Monday, April 18, 2005

The Day The Music Died: Did The Beatles ruin Rock and Roll?

They took music to places it had never gone before. But it has long been contended by some that in doing so, The Fab Four changed Rock music into something it was never meant to be.

In the late 1960s, The Beatles driving obsession was to come up with a concept record that would rival Beach Boy Brian Wilson's masterpiece album, "Pet Sounds". John Lennon and company desperately wanted to trump what many considered to be the best rock album ever.

Fueled by this desire, "herbal jazz cigarettes" and whatever other mind altering substances they may have been experimenting with at the time, The four lads took to the studio in 1967. Their recent retirement from live performing meant they could devote all their free time to recording. With legendary producer George Martin at the helm, The lads finally emerged from the studio with the ambitious, divinely inspired, "Seargent Pepper" album.

There were sounds on this record that had never been attempted before and probably cannot be duplicated. A cornucopia of diverse instruments, overdubs, backwards loops, reverb, various filters and treatments, something that sounds like a Star Wars "Wookie" and even alarm clocks and roosters. Of course, the core of the album was the amazing songs written by the team of Lennon and Mc Cartney. Old hats at this songwriting business by now, both were at their creative peaks.

The finale of this opus was "A Day In The Life". This song's ending crescendo features a full orchestra hurtling wildly out of control, ending in a single massive E major piano chord being held for a full 42 seconds. In an era when most pop songs clocked in at 3 minutes or less, The Beatles had the audio-dacity to use much of this precious time for one single note. Of course, the album quickly rose to #1. A sonic marvel when it was first released, Sgt. Pepper is still revered as the standard by which other rock records are measured.

But was this truly "Rock" music? The point has been made that if one cannot reproduce these songs live on stage and without aid of studio trickery, it's really just audio masturbation. The Beatles had increasingly introduced so many diverse elements into their music, it had evolved far beyond the blues driven, rebellious, primordial stomp of predecessors Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

While The Beatles inspired many of the greats who followed, they also made it possible for studio overproduced schmaltz to gain a foothold in Rock. This criticism was not lost on The Fab Four who, in their subsequent albums, strived for a more organic, rootsy sound. The White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be seemingly deconstructed the complicated sound they had achieved with Sgt. Pepper. Let It Be culminated in their final, live, rooftop performance in 1969.

Arguments over Sgt. Pepper will rage on but The Beatles' other grand accomplishments stand on their own. Perhaps most important among them was their unmatched ability to write catchy, simple yet profound, universally relatable lyrics. And knowing when to quit, leaving their legacy untarnished.

Keep it simple. Do your best. Get out before you burn out.

Here the Boys from Liverpool remain undisputed champions.

-DJ Craig

No comments:

Post a Comment