Monday, March 13, 2006

Meet The Beatles, II

I see that the Terry Teachout's Beatles article I linked to earlier also landed a showcase at Arts & Letters Daily. It's nothing any Fabs fan hasn't read before, but it is gratifying to see the lads fame enduring so (and fun to see Teachout trying his hand at playing rock critic.) So this is as good an excuse as any to post some more scattered Beatles thoughts.

A favorite Beatles song? Faintly sacreligious to even think along those lines. Yet I'd have to say, at the moment, it's George Harrison's "It's All Too Much". IMO it's one of his most overlooked songs. It's probably his only entry into the mid-Sixties guitar hero sweepstakes, with its screechingly reverbed intro. It's the fieriest, most joyous thing I've ever heard from him. He may have made a fool of himself with the Maharishi, but whatever "enlightenment" he achieved led him to believe that LSD wouldn't help him get there. The song is acid city, sure, but it also points to a spiritual awareness that would not long be fulfilled by getting high.

Incidentally, I've never been much of a fan of Harrison, beyond his work in the mid-period Beatles. The occasional gem aside, I just didn't enjoy his mewling vocals and underachieving guitar work. But "It's All Too Much" is a tornado of psychedelia with balls. It is just a wild, rapturously joyous symphony for organ, trumpets, and whammy bar. Play it really loud sometime. And the lyrics made a fine epitaph for him, too:

Floating down the stream of time
From life to life with me
Makes no difference where you are
Or where you'd like to be.

The Beatles resemble Michael Jordan in this respect: Not only are they famous, but they are so famous that even their fame is famous. And this was widely remarked upon, during their career and after. British poet Philip Larkin said in the early 80s:

When you get to the top, there is nowhere to go but down, but the Beatles could not get down. There they remain, unreachable, frozen, fabulous.

Instrumental firepower became all-important with the advent of Cream. The Beatles' achievement was not virtuosity, but songwriting. This is why, even though someone like Steve Winwood had more instrumental talent than all four Beatles put together, The Beatles were nevertheless a much better band than Traffic.

That's my opinion; I welcome yours...

First Things is "not Beatley enough", in Eric Clapton's phrase, but this article is worth a look.


  1. Fine evocation of a Harrison masterpiece. I salute you! (Though I had zero fun with the Teachout article, as you know.)

    My favorite Beatles tracks have remained almost unchanged for 40 years: "Strawberry Fields Forever" b/w "Penny Lane." Greil Marcus nailed it in *Stranded* (essential reading) when he described that single this way: "In which a curse is placed on childhood, lifted on the flipside. The first concept 45?"

  2. Great blog. I found this blog while perusing the venerable atl.general on the Usenet. Being a Beatles fan off and on since 1980, right before Lennon's death, I actually prefer Harrison's solo work overall to the other 3. "It's All Too Much" is great as well as "Strawberry Fields Forever." I recently sought out all the different outtakes, backtracks and sketched versions of Strawberry Fields Forever by the b0otleggers. Harrison's vocals are weak, granted, but his material is generally quite solid.


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