music friday: liz phair and gina arnold, exile in guyville

I just finished Gina Arnold’s fine book on Exile in Guyville, another entry in the 33 1/3 series. I spent the 90s reading Arnold’s “Fools Rush In” column ... she seemed to inspire a lot of vitriol, not just from people whose missives appeared in Letters to the Editor segments, but from people who wore “KILL GINA ARNOLD” t-shirts. Often, what I loved about Arnold’s columns was the very things that irritated her detractors. She regularly inserted her personal life into her writing. Here she is in a 2001 interview:

I have always felt that one of the flaws in a lot of rock criticism (besides the boring prose style) was that it tried to be objective–which is impossible, with something like music. The best you can hope to be is descriptive: you know: this is who I am, this is what happened to me, this is why it means something to me, if you agree you might like it too. And if you don’t, well then, ignore it.

Katy St. Clair once wrote of Arnold’s decade of writing for the East Bay Express:

A typical week for Gina would involve receiving a gift certificate for the services of Jack Kevorkian from a bunch of slighted Rolling Stones fans (yep, it really happened) or one or two letters making fun of her affinity for you-know-who. Everyone had different reasons for disliking her -- either she didnt get her facts right, or she didnt support the local scene, or she talked about herself too much, or she was too jaded and stuck in 1990.

In the same article, Arnold offers an on-point comment on the criticism she often received:

People would say to me, ... Why do I want to hear about your life every week? And I would say, You think I write about my life? Okay, what do you actually know about my life? And they wouldnt have an answer. I write about music and how it relates to things in my life, but very few people actually know me.

Is it any wonder I loved her? I’ve often argued that rock criticism learned a lot from Pauline Kael’s approach, and you can’t find a better example than this.

Her Exile in Guyville book is unlike her columns, but in a way I think makes sense. There is an academic feel to much of the book, and indeed, since the 90s, Arnold has gotten a Ph.D. from Stanfurd. Her writing now reflects this, and why not? She’s just continuing her personal touch.

She spends a part of the introduction informing us that she wrote much of the book in Seoul. I can already hear those haters from the past ... who cares where she was when she wrote? But one of her primary arguments in the book is that Exile in Guyville is informed by a community, “Guyville”, and what better way to remind us of this than by describing the community where she is writing, and how it helps her both gain the necessary distance from her subject, and also to see similarities between then and now.

The first two sections are the best, as she places Exile within the cultural context of its time. For me, the section where she compares Phair’s songs, one by one, to the corresponding tracks on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., is the book’s least successful. I know that Phair encourages the comparisons, but after such excellent cultural criticism, it’s a bit disappointing to read compare-and-contrast lyric analysis. Arnold does her best with the idea, but I got antsy. She recovers in her brief final section, which brings us full circle to Seoul.

Of course, now I’m going to do precisely what I’m complaining about. Here is Phair’s “Never Said”, chosen as much as anything because there’s an official video:

Arnold writes:

“Never Said” is about keeping secrets, probably the secret of who is sleeping with whom. Liz, alas, was unable to keep whom she was sleeping with secret and suffered the tortures of the dammed when her record came out. People guessed this and that and accused her of “sleeping her way” to the top ... People know who Mick Jagger sleeps with too ... but somehow it never seemed to have the same repercussions as Liz’s peccadilloes.

The very act of making an album that seems to take on the canonical favorite Exile on Main St. is irritating enough to those who make canons that they will find reasons to dismiss Phair from the start.

The Stones’ counterpart, using the track-for-track comparisons, is “Tumbling Dice”, where “The women, alas, are always trying to drag him down, with their bitchin’ and itchin’, but the men – i.e. the proverbial ‘tumblin dice’ of the title – can’t be tied down.... Great riff. Nice metaphor. Internal meaning not so pleasant, but that’s the Stones all over.”

I wonder what Arnold made of Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Tumbling Dice”:

The obvious question arises: what do I think of Exile in Guyville? I loved it at the time, and I think it holds up well. We saw her on her solo tour in 1995, playing songs from Guyville and Whipsmart, and she was admittedly unassuming, but that didn’t change my feelings towards the album. Here’s a very low-fi song from a different show on that tour:

I often think of Phair and PJ Harvey at the same time. In fact, back in 2010, I had an entire blog post about this:

Harvey, on the other hand, has never had to worry about being taken seriously. She didn’t turn into Avril Lavigne … she added theatricality, but in the context of indie rock blues that kept her sound rooted in the “authentic.” She followed up Rid of Me with arguably the best album of her career, To Bring You My Love. Her weirdness always seemed to call on primitive urges, where Phair wasn’t really that weird at all, in the end. Harvey remains uncompromising, remarkably so, really. And I’ve come to realize over the years that yes, PJ Harvey is a “better” artist than Liz Phair. But it still feels like Phair loses because her idea of uncompromising is seen as mainstream, even as she releases new material on her website instead of through a label … if you think Liz Phair is mainstream, you haven’t been listening to the stream for some time now.

I don’t know if I still think PJ is “better”. But I do know that to this day I play Exile on Guyville more than I play any PJ Harvey album. Having said that, I’m always looking for an excuse to post videos of Harvey performing “Rid of Me”, which I love more than any individual song of Phair’s.


music friday: paul kantner, "have you seen the stars tonight"

The Jefferson Airplane were my favorite San Francisco band of the 1960s. Not sure I could rank the members ... not sure I should. Jack Casady was always my favorite, but what about Marty/Grace/Paul? Marty and Grace always had that singing together, maybe we’re in love, maybe we hate each other thing going ... Paul and Grace, not so much, even if they did eventually have a kid together.

We played Surrealistic Pillow over and over in the summer of ‘67. Grace stood out ... she had the hits ... Marty sang most of the other leads, although given the harmonies it wasn’t always clear who, if anyone, was the “lead” singer. Jorma played the guitar solos. Paul Kantner was certainly an important part of the band, but I don’t think I paid him much attention.

He was far more out front with the next album, After Bathing at Baxter’s. He wrote some of my favorite songs from that one ... “Wild Tyme”, “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon”. Crown of Creation seemed like more of a group effort, although Marty didn’t seem as involved. The title track was Kantner, and it brought his sci-fi tendencies to the forefront.

Bless Its Pointed Little Head was probably my favorite Airplane album, if I’m being honest. It’s certainly Jack Casady’s finest. The emphasis on the Hot Tuna boys again pushed Kantner to the background, although he was better represented when a reissue added a couple of his songs.

Volunteers was great, and it was also the last time I loved, or even paid attention to, an Airplane album. Kantner’s “We Can Be Together” was arguably their best political track.

But then came Blows Against the Empire, attributed to “Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship”. That was the first time the term “Starship” was used, and it was the only time a halfway decent album was attached to the name. In retrospect, the title is a bit of a stretch. And while we played Blows constantly when it came out, I can’t say I bring it out much any longer. But I’ve always loved “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight”, and that was the first song that came to mind when I heard that Kantner had died.

And here’s “We Can Be Together”, with great rhythm guitar from Paul:


music friday: the violent femmes, "add it up"

Around here, it’s been pretty much All The 100, All the Time. Last night was the Season 3 premiere, and it was an encouraging beginning.

During one scene, a group of young people are driving to explore an area outside of their compound. One of them has a personal stereo of some kind, and as he sings to himself, the others want in, so they pull the headphone jack and hook the player up to an in-car audio system. The song they hear is “Add It Up” by The Violent Femmes.

We’ll ignore the part where the show takes place 100 years in the future ... let’s just pretend that after a nuclear holocaust, the Femmes somehow manage to retain their place in the cultural arena. Everyone in the Jeep starts singing along ... showrunner Jason Rothenberg called it “The 100’s version of the ‘Tiny Dancer’ sequence from Almost Famous.”

Later in the episode, Shawn Mendes turns up ... well, he’s playing a character, but he’s only there because he’s a 17-year-old Canadian pop star ... he sits at a piano and plays his own version of “Add It Up”, which The CW has kindly posted for our entertainment:

(I can’t resist ... the scene reminded me a bit in Ski Party, when James Brown and the Famous Flames just happened to show up at a ski lodge to sing “I Feel Good”.)

Anyway, the video of Mendes you see above isn’t exactly how it appeared in the episode. That was more like this scene of John Belushi in Animal House:

You see, as Mendes is playing his gentle version of “Add It Up”, one of the characters who is really stressing right now (well, they all are), runs over to him, knocks him down, and starts pummeling him. I wish I had video for it.

Well, I do, kind of. You can watch the entire episode on Hulu:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/892809

The Mendes version comes at the 37 minute mark. The Violent Femmes version is at 12:50.


music friday: ramones

jagger destroy

Nicholas Rombes was my editor for the anthology New Punk Cinema, which came out in 2005. The book included one of my better essays ... I began by quoting the great song by The Adverts, “One Chord Wonders”, and somehow ended up talking about Run Lola Run. In the contributors bios, we find that Rombes had a forthcoming book on the Ramones’ first album, part of the 33 1/3 series. Well, I finally got around to reading the book, and it’s a good one.

I’ve only read a couple of the 33 1/3 books. There was Michaelangelo Matos on Sign ‘O’ the Times, and an ever better one by Douglas Wolk on James Brown Live at the Apollo. In Ramones, Rombes does a good job of showing how the band’s primitive art didn’t just fall from the sky, and they didn’t play seemingly simple songs because they couldn’t play their instruments (unlike, say, The Adverts at the time of their first single), but consciously chose to make the records they intended. It’s perhaps an obvious point, except my recollections of the mid-70s is that many people assumed the band members were dumb. He explains that one reason they were able to produce their debut album for the legendary $6,400 was that they were prepared ... these were songs they had played regularly in concert. It took only a week, but “the Ramones approached the recording process with a high degree of preparedness and professionalism and a fiercely self-contained, unified sound.” Again, perhaps in retrospect this is obvious, but I admit I hadn’t thought much about the making of the album outside of that $6,400.

(Earlier today, I was watching a film of a Rolling Stones concert from 1978. This was the Some Girls tour, and the band had clearly been affected by the music trends of the day ... disco and punk in particular. Near the end, Jagger takes off his jacket to reveal a punkish-looking t-shirt that says “DESTROY” on it. A few songs later, he removes even the t-shirt, running around bare-chested. This is a relief, because the t-shirt had a swastika underneath “DESTROY”, which the network on which I was watching covered up electronically.)

His breakdown of the individual tracks is also interesting ... the writing is strong here. Rombes’ book made me want to listen to the album, and thus, Music Friday: Ramones.

Here is the expanded version of the album, which includes several tracks not on the original:

And if you only want one song, here’s “Blitzkrieg Bop” from one of the great live rock albums, “It’s Alive”:


bowie

Like many people, I was taken by surprise at the announcement that David Bowie had died. There was nothing special about my reaction, which was similar to how I feel about most celebrity deaths. The only two musicians’ deaths that blew me away were Elvis and John Lennon. But when death comes to an artist, we inevitably find ourselves re-evaluating the artist’s works and our relationship to them. So when Lou Reed died, I wrote a long post about his importance in my life.

The details in that post ... the number of times I saw him live, the solo albums I particularly liked, the individual songs that meant the most to me ... I don’t have those details for David Bowie. I’m trying to remember which of his albums I bought, back in those days when I bought albums. The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust, and Station to Station ... I don’t think there were any others. Oh, and Changesonebowie, with “Changes” and “The Jean Genie” and “Rebel Rebel” and “Young Americans” and “Fame”. He was also hard to avoid ... he was my younger brother’s favorite, and Bowie always seemed to be doing something interesting in the media, like “The 1980 Floor Show” on The Midnight Special, with Marianne Faithfull in a nun’s habit singing “I Got You Babe” with Bowie. And, of course, there was The Man Who Fell to Earth, directed by my then-favorite director, Nicolas Roeg. And I liked the hits from Let’s Dance.

Put that all together, and I guess Bowie was part of my musical life in those days. But I wouldn’t call myself a super fan ... that would belittle people who really loved his music. Maybe the best way to explain this is to note that my all-time favorite Bowie track is “Stay”. I don’t know the words, don’t care. I like it because of guitarists Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick. Bowie himself is almost irrelevant to my pleasure in the song.

All of which is a prelude to the realization that this death hit me a bit more than the average random celebrity death. I don’t know why that is. But when I saw the news, my first words were, “Oh no.” I thought instantly about my brother, and about my English friend who I knew had felt a closeness to Bowie throughout her life. I listened to his new album and watched the video for “Lazarus”, which is right up there with Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” video for stark realities.

There isn’t much here ... like I said, I had a lot more to say about Lou Reed. But something touched me enough that I wanted to add my small contribution to the many beautiful words that have been written over the last day.

In the comments section for that Reed post, one person wrote, “it says so much about the man's art that it meant so many different powerful and personal things to such a diverse many.” This is what has struck me about Bowie’s death. The responses have come from everyone from the British Prime Minister to Kanye West. Bowie was special.

Here is “Lazarus”:


music friday: tv

Black Flag, “TV Party.” We've got nothing better to do than watch T.V. and have a couple of brews.

Bruce Springsteen, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills.

Iris DeMent, “Let the Mystery Be.” Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.

Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32.

Lou Reed, “Satellite of Love.” I watched it for a little while. I love to watch things on TV.

Regina Spektor, “You’ve Got Time.” Remember all their faces.

Dave Edmunds, “Television.” I'll sit and watch it 'till it drives me mad, just so long as it's on I'm glad.

Blondie, “Fade Away and Radiate.” I hear how you spend night-time: wrapped like candy in a pure blue neon glow.

Five Blind Boys from Alabama, “Way Down in the Hole.” You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole.

Hüsker Dü, “Turn on the News.” With all the ways of communicating, we can't get in touch with who we're hating.


music friday: my 2015

It’s an hour until Xmas begins, so I’ll be quick. Here are ten songs that I listened to a lot in 2015, according to Last.fm, which tracks my Spotify listens. They’re in reverse order of times played, and I’ve skipped some (only one track per artist is the main disruptive “rule”). So the song at the bottom of the list is the one I played the most during the year. As I said when I posted something similar on Facebook about my listening habits, if it wasn’t for Sleater-Kinney, I’d be 1000 years old. Happy holidays to everyone.


music friday: the rock and roll hall of fame

Here is what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame says about eligibility for entrance:

“We shall consider factors such as an artist's musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.”

Take the first part. Imagine a group that, on their AllMusic page, under “followed by”, has 21 artists listed, including everyone from Roxy Music and Madonna to David Bowie and Prince to Queen and Debbie Harry. That’s an influential group. Imagine also that one of the group’s songs all by itself was integral to “Rapper’s Delight”, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”, Blondie’s “Rapture”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. That’s an influential group.

Take the second part. Imagine a group that recorded seven albums between 1977 and 1983. Three of those albums were Top Ten on the R&B charts, with one of them making #1. They also hit #1 on various singles charts seven times. Imagine a group whose AllMusic biography reads:

There can be little argument that [they were] disco's greatest band; and, working in a heavily producer-dominated field, they were most definitely a band. By the time [they] appeared in the late '70s, disco was already slipping into the excess that eventually caused its downfall. [They] bucked the trend by stripping disco's sound down to its basic elements; their funky, stylish grooves had an organic sense of interplay that was missing from many of their overproduced competitors. [Their] sound was anchored by the scratchy, James Brown-style rhythm guitar of [left blank] and the indelible, widely imitated (sometimes outright stolen) bass lines of [left blank]; as producers, they used keyboard and string embellishments economically, which kept the emphasis on rhythm. [Their] distinctive approach not only resulted in some of the finest dance singles of their time, but also helped create a template for urban funk, dance-pop, and even hip-hop in the post-disco era. Not coincidentally, [the main band members] wound up as two of the most successful producers of the '80s.

That’s an innovative, superior group of style and technique, featuring musical excellence.

You’ve probably guessed, despite my clumsy attempt at hiding their identity, that I am talking about Chic, with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. They were not one of the inductees to the Hall announced yesterday. In fact, no other artist has been nominated for induction without actually getting into the Hall more often than Chic.

So, who took their place this year?

Cheap Trick, who had one of the all-time great singles in “Surrender”, have toured more than just about any band. They have influenced other artists, and at one time they were among the most popular rock and roll acts in the world. I tend to be picky about who I think is good enough, but Cheap Trick does not embarrass the institution.

Chicago is a perfect example of the enormous difference between critical acclaim and general popularity that often arises. They won induction largely because 37 million people cast a vote for them. On the other hand, Acclaimed Music, which collates critical opinion, lists Chicago as the 950th greatest artist in pop music history. Your tolerance for Chicago’s induction probably correlates with how much you trust critics and how much you trust 37 million Internet voters.

Deep Purple are kinda like the Cheap Trick of metal. They have sold a gazillion albums and are considered among the premier acts in their genre, which has been underrepresented in the Hall. I’m not a big fan of theirs, but I understand why they are going in.

Steve Miller? I wrote about him a couple of months ago when the nominations were announced. “Mostly, I think Miller gets nominated because of that mid-70s run, so the question becomes, do ‘Take the Money and Run’, ‘Rock’n Me’, ‘The Joker’, ‘Fly Like an Eagle’, and ‘Jet Airliner’ constitute a Hall of Fame career?” Um, no. And I remind you that Steve Miller is going in, while Chic still stands outside.

Finally, N.W.A are in. Rap, like metal, is underrepresented, and N.W.A were among the most influential rap artists of all time. We can argue over their lyrics, but they had the sound, the style, the technique, and yes, they belong.

None of this really matters, though, as long as Chic are on the outside looking in.


music friday: creep

On his weekly blog post about music, Tomás Summers Sandoval wrote:

I think the best music is often music geared toward a teen/young adult audience, people experiencing some of the enduring emotions and struggles of life for the first time. That’s because we love music about love, about loss, about struggle, and about pure fun.

Music speaks to this period of our lives so well because of who we are in those years. We are possessed by ourselves, by our discovery of self and the world. That comes with the hubris of thinking that we are the first, the most authentic, or the most real of any generation to have experienced these things. And, if we are lucky, those years come with tremendous possibility and not too much responsibility.

One thing I would add is the unspoken notion that we’re supposed to outgrow a lot of our teenage passions. In his post, Tomás mentions Nirvana, who have avoided this notion (if indeed it exists) ... Nirvana/Kurt Cobain are considered artists, and thus not something to outgrow. But he also mentions “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes. I admit I’ve never been quite sure what this song was about. I also admit I loved it when it came out, for its sing-along chorus, and for its vaguely hippie-ish lyrics. (I’m nothing if not consistent ... I just noticed I wrote only a couple of months ago, “It’s got a catchy sing-along chorus, and the lyrics are vague and hippie-like.”) Still, the time comes when you realize “What’s Up?” is more of the moment than it is a timeless classic, and it becomes a bit embarrassing to admit you liked it. I lived in this zone for many years, until I saw Pink pull it out in concert back in ‘02. Her un-ironic approach, combined with the exuberant singing of the pre-teens in the audience, reminded me that someone is always experiencing something for the first time.

I have always loved “Creep” by Radiohead. Other than that, I confess I never gave Radiohead much thought. I was aware that they were very popular and very highly regarded, but that’s about it. The only reason I didn’t completely lock into Nick Hornby’s infamous review of Kid A was that I hadn’t been paying Radiohead enough attention to get the furor. Hornby, who is of my generation (he’s four years younger than I am), wrote:

[I]t relies heavily on our passionate interest in every twist and turn of the band's career, no matter how trivial or pretentious. You have to work at albums like "Kid A." You have to sit at home night after night and give yourself over to the paranoid millennial atmosphere as you try to decipher elliptical snatches of lyrics and puzzle out how the titles ("Treefinger," "The National Anthem," and so on) might refer to the songs. In other words, you have to be sixteen. Anyone old enough to vote may find that he has competing demands for his time - a relationship, say, or a job, or buying food, or listening to another CD he picked up on the same day.

You have to be sixteen. Experiencing some of the enduring emotions and struggles of life for the first time.

When I was sixteen, I owned maybe a dozen records, tops. I could spend time listening to those same albums over and over again ... I had the time, I had the desire. Nowadays, I’ve lost that ability ... partly because I’ve been Spotified to such an extent that listening to entire albums seems alien to me, but also because I’m not sixteen, I don’t have the desire (I have the time, but I spend it in different ways). I listen to music as much or more as I ever did, but in a less focused way. I don’t become fiercely attached to new things (unless Sleater-Kinney counts as new, which they no longer do).

So now, more than ever, I find that I lock onto certain songs, the way I always did, even before I was sixteen. And if those songs are older, I eventually find that I have “outgrown” them. Or at least I think I am supposed to outgrow them. The truth is, sometimes I still feel the same chill down my spine.

A few years ago, Andrea DenHoed wrote, in the New Yorker:

“Creep,” Radiohead’s 1992 anthem of alienation, is one of those songs that everyone has loved at some point, and no one would admit to loving now. It’s hard to watch the original music video without cringing a little bit. Thom Yorke’s pasty face, with its cavernous cheeks and olive-pit eyes; the other, stringy-haired members of Radiohead looking moody and disaffected behind him; the lurid sherbet-hued lighting—it’s all just too sincerely pathetic. And so nineties. It’s not a song that you want appearing on your Facebook/Spotify feed without a knowing comment to diffuse it.

DenHoed is saying that we outgrew the sentiments in “Creep”, that it’s one thing to identify with the song when we are young, but when we grow up, we understand that the world is bigger than our navel.

But I’ve never outgrown it. I identify with “Creep” just as much today as I did when it first came out:

Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fuckin' special
I wish I was special

But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo,
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here

“Creep” is back on people’s minds because of a version Prince performed in concert back in 2008. Of course, a video surfaced immediately ... it was a remarkable performance. And, of course, the next day, Prince ordered it taken down ... he doesn’t like his music on YouTube. A month or so later, Thom Yorke said Prince should unblock “our song”. And so things stood until October of this year, when a copy of Prince’s “Creep” was uploaded to YouTube. And this time, Prince has given his OK (at least as of this writing).

The Internet has gone predictably crazy. Prince is the greatest, no doubt about it, and his version of a classic like “Creep” has inherent value. His version also has a couple of great Prince guitar solos, which are always good.

But he gets the song all wrong. He flips the pronouns ... “You wish you were special” is not the same thing as “I wish I was special”. As I said to my son, “Creep” personifies self-loathing. And there is no self-loathing in Prince’s version. Here’s Hornby again:

"Creep" ... gave voice to everyone who has ever felt disconnected, alienated, or geeky - just about anyone who has ever used rock music to get through the day. "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo," the singer Thom Yorke piped with unnerving sincerity. "What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here." The genius of the song was its mournful anguish ...

No, I have never outgrown this feeling.

DenHoed led me to something else, however, and I am so glad she did. She had written, “The performance is very Prince and not very “Creep.”” But then she mentioned a new video of the song, by someone I’d never heard of. Apparently this performance was viral for a moment ... I never got on that wagon ... the singer is someone named Carrie Manolakos. Neetzan Zimmerman’s Gawker piece was headlined, “This Cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ Will Make Your Ears Orgasm”. Manolakos had a Broadway background ... she’s got a great voice, but she is also attuned to the possibilities of dramatizing a lyric. There is no telling if she is “acting” or singing with unnerving sincerity. But, for my money, she understands the song in ways Prince does not. DenHoed one more time:

Manolakos, whose background is in musical theatre, performs the song with perfect earnestness, closing her eyes and choking back tears. She floats lightly over the soft notes and reaches up to a stringent wail towards the middle of the song. She takes all the qualities that made “Creep” moving in 1992 ... and repackages them in an old-fashioned night-club singer’s torch song.

Manolakos’s version does what covers ought to do; it picks up a song that has sunken into throwback territory, dusts it off, and treats it like a classic.

I suppose I should get to the videos. First, here is Prince in 2008:

Next, Manolakos in 2012:

And finally, Radiohead’s original:


music friday: the beatles, rubber soul

Yesterday, Rubber Soul turned 50, which elicited a lot of “how time flies” stuff from Boomers. I feel like a consensus has built over the years that the two best Beatles albums were Rubber Soul and Revolver, although I’m just talking off the top of my head. There’s the early stuff, the movies, then the maturation of Rubber Soul and Revolver, followed by Sgt. Pepper, which I don’t think is as highly regarded as it once was. Then the gradual disintegration.

The main reason I disagree with this evaluation (if it indeed exists) is that I think it unfairly dismisses their earliest work, and I think it misses their greatest album. While the first albums were filled with, well, filler, they never recorded three tracks as great as “There’s a Place”, “Twist and Shout”, and “Money”.

Then there’s my favorite, A Hard Day’s Night. Care must be taken to allow for my biases. My favorite Beatle was John, and nine of the thirteen songs on the album are “John songs”. (I’m ignoring the awful U.S. release of the album.) My least favorite Beatle was George, although being the least of the Beatles is hardly an insult. Anyway, there are no “George songs” on this album. Simply put, I don’t think there is a bad song on A Hard Day’s Night, which makes it more consistent than both Rubber Soul (“Michelle”) and Revolver (“Taxman”). The latter has three George songs, and they aren’t his three best.

Rubber Soul, like all of the Beatles albums at the time, came out in two versions, one for the UK, one for the US. The latter has its champions, but it is missing “Drive My Car”, which I love, and “If I Needed Someone”, which is one of George’s better outings. I understand why people love this album, a lot more than I understand why they love Revolver. “In My Life” is one of their greatest songs, and yes, the “maturation” is important.

Here are some of my favorite Beatle songs from the above albums. It’s hard to get the original Beatles recordings on YouTube, so this is a bit sparse.

There’s a Place

Can’t Buy Me Love” (the stereo remaster ... I prefer the mono, but you take what YouTube gives you)

In My Life

And Your Bird Can Sing

And finally this, which features a few songs from A Hard Day’s Night, and closes with the best-ever Beatles on film. As Roger Ebert wrote, “This is one of the most sustained orgasmic sequences in the movies.”