May 20 2013

Five Albums That Changed My Life – Please Please Me

beatles please please me

As graduation has come and gone, and the job search in a big city becomes the highest priority, I have been coming to grips with the fact that I am probably growing up, and I have mixed emotions about the whole thing. I figured by now I would have a lot of things figured out, mainly dealing with self-esteem and the like, but I suppose truly being an adult is realizing that things aren’t as idealistic as we imagine them to be when we leave high school, and that life is a jumbled, unorganized mess of experiences and lessons that gradually develop us into who we truly are, and also that these experiences and lessons never stop. They come at you every day, and at some point, the only one who can present change in your meaningless life is yourself, the one who knows you the best.

Wow. A paragraph in and I’m already rambling.

So I’ve been thinking of my life at a high level lately, as I am wont to do when a chapter of my life ends and a new one begins. That and I’m spending a LOT of time alone and at home, with no one to entertain but my cat, so these nostalgic, big-picture, “how did I get here” thoughts naturally creep up. And since I am dying to be productive in some capacity, I decided to utilize this thought process that has no definite answer into a series of blog posts related to music. Because ultimately, on my thought train, I relate EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE to music. Because music is, and will always be, the glue that holds me together, and the most important thing in my life. Sorry, future wife and children.

I begin this series, which will be presented in chronological order, with the greatest band in the history of recorded music, the Beatles, and their first album, Please Please Me, recorded in one day on February 11, 1963. It is most definitely one of the most important albums ever made, but almost no one, including myself, will say it’s the best Beatles album. That honor usually is debated amongst the group’s later work – The White Album, Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour (the correct answer), Rubber Soul, and Revolver are generally the nominees. On occasion, Let It Be creeps in there as well.

Historians can tell you about the album on a track-by-track basis, which I believe is the one with the most amount of covers and the least amount of Lennon-McCartney compositions. Even then, though, the duo was already making a name for themselves with chart-topping originals like “Love Me Do” and the title track. And of course, you can read about the vocal-shredding one-take of Lennon’s “Twist and Shout,” which was the last song recorded for that very reason.

My dad introduced me to the Beatles, and Please Please Me is the first music I ever remember hearing. I was probably two or three years old. I will never forget that old stereo system, with those giant Hi-Fi speakers on both sides of our 80’s era entertainment system. Those big knobs on that oversized amplifier, that now-antiquated CD player, which my dad probably bought the first day it was sold. I would later spend so much time using that system, more than my dad, and when everyone was away, I would blare the Beatles to full volume, eventually blowing out the bottom right subwoofer. To this day, Dad doesn’t know that was me, but who else would it have been? I imagine when my dad brought home all those copies of remastered Beatles on CD (which were released in 1987) and plugged in Please Please Me and saw the look on my face, he knew his son would appreciate this medium more than he ever did. In short, he had done what would ultimately be inevitable; he had created a monster. His son was a music lover and all it took was a single CD.

Initially, as most fathers do, he was probably thrilled his young, impressionable son was in love with the music of his childhood. But by the time I graduated high school, it’s safe to say Dad probably would have been okay if he never heard a Beatles song again. I took that introduction and ran with it, eventually commandeering all those Beatles CDs when I got my own CD player and listening to them for hours and hours, obsessed with the band, their culture, their history, every single word, every single song. And my entire family had to put up with it. And so began what would be a lifelong passion that evolved with my own generation’s creations, and something I didn’t see until long after I left home – that my dad and I, like most fathers and sons, don’t completely understand each other, but we are extremely similar in many, many ways. If it wasn’t for my dad, I wouldn’t have discovered my favorite pastime, my reason for being, my life force. Music. I imagine my dad would say the exact same thing about his discovery of what he loved, and who showed it to him (his father), and how that person wasn’t really someone who completely understood him, but that ultimately that doesn’t matter, because you love him anyway.

I have always stood by the old adage that music brings people together in so many ways. When I started writing this post, I didn’t intend for it to be about my dad. I was going to write about my vivid memory of the first time I heard “I Saw Her Standing There,” how I would stand right by the speaker and pretend I was playing guitar (something I still do in the privacy of my apartment at age 26), how I would get in trouble for playing it too loud. In short, I was going to write about Please Please Me, which you can listen to in full here, and I encourage that you do. At the very least, you’ll hear a great album from a great band, and at most, you’ll get a sense of who I am.

But when I think of The Beatles, and in particular Please Please Me, I think of Dad. Because, even as I mature and watch him grow older and he watches me become who I’m supposed to be, the Beatles are still one of the very few things we have in common. There isn’t much else in terms of interests or beliefs or ideals. And when I was younger, I found that truth to be annoying. But as a whole, it’s quite the opposite. It’s just the way it is. The way it’s always been, the way it will be. And the discovery that love for your father has nothing to do with compatibility, or even understanding, really, is refreshing. It’s a blessing to realize after years and years, that these things aren’t important. It’s the experiences together. And my father and I have plenty of those. And we also have the Beatles.

And who could want anything else?

Dec 18 2010

Currently Digging: The Beatles Christmas Singles

This past week, Aquarium Drunkard really put me in the holiday spirit and posted all the incredibly rare singles from the Beatles Christmas Singles Club.  The Fab Four would release a new 7-inch every year exclusively to their fan club members, from 1963 to 1969.  The early ones were usually the group ad-libbing with good humor, as well as thanking their fans for a successful year and wishing them a happy holidays and new year.  They show the group in their early years as a rowdy, close-knit young bunch of boys having a good time fulfilling a contractual obligation.

As the years progressed, the singles’ content, as well as the cover art, predictably changed, along with the music, mood, and imagery of the 60’s.  Album art, in correlation with the Beatles conventional, non-holiday records, transformed from photos of the four members in their mop tops to aesthetic collages and abstract photography.  The sound of the singles, too, reflected the alterations in their packaging – the content changed from witty, collaborative banter to more avant-garde soundscapes, similar to “Revolution 9.”  The projects became less collaborative, with the final 1969 single completely different from the first; it feature snippets of songs from Paul, spoken bits from George and Ringo (separately), and dialogue from John and Yoko recorded at their home.

While a lifelong Beatles fan shouldn’t be surprised at the change in content, album art, and collaborative spirit in the Christmas singles over the band’s short career (as it is in line with the general scene and spirit of the time, not to mention the well-documented history of this group), this collection of MP3s is a fascinating listen for Beatles complete-ists and rock music historians.  Go grab them for yourself.

Dec 8 2010

John Lennon – October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980

It was 30 years ago today…

Today has been a rough day for me, though hardly anyone my age feels the same.  On December 8, 1980, around 11:15 pm EST, we lost a musical icon and the finest Beatle of them all, John Lennon.  Just Google his name or search for him on Twitter and you will find a plethora of tributes, videos, eulogies, playlists, archived news articles, etc in honor of this sad anniversary. My favorites today are a few from Huffington Post, Death and Taxes, the Village Voice, and Yoko Ono herself, declaring John as the “Teamaker” on her blog this morning.  Although I have nothing incredible or revolutionary to add to the discourse, I would feel empty if I didn’t dedicate today’s Culture Greyhound post to the man and the impact he has had on my life.

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Sep 12 2010

Sunday Night Videos 9/12/10

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Mar 14 2010

Rocking Retro: Robert Palmer

I learned how to use my dad’s now-primitive CD player by age 3, and I proceeded to go through his somewhat modest collection, picking out my early favorites, music that would end up sticking with me for the rest of my life.  I first discovered my personal favorites Dwight Yoakam and the Beatles doing this activity, and that is how I discovered Robert Palmer.

Turns out Palmer was quite a talent, a diverse songwriter and performer who is more known for his 80’s pop stint than his interesting back catalog, consisting of everything from jazz-influenced music to standards to straight-up 80’s electronic tunes.  And let’s not forget the great hits he penned for Power Station.

Of course, at age 3, I didn’t really care about any of this; all I was into was his two biggest albums, the ones my dad had a copy of.  I’m, of course, referring to Riptide (1985) and Heavy Nova (1988).

Check a sampling of tunes from both albums after the jump, and enjoy expert 80’s pop craftmanship from a gifted, multi-talented, and, today, under-appreciated, musician.

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