The White Album

Round about 1978 I began a complicated relationship with the Beatles’ White Album. As the owner of a car with a cassette deck (!) I was able to take the Beatles with me wherever I might go… practically here, there and everywhere! Two of their albums became my constant companions, Abbey Road and the White Album. These lp’s colored my late teens perhaps like no others.

In my dotage I tend to alternate between hot and cold feelings for those Beatles, but a recent listen reminded me of the brilliance that is the White Album. I don’t think anyone could sit down and write thirty impressive songs in varied styles any better than this. Most rock albums stick to a narrow range of musical language. But the White Album is all over the map: rock and roll, folk, experimental tape music, dance hall. And the really infuriating part is the songs are mostly brilliant. As a listener, it feels like the composers did whatever they felt like and did it outstandingly well.

The Beatles did a whole lot of tape manipulation in their music, back in those wild pre-digital days. I remember hearing once that bits of Strawberry Fields were created by cutting up some tape, randomly reattaching the bits, and playing it backwards. Revolution 9 takes this practice to new heights. There is nothing warm and cozy about this song, no melody, no easily-discernible form. If you wanna reach a new level of creepy, try listening to this one late at night at the end of a deserted road in your car. Number nine.

Perhaps you’d like to hear a little hard rock or proto punk. Iggy Pop and the Stooges were exploring this style as early as the late 60s and on the White Album we find the Beatles up to their hip boots on Helter Skelter. It’s a brilliant foray into driving distorted guitar, wall o’ drums and a highly saturated sound spectrum.

Or if you’re looking for 6 degrees of separation from all that’s creepy and loud, you could always lindy to the dance hall crooning of Honey Pie. If Chico Marx had sung with Paul Whiteman on a spring day in Central Park, well, who knows what that would have been like. But there is a distinct vaudevillian feel to several of the album’s tunes. It’s as if the Beatles wrote a few for the kids and a few for mum and dad.

We could dissect each song, but the takeaway is variety and high quality. It would be inaccurate to call the White Album a rock album, although it includes plenty of rock. Nor is it solely folk or experimental or early jazz. But, it has a bit of each of these genres. Quite an accomplishment. And because it’s a double album, when you check it out from Everett Public Library you get 2 for the price of 1!

The New Beatles?

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I’ve been thinking about the Beatles lately, specifically about recent bands that show an obvious Beatle influence.

(Gestures intimately). Please, come with me. (Walks a short distance). Let me explain where I’m going with this. The Beatles, from day 1 to day last, changed dramatically in style. So I had to ask myself, what do I consider to be a Beatle influence?

Very few bands seek out the early Beatles Mersey beat. What I’m defining as the Beatle sound comes from what one might call their psychedelic period, beginning roughly with Rubber Soul and ending with The White Album (I know, I know, it’s really called The Beatles). This sound has influenced bands a-plenty.

(Holds up hand). Yes, there is still a need to define “influence”. We have Beatles tribute bands, groups that sound one heck of a lot like the Beatles and others that are influenced in more nuanced ways. And nuance is where it’s at for me.

One last bit of business is to define elements that create the Beatles’ sound. This could be a large list, but I’m going to focus on just a few: 1) their prevalent vocal harmonies, 2) the types of chord progressions used, 3) psychedelic tidbits and 4) lyrics that often tell a story.

Let the comparisons begin!

(Approaches desktop computer) While I immediately had a few bands in mind such as Jellyfish and XTC, I needed some help with this topic, so I turned to the internets in search of absolute truth. There I found many bands that are often compared to the Beatles, bands such as Panic at the Disco, Radiohead and My Morning Jacket. But these are bands who I don’t think have a palpable Beatle influence. (Speaks to audience in exaggerated Cockney accent) Oh, I suppose one could focus on any element, such as cymbal hits, and say, “Oi, that’s just how Ringo did it! They’re the new Beatles!” (Returns to regular voice) But from my perspective these groups have no Beatle connection.

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Other common Beatle-comparees include Blur, Arctic Monkeys and Belle & Sebastian. Again, I don’t hear the influence, but perhaps you, the listener, will. And this is not even to say that I don’t like these bands, just that they seem to be on a different path than the lads from Liverpool.

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Delightfully, I found myself introduced to bands I’d not heard before like Tame Impala, The Flaming Lips and Of Montreal. These fine groups do indeed have a Beatle influence, taking some of the key elements one finds in Beatles’ music and repurposing them into entirely original soundscapes.

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(Stretches arms above head) But after this long preamble, the band I really want to talk about today is Squeeze. Over the past forty-plus years, including a break or two, genius songwriters Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford have kept Squeeze alive. Perhaps rivaling Lennon and McCartney in lyrical depth, catchy hooks and riveting complexity, these two gentlemen are frequently spoken of in the same breath with the Beatles, even though they’re not well-known in the U.S.

After gaining popularity in the U.K. early on in their career and churning out hits for some time, slowly the band’s popularity began to fade. Their last album was released in 1998. (Raises eyebrow and pauses dramatically) Well, last album less one. In 2007 Squeeze began touring once again and in 2015 they released Cradle to the Grave, picking up right where they left off.

Squeeze

The album is filled with pop gems. Even on the first listen you’ll feel like you’ve put on your favorite sweater (pantomimes donning garment), the one that makes you happy just to wear. Tempos are a bit on the medium side of fast and the music exhibits a delicate country influence. Songs feature trademark Tilbrook and Difford harmonies while taking small turns into unfamiliar neighborhoods before quickly returning to major boulevards. Here I find an old friend not seen for a long while, one who immediately re-establishes a comfortable rapport. Squeeze again demonstrates why they are, perhaps, the carrier of the Beatles’ torch.

(Turns to walk away) Check this one out. You can’t go wrong.