"If the beat gets to the audience, and the message touches them, you've got a hit." Casey Kasem

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tomorrow Never Knows

If the Beatles are the most important act in musical history, and one could argue that Bob Dylan has equal importance for offending the sense of the Puritanical folkies by "plugging in" and for "turning the Beatles on" to all things recreational and many things literary / music, then what better place to begin than with them?
For it was that in 1996, I heard the song "Tomorrow Never Knows" for the first time. I was turned on to the CD Revolver by Andrew, a British guy that I was friends with when I was stationed in the United Kingdom during the Air Force and for the time that I had lived in the country after I got out of the military. In a sense, it feels like a million years ago, but in fact, it was only 15 calendar cycles ago. Prior to Andrew, I had never read Catch 22 (he bought me a copy), Slaughterhouse 5, and The Plague (he had me borrow copies of both of them, but I never read them until I returned to America). All 3 of those literary choices were dynamite in my life when I opened them and absorbed them, and they surely did much to make me want to become an English teacher (in the same way that the poetry of e.e. cummings, an experience introduced to me by a gal from my past, did). But alas... that's another entry.
Andrew and I would go back and forth on a lot of different musical choices, both of us being students of Melody Maker and the NME, and we would (and we still do) send each other music to listen to. Other than his interest in Blur's "This is a Low," I don't know if I can say that I still have a lasting appreciation for anything he introduced me to other than the Beatles' Revolver. My interest in music was so intense that I had heard of most of what he did, or we listened to all new forms of it at the same places - either an upstairs attic room at a Bury St. Edmunds pub called the Grapes with a DJ and the same 10-15 people every week or Viennas, the original club that the DJ at the Grapes started out at before he lacked "fan support." At the time, Andrew listened to the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mudhoney, as well as much of the Britpop and Sub Pop stuff that was popular at the time. We all did. That was 1994-1996. It was a great time to be alive and into music - even if much of what was popular was the derivatives of the Grunge scene of 1992 (Oh, how great it was to know that I saw Nirvana before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a single). Now, he listens to early 1970s stuff like the Stooges or more modern stuff like The White Stripes mixed with Brit Pop that I'm too far away from geographically in much the same way he is lifetimes away from the Grateful Dead, who I tried to introduce him to in 1996 (I can still remember him asking me if my parents listened to the music; thus, I would have a disclaimer for listening to such mellow "crap").
But when I think of the Beatles, and I listen to that disc (Revolver), I think of where it is in the Beatles canon. There is Rubber Soul, and there are some great things on that disc. "Taxman," the ultimate guide to libertarian politics delivered via musical beat kicks off the show, and then we go straight into "Eleanor Rigby," which is one of the monumental moments in pop music. The introspective darkness that mixes with pop music in such a way (later echoed in "She Said, She Said") shows what the Beatles could do and would do as an extension of where they had already been ("Nowhere Man").
And Rubber Soul had some really great and lasting moments ("In My Life" being the soundtrack to every memory show before Green Day released "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." "If I Needed Someone" + "Drive My Car" were the other standouts - at least for me). But Revolver was moving miles away from where they had been. There was no longer an option to play some of the music live because their sound was more advanced than the live technology. The lovable Muppets that had released "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" were long since gone. Of course, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was still on the other side of the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," and the psychedelic 1960s were ready just about ready to kick in in full swing with Pet Sounds leading the charge.
To think that this was long before the effects of the Beatles' greatness were considered to be so everyday with how modern bands plagiarize them left and right, though it still sounds awesome in bands like Oasis.
To think as well that everyone had a Beatle that expressed them (mine was George) except for the Elvis people (I never really got him though I could appreciate some of his songs).
There was the feud with the Rolling Stones fans, but really, the Stones were great in their own right... though not as great as the Beatles. They were a skilled cover band that found originality in heroin at just the right time (not that I'm encouraging drug use because I'm not, but it sure seems to do wonders for artistic ability), and then, they knocked out some really awesome songs like "Dead Flowers," "Sway," "Gimme Shelter," "Monkey Man," "Sympathy for the Devil," and pretty much every single Martin Scorcese soundtrack that has been made since then.
And it's not that Revolver is perfect or better than every other disc ever. It's not. It's not even the Beatles best disc (but I couldn't tell you what is since they're all so unique and I don't want to say the best is a greatest hits album, but the Blue CD is the one I would choose over all others - either that, or an 80 minute burned CD). Then again, Let It Bleed isn't the best album ever - though it's my favorite Rolling Stones disc. Both of them suffered from that song that is played so damn much that it's not worth listening to more than once a year or so (if at all). The Beatles had "Yellow Submarine." The Stones had "You Can't Always Get What You Want." For the Stones, this isn't the fault of their creativity since the aforementioned tune was great until it was overplayed, and for the Beatles, the drugs just took over and got too out there for its own good in some stupid kid's song for adults kind of way.Well, that and how stupid writing a song about drugs to make adults seem like idiot kids (when they wink knowingly at the references that the "squares don't catch") can be.
But in the end, most of what the Beatles did is far better than what anyone else does. However, for the fact that only one of their songs is on the top 100 of all time, it's more about the ground rules that I have set up than the quality of the music. For this, it becomes important to note
1. A band can only have one contribution.
2. A singer can perform with multiple bands or solo and with a band.
3. A song must be from a time before this calendar year to make sure that it has a lasting effect on music as a whole.
4. A song can be from any genre or gender. In fact, the Top 100 is pretty diverse to all forms of music except jazz, opera, and classical. Oh, there are no prison work songs either.
5. This list is alphabetized - it was hard enough to get it down to 100 without putting them in order.
6. Songs that take on a meaning from my life are placed in The Soundtrack to My Life section. If I can't divide the song being in my wedding from rocking out to it on the CD player... it's not in the top 100. 
7. Other great songs by the same artist will be placed in the other great songs section. That is an ongoing project (as is the Soundtrack of My Life).
8. I have tried to include original versions of all songs on the list. You can listen to 99 of the songs on the chart at You Tube and 1 at Last FM. I should probably find a way to get the last 1 in musical form, but alas.
For The Beatles, the choice for the top 100 was "Dead Prudence." Is this because it was better than "Hey Bulldog" or "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "All You Need Is Love?" Probably not. In all honesty, it's more because the "Abbey Road Medley" (Because to Her Majesty) is actually 10 snippets long - even if it plays as a song, and if you asked me honestly, that's my favorite Beatles contribution of all time (unfortunately, it was the last contribution they made to music except as solo performers).
So why begin with "Tomorrow Never Knows" instead of "Dead Prudence?"
Something about the precipice that I sit on as my life changes and moves into new places. For that, I'll sweat out a new post every few days for the faithful. It won't be every day like my baseball blog, but it will be, and it will be a good time all of the time.
I hope you enjoy it. I've been meaning to start this for a while, so here it is a homage to my 4 favorite music books - Nick Hornby's Songbook and High Fidelity and Chuck Klosterman's Fargo Rock City and Killing Yourself to Live.
Like "Bon Scott singing: Let there be rock."

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