You’ve seen my Classic Cover Redos turn up frequently here at “The Fred Hembeck Show” in weeks past. Well folks, feast your eyes on THIS one…
What? You say it doesn’t look at all familiar to you, oh dedicated Silver Age Beatlemaniac?
As well it shouldn’t, friend, since - surprise! - I made it up! Yup, did it for a fellow fan of both the Dynamic Duo and the Fab Four a while back, and thought I’d share it with you as a pictorial preface for a little talk we’re gonna have today about messing with the past.
That’s right - welcome to my review of The Beatles’ Love!
But first, let me dredge up a quick personal anecdote to better set the stage: way back in 1989, shortly after we purchased our first ever CD player, I naturally went out and snapped up a copy of the Abbey Road compact disc. The second thing I did with it (after giving it an initial spin, of course) was to go back and use this then new-fangled technology to program the heralded medley that closes the group’s final studio recording to play in REVERSE order!
Simply because I COULD.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it didn’t sound all that good, and no, I’ve never gone back and tried that stunt again, but my purpose in relating this whim of mine to you here today is to clearly demonstrate that, when it comes to Beatles music, I’m not at all adverse to a little mucking about. And when it comes to Love, the mucking about of the Martins - Sir George and son Giles - is SO very much more rewarding than my own ham-fisted amateur attempts that it’s well worth repeated listens!
You all know the back story, right? Cobbled together from the Fabs’ tape vault to serve as soundtrack for a gala Cirque du Soleil show (housed at The Mirage in Las Vegas) by the group’s original producer (and his offspring), Love combines, mashes, and melds into a non-stop medley some of the greatest performances ever captured for posterity - all with gloriously upgraded sound! Short of hopping a plane and heading for Vegas - and believe me, considering that the showroom itself boasts some 3000 state of the art stereo speakers, that notion HAS crossed my mind! - Beatles fans need to add Love to their already burgeoning library.
(As one review suggested, even if you view Love merely as a trailer for the promised forthcoming sonically upgraded Beatles catalog, it’ll turn those frowns (”Oh man, am I gonna have to buy all those CDs AGAIN?”) instantly into smiles (”Oboy, I can’t WAIT for the “bang bang” in “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to sound so real that it’s as if he were hitting ME on the head!”)!)
Yes, for the sound alone, I heartily recommend buying this latest repackaging - and while you’re at it, get the special edition with the additional audio DVD disc! It’ll cost you maybe an extra five bucks, but if, like me, you have a DVD player hooked up to your stereo speakers, it’ll be well worth it. No, we don’t have surround sound here in Casa Hembeck, but luckily the included DVD has several other sound options, and as good as Love sounded coming through the CD player, it sounds even better via the DVD machine. A word to the wise.
Okay, so we’ve established that the Beatles have never sounded better - what about this whole mash-up business, tracks overlaying tracks and other such wackiness? Well, let me tell you this - I guarantee you, you’ll never forget your first time! That initial listen will delight and awe you with inspired surprises and breathtaking transitions, ones that let you experience these long familiar tunes in an altogether fresh manner! I firmly believe that most of the enthusiastic reviews that I’ve read - and there have been plenty - must have been written shortly after each author’s first glorious listen.
Me, I’m up to about my tenth time through now, and a funny thing happens about the fourth time around - you begin to realize that, in some ways, it’s all just a gussied up parlor trick, signifying little. And so you suddenly become a tad bit disappointed. But you’re a fan, so you keep playing it, mainly because - did I mention it? - the aural quality is just so doggone outstanding! And eventually, you find yourself coming back around, landing in a sort of comfortable mid-range. No, Love isn’t the greatest thing since jelly babies, but neither is it unworthy of occupying a notable - and decidedly unique - place in the Beatles recording pantheon. Some people, y’see, will NEVER get tired of these silly love songs - and what’s wrong with that, I’d like to know?…
Some specific observations then about the Martin’s aural antics - chalk me with siding with Paul (”The Cute One Who Doesn’t Get Nearly Enough Respect”) McCartney who, although satisfied with the final product, observed that he would’ve liked to have seen them go even further with the whole mash-up concept. Cuz understand, there are an awful lot of full (or near-full) length songs here, but for me the true highlights are the little stitched together oddities, such as the eerie combination of John singing “Tomorrow Never Knows” over the percussion from George’s equally trippy “Within You Without You” track. I was also quite taken by the melange that starts out as “Drive My Car”, segues effortlessly into “What You’re Doing”, zaps in a quick couplet from “The Word”, then merrily goes back to “Drive My Car”, making for a seamless meld of three generally overlooked middle-era Beatles’ classics. Beep beep YEAH!
I liked too how Ringo begins crooning “Octopus’s Garden” over the majestic orchestration of his White Album closer, “Good Night”, before the lads chime in with their original Abbey Road backing - and if my ears don’t deceive me, there’s even a few stray sound-effects from “Yellow Submarine” tossed in for good measure. It’s Ringomania, distilled into a tidy three minute segment!
Paul’s guitar picking on “Blackbird” eases nicely into a full performance of “Yesterday”, and the driving coda to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” makes the whirlwind finale of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite” all the more dizzying! And then there are the little quick riffs - the opening guitar flourish of “A Hard Day’s Night” leading instead into “Get Back”, and the fadeouts of various longer cuts sonically decorated with signature snatches of numbers like “Penny Lane”, “In My Life”, and “Nowhere Man”. Picking out all the pieces of this puzzle is half the fun for ardent Beatles addicts, and I only wish there had been more goodies to discover. I’d gladly have sacrificed hearing a near complete take of “Come Together” for the chance to wallow in an even more diverse pot of Beatles’ stew! Ah well…
The other gripes I have with this project fall squarely under the category of song selection, which, in my opinion, leans a bit too heavily on the Beatles psychedelic period, and features a disproportionate number of lead vocals from (you should pardon the expression ) The Dead Beatles.
Look, while I may often effusively champion Macca’s not-insignificant contribution to the ensemble, I love Lennon, too - honest! And there’s no way you’re gonna expect the Martins to pass over such iconic tracks as “A Day In The Life”, “Strawberry Fields Forever” (commencing with a portion of a charming never before released demo that metamorphasizes into the groundbreaking single version) and “I Am The Walrus” (which cleverly segues into a truncated, audience enhanced “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, brilliantly illustrating the breadth of the group’s evolution in a mere four years, reversing gears from perhaps their most avant garde musical number right on back to the tune that paved the way for the four lovable Mop Tops to conquer America in 1964!), but both “Come Together” AND “Revolution”? “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” AND “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”? Okay, I understand the latter track was included at the specific request of the Cirque du Soliel people - and it is the only number listed here that hasn’t suffered from massive radio overplay, but still, c’mon! John also solos on “Help” and “All You Need Is Love” - how little more than a brief snippet of the organ interlude from “In My Life” made the final cut I’ll never know…
(Not that I have any problem with “Help”. Fact is, I longed for more of those wonderful ‘65, ‘66 vibes, the likes of which produced my two favorite Beatles’ LPs, Rubber Soul and Revolver. But outside of “Eleanor Rigby” and the aforementioned mashups of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Drive My Car”, there’s little beyond a stray line here and there to be found of those two tremendous LPs. And while I know all too well that it was absolutely inevitable that this presentation - on stage and on disc - would end with “All You Need Is Love”, I have a small confession to make: I’ve never really thought all that much of that ditty. I mean, sure, it makes for a nice slogan, but so does “Give Peace A Chance”, and that’s no tune for the ages, either. I just find the repetitive, sing-songy chorus a tad boring after awhile, and I’m seriously thinking maybe the boys might’ve as well, as they did their very best to pretty it up with some tasteful - if dull - orchestration, all the while cutting up with their Goon Show-inspired antics over the tune’s extended fadeout as some sort of wacky counterpoint. Herein, the fade is (naturally) reconfigured, featuring not “In The Mood”, but, among other samples, a smidgen of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, ending with a few lines of Lennon dialog culled from one of the group’s Fan Club only Christmas recordings (all kudos to the Martins for resisting any urges they may’ve had to end the proceeding with that tired old “And I hope we passed the audition” bit - John’s rarely heard goofy ad lib makes for a refreshing, and even poignant, end to this really big show. I’m just sorry I’m gonna have to make my way all the way through “All You Need Is Love” each time to hear it…).
(Paul said much the same thing in the final seconds of “The End”, y’know - and so much more succinctly - but THAT doesn’t close Love, now does it? Okay, “All You Need Is Love” isn’t exactly a BAD song - it IS a Beatles’ tune after all - but there are just so many more of the group’s numbers, including plenty of album cuts, that I prefer. So sue me…)
And what about George? Look, I loved that guy too, make no mistake about it, but y’know, I once put together a compilation CD of ALL the songs he wrote and recorded while a member of the Beatles (including some belatedly issued Anthology tracks), and guess what? The total time came in just under 80 minutes! And yet, Love offers us a complete “Something”, a full length previously unreleased demo version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (featuring an admittedly lovely orchestration scored specifically for this project by Martin the elder, the only “new” music included), substantial portions of “Here Comes The Sun” and “Within You Without You”, and notable transitional excerpts from “Blue Jay Way” and “The Inner Light”! “The Inner Light”, fer Krishna’s sake! And I clearly heard pieces of “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle” in the mix as well - how “Don’t Bother Me” missed making the final cut, hey, I’ll never know…
Poor Ringo. All he gets is the aforementioned tarted up “Octopus’s Garden” to warble in that lovable ol’ croak of his. You’d think maybe his two most famous numbers - “A Little Help From My Friends” and “Yellow Submarine” - would figure into things, but no. At least his ace drumming is readily apparent throughout, but I wouldn’t have minded maybe a little more Starr singing (my picks, aside from the obvious pair that were nonetheless overlooked, would’ve been “What Goes On” and/or “Don’t Pass Me By”) With verses about being in a car crash and losing your hair, well gee whiz - how could the Martins have possibly overlooked THAT? But they did…
Despite a comparative paucity of Paul, what McCartney there is, is choice. “Lady Madonna”, mixed up with “Hey Bulldog”, comes off especially nicely, as does the program’s opening rocker (following the beautifully tranquil a cappella “Because”) “Get Back” (the only selection chosen from the ill-fated, largely Martin-less Let It Be album). The cold opening of “Hey Jude” sounds terrific following directly on the heels of the elongated final chord of “A Day In The Life”, and the Martin clan takes the opportunity to shave not only some instrumentation off the track (letting the “na na na” vocals stand on their own briefly for a round), but several minutes running time as well. Look, I love “Hey Jude” - for a long time, I’d readily identify it as my all-time favorite Beatles number, though these days I’m not quite so certain - but have you ever looked at your watch while that thing was running? The fade out begins a full two minutes before the cut ostensibly ends! I’d heard that the boys issued such a lengthy tune as a 45rpm single in an effort to one up Richard Harris, who, only months earlier, had hit the top of the charts with his over seven minute long ode to weather-challenged baking, “MacArthur Park”. The Beatles, the story goes, wanted THEIR number one record to exceed his, time wise - and it did, if only by scant seconds! Well, nice idea guys, but maybe not the best of executions - “MacArthur Park” ends with a giant choral swell of “oh no”, a monumental finale that wouldn’t ever allow radio disc jockeys the luxury of trimming the tune’s running time when it was broadcast. Whereas, even from the start, “Hey Jude” rarely made it all the way to the its not-so-much-bitter-but-somewhat-excessive end when piped out over the airwaves. “Oh no”, indeed…
(And a few short years later, Don McLean’s trumped ‘em both with eight minutes plus of “American Pie”. At least the lads can take some satisfaction (Mick, too) in being a key part of Don’s song story - there was nothing, I fear, to be heard concerning Mr. Harris’s ill-fated icing in McLean’s metaphorical melody…)
What songs would I have chosen to jam in? Well, how the insistent bass line from “Day Tripper” escaped inclusion is a mystery. “Eight Day A Week” has a swell opening, and “She Loves You” might’ve added even more to the historical context. Beyond that, favorites like “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Two Of Us”, “Good Day Sunshine”, “Girl”, “All My Loving”, “Every Little Thing”, “You Never Give Me Your Money”, “No Reply”, “The Night Before”, “Wait”, “I’m A Loser”, and “I’ve Got a Feeling” might’ve been nice. Actually, anything short of “Wild Honey Pie” would’ve worked for me. Love 2, anyone?…
So there you have it - my rave review of Love, wherein I nonetheless spend most of my time grousing! Ah well, such is the mindset of a dyed in the wool Beatlenik - as good as things may be, you can always somehow imagine them to be better! But until better comes along, Love will do.
One final observation: my 16 year old daughter Julie popped the CD into her computer, hitched up to some less than extraordinary speakers, and after only fifteen minutes play, she practically came running out of her room, a wide smile on her face, exclaiming, “Omighod, that’s the BEST thing I’ve EVER heard!” - and this was coming from someone who had only recently developed at best a middling appreciation of the band! Friends, if Love can serve as gateway for a new generation of listeners, then maybe there IS a purpose to this project beyond putting food on the tables of gaudily festooned acrobats! Maybe the boys WERE right - maybe all you DO need is Love!
(Well, not entirely - we DO still need that promised whole newly refurbished catalog! C’mon Apple! I want my sonically shined up Beatles For Sale - and the sooner, the better!…)
Hembeck.com - it’s all too much! True, some of the writings are long, long, long, but it’s getting better all the time! If you don’t go there, you won’t see me - until you come back here next week! If you will, I will. Now, I’m so tired. Good night!
-Copyright 2006 Fred Hembeck
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