Listened to: CD
The wikipedia article can sing this album’s praises and historical significances much better than I can, and I don’t feel like regurgitating facts for two pages. So I’ll just speak personally. When I first heard that infamous “1...2...3...4” I though “what did I just get myself in to?” (I was a freshman in high school, what do you want?) But as soon as “Taxman” begins, anyone listening knows how this sounds nothing like anything before or after. This is undoubtedly one of the finest studio achievements of any album, with The Beatles playing with sounds that ushered in a psychedelic era just as much as anything brewed by Owsley Stanley. “Taxman” is George Harrison’s compositional rant against his charges of tax evasion (he’d later us the same technique for “This Song” in his solo career). This brilliant electric rock opener is followed by one of Paul’s finest pieces, “Eleanor Rigby”, which for me is inseparable from the animated sequence from Yellow Submarine.
This song features some of the best harmonies the Beatles ever recorded, the orchestration is beautiful, and the way Paul laments never ceases to pull at every listener’s heart strings. But before you feel too sad, John charges in with his cheery, surreal sounding “I’m Only Sleeping”, where you can just tell he played that soundboard like an instrument, with all those twisted and reversed sounds decorating the instrumentation. “Love You To” is George’s second song on the album (normally he’d only get one or two, but fittingly since this is the most George-sounding album in general, he gets three on this one), and shows the heavy Indian-influence George was going through at the time, using a sitar as the primary instrument. Psychedelic, surreal, and fanciful, “Love You To” models itself not after American rock or British pop, but Eastern music, particularly the music of Ravi Shankar, who taught Harrison sitar. This extremely experimental song is followed up by one of the most traditional songs of the Beatles later career, so obviously, if it’s saccharinely poppy, you know it’s a McCartney special. “Here, There and Everywhere” is SO pop, so simple, so relaxed that I would anticipate somebody as hip and avant-garde as Lennon would despise it. However, Lennon adored it, declaring in in 1980 (in his famous Playboy interview shortly before his death) one of the Beatles best songs.
Of course, there’s pop, then there’s just absurd, childish fun. Cue Ringo Starr with “Yellow Submarine”, a silly little song about…well, a yellow submarine. And yes, yes I did hear Ringo sing this live. I am proud. Come on, it’s catchy and fun. Besides, it’s so absurd it just has to be embraced. Plus, when you’re about to be hit with the head-trip of “She Said, She Said”, just need to kick back in silly simplicity for a moment.
“She Said, She Said” might be my favorite track on the album. To me, the world always seems to bend and whirl when this track comes on, even when I’m not on acid. But really, that to me is why the song is special. It’s about loving a girl, and her love doesn’t get you high, it makes you trip. And that’s what I dig. Everybody wants a girl like heroin, coursing through their veins. I want one like acid, who’ll feed my head. And this track, for me, is all about that, and not some off-handed comment by Peter Fonda (I may be interpreting the song wrong, and if I am, don’t correct me. Allow me one of my favorite songs untainted by truth).
“Good Day Sunshine” is one of the most cheerful songs The Beatles have ever written. It’s pure pop….Yep, Paul did it. The harmonies are rich, the song is bouncy and fun, allowing you to recover from “She Said, She Said”. Plus, after many a listen, you really start to appreciate Ringo’s precision. Just sayin’. “And Your Bird Can Sing” is a return to The Beatles early-rock sound, but enhanced by a studio sound of psychedelia. It’s a highly underrated Beatles track, and when I first heard it, I remember thinking the double-guitar-melody was one of the coolest things ever. And I still do.
“For No One” is surprisingly springy for a song so lyrically bleak, and Paul’s voice lilts and lingers on notes with the gentility of a French Horn (like the one that comes in ever so briefly on this track). This one is another one of my favorites on this album, and one of those Beatles songs that, no matter how stripped down it is, is still brilliant. “Doctor Robert” is one of the best songs about a drug-dealer after “I’m Waiting For The Man”, and is a drug-fueled redo of the early Beatles sound on the verses, but that chorus, the organ-backed Church-choir-esque feel always sends chills down my spine. “I Want To Tell You” is the track everyone always forgets is on this album. It’s George’s last on the record, and his most conventional. It’s catchy, fun, and yet still a little mind-bending with the way Harrison swoops through the nights, seemingly drifting through a million thoughts all pouring from his brain through his lips.
“Got To Get You Into My Life” is a special song, in the sense that it might be the only song by The Beatles where I like a cover version better (Earth, Wind & Fire owned this baby). But this is a great track, a brilliant soul song from four white English guys. Plus, you gotta love the brass section, and the trippy guitar solo. The album closes with the most psychedelic and mind-bending track on the album, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. “trun off your mind, relax, and float down stream” could have been the slogan of the 60’s, and John went wild on this track, filling it with consciousness-expanding sounds that set you on edge in a twistedly beautiful soundscape. I mean, who the hell thinks to record their vocals through an organ amp? A genius, that’s who. And this track, hell this whole album, ought to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that’s what Mr. Lennon, and indeed The Beatles as a whole, were.
This album is a masterpiece from start to finish, and absolutely deserving of the #3 spot on this list. Some of the greatest songs ever written are on this album, and it expands your mind while feeding your soul. No one can argue this isn’t an absolutely flawless album, well, they can, but not well. It’s almost irrefutable that this is one of the great achievements in musical history, and an album that will be remembered for centuries, if we have any hope for the human race. You absolutely must, MUST listen to this album if you haven’t already. Pure genius from start to finish.
Next up, a very different album, about as far from psychedelic as it can get, but from another artist whom I consider a genius, and one who may have defined his generation as these men defined theirs, for better or worse. Next up is #317: The Eminem Show by Eminem.