How would we define it? Perhaps as "a bunch of jerk-offs making weird sounds."
McCartney goes into falsetto voice for "Here, There and Everywhere." The availability of falsetto gives a songwriter flexibility for vocal range that is highly coveted. The generally accepted vocal range is one note over one octave. That's really pretty restricting.
When I first dabbled in songwriting I had a problem staying within the accepted vocal range. I had been a trumpet player. Trumpet players have a full two octaves within which to work. Vocalists have no such luxury. Some singers can stretch the usual vocal range, an example being Ronnie Milsap. The Star Spangled Banner is notorious for how it challenges with vocal range.
"Here, There and Everywhere" was inspired by a Beach Boys song. It's a romantic ballad "about living in the here and now," according to Kenneth Womack. That's a pretty general theme. McCartney himself might smirk at such over-analysis or pseudo-interpretation.
NPR's Tim Riley falls into the typical hyperbole or cliches that can befall admiring Beatles historians. He writes that "Here, There and Everywhere" is "the most perfect song that McCartney has ever written."
Uh, the "most perfect." There's an issue with that terminology to begin with. McCartney has put out a mountain of stimulating material. I consider "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five" to be a diamond in the rough, coming out during the "Wings" years. I have found a live version of "1985" on YouTube that I consider one of the great musical pleasures a person can find.
Speaking of vocal range, Ringo Starr had a limited one, and thus we have "Yellow Submarine," written for the drummer and appealing to the kid in us.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" gives us those studio gimmicks that I shrug at. It also invites the "psychedelic" description. I question whether songs like this were really drug-influenced. The over-analyzing critics are susceptible to this bit of what I feel is myth-making. And it can be harmful, to the extent that kids get the idea that drugs and/or alcohol can enhance their creativity. All successful commercial art is created by people who have their mental faculties fully applied and unimpeded, I would assert.
I don't like the title "Revolver" as it's a pun based in part on a kind of handgun. Think of how John Lennon eventually died. Lennon wanted the title "Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle." That's an interesting alternate history.
"Revolver" has won its share of accolades and hyperbole. Such words are extended to several of the Fab 4's albums. Let's knock off the comparisons and the over-analysis. Each album has its niche. It's not like some "evolution progression" where we see the cave man slowly becoming the modern man. "Rubber Soul" was genius as was "Abbey Road." Let's appreciate the whole succession. There was enough to satisfy all of us.
I don't blame the Fab 4 for deciding they had simply done enough. The acrimony was sad. But remember, the Fab 4 had their run in the 1960s, when many things in our world had sad endings. Think of the Viet Nam War.