I thought I’d start talking about my favorite bands or musicians here, since music’s played a huge role in my writing. And I might as well go with the first band that really sucked up all my attention. That would be The Beatles. My parents probably wished I’d have gone with Elvis or some country singer, but no, it was the boys from Liverpool who awakened my music consciousness.
Surprisingly, I was not into them when John Lennon was murdered in 1980. I don’t think I really cared much about music at that point. I’d had flirtations with it and was even a member of the KISS Army in the fifth grade. But I was in a lull when Lennon died, and didn’t immediately leave it. I only remember being shocked by the killing.
It was a year later when The Beatles released Reel Music that they grabbed my attention. From there, I started playing old records by my aunts, a couple of whom were huge Beatle fans. I set about discovering everything I could about them.
So what was it about The Beatles? And why not the Rolling Stones? I once called the Stones the Band of the Rock Era for their longevity. Really, the eighties were their only bad decade, though the albums following Steel Wheels I found wanting. That said, the Stones are, indeed, essential to all things rock, but the Stones would never have been anything more than a blues rock curiosity had it not been for The Beatles. The Beatles redefined rock. The Stones gave it its mojo.
I like their early stuff well enough. They took what already existed in rock and roll and refined it a bit. Much of their early work sounds like The Eisley Brothers (hence their cover of “Twist and Shout”) and the Everly Brothers. Yet it was different. And then came Rubber Soul. That music was a decade ahead of its time, and I remember being surprised to learn “Got to Get You Into My Life” was actually a Beatles tune when I was a kid. “Did they get back together?” I asked when my mother told me. I later learned that, about that time, John and Paul very nearly showed up at 30 Rock when Lorne Michaels made his gag $3000 offer to get the band to reunite on Saturday Night Live. Can you imagine how that would have gone over?
From Rubber Soul, they went to Revolver, which bent the rules even more. George Harrison’s writing started making the grade, and Indian music started creeping into their sound. And then there’s Sgt. Pepper. There had been a little friendly competition between Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. When the Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, McCartney said he needed to step things up a bit. So they did Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band, foreshadowing the classic Pink Floyd motif by about seven years. Songs melding into each other, shifting styles on a dime, and that bizarre – even for today – cacophony at the end of “A Day in the Life.” It sounds really poppy today, but listen to the Stones (who clearly wanted to do something similar at that point) or The Yardbirds last album before morphing into Led Zeppelin. Sgt. Peppers was light years ahead, and it paved the way for a lot of other British (and quite a few American) acts to raise their game.
But Sgt. Peppers was the appetizer. The White Album was the main course, and it is the quintessential Beatles album. In fact, it’s the first one I ever owned. But they would save what I consider to be their best for last. Everything The Beatles did between 1962 and 1969 can be summed up in Abbey Road. It’s the best of their albums, their one of the road (though Let It Be would be released after Abbey Road despite the latter being finished first), and produced by George Martin. They knew the ride was over, and they wanted to go out on a high note.
I have a soft spot for Abbey Road. Li’l Sis gave me a copy while she was in college, and it really stuck with me. Plus, one of my earliest memories is of riding around in Dad’s old 65 Falcon hearing “Something” on WKYC when Abbey Road was still new.
Beatles vs. Stones? Well, I pick The Beatles for quitting on a high note and blazing the trail, but it’s a bullshit argument. The Beatles are a headphone band. The Stones are the ones you see live or play loud on your car stereo or when you want to get freaky with your girl. It’s like comparing Ram trucks to a Camaro. Apples and oranges.