Is Beatles VI really my all-time favorite album? Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, oh yes it is. Yeah. More or less. Lemme ‘splain.
My favorite body of work in all of pop music remains the stuff The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966, basically A Hard Day’s Night through Revolver, that monolithic opening chord through the hypnotic fadeout of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I adore the Fabness that preceded this period, and I do love Sgt. Pepper and beyond, too. But The Beatles, ’64 to ’66? There’s just something about that run that knocks me out, without fail, without apology. Of course there’s other great music I want to hear alongside that–I want to hear Pet Sounds, The Ramones, Chuck Berry, Wilson Pickett, The Kinks, P. P. Arnold, The Monkees, Big Star, The Isley Brothers, The Flashcubes, The Sex Pistols, KISS, Bowie, Lulu, Little Richard, Dusty Springfield, Prince, The Bay City Rollers, The Jam, Freddie and the Dreamers, ABBA, The Four Tops, Suzi Quatro, and…and…TURN IT UP!!
Where was I? Oh, right. Pop music. My point is that, for all the terrific, transcendent sounds I wanna hear again and again and again, if some chuckleheaded cosmic edict forced me to to limit myself to an endless loop of just one brief snippet of a rockin’ pop c.v., I would select John, Paul, George, and Ringo, after ’63, before ’67. Final answer.
There are specific points of division among Beatles fans. The White Album, for example. But Sgt. Pepper would seem to be the defining line of demarcation between advocates of exuberant Beatle pop and apostles of mature Beatle Rock (mit einem capital R). Abbey Road is in the latter group, Rubber Soul in the former, that album’s relative maturity notwithstanding. I love the latter group; I worship the former.
There are still lines within lines. Among those who may favor The Beatles’ work before Sgt. Pepper, the emphasis is often on 1966. And man, it’s difficult to argue with that. Rubber Soul was released at the very end of 1965, so it’s really a 1966 album by most consideration. Beatles ’66 includes both Rubber Soul and Revolver, two perennial candidates for Best Album Ever. 1966 is the natural habitat of “Nowhere Man” and the non-LP “Paperback Writer,” irresistible singles that further the argument on behalf of ’66; a 45 B-side, “Rain,” is The Greatest Record Ever Made. With Rubber Soul, Revolver, “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Rain,” it is perhaps understandable that 1966 dominates the discussion of The Beatles before Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.
Few will speak as fervently on behalf of the group’s output prior to Rubber Soul. The work isn’t dismissed outright–that would be dumb–but it’s not held in as high regard as the perceived masterpieces of 1966, or ’67, et cetera. But me? Although I adamantly include 1966 within my toppermost/poppermost, I insist that the wonder of ’64 and ’65 belongs right up there with it.
I confess that I’m tempted to go back even further, to include the 1963 releases. I’m happy to exclude the 1962 debut single, “Love Me Do,” which is fine but nothing really special. “Please Please Me” invents power pop in ’63, and the immediate, incandescent rush of Beatlemania–“I Saw Her Standing There,” “Twist And Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving”–is a palpable thrill from that second forward. There are days when I believe “Please Please Me” or “Thank You, Girl” (in its 1964 U.S. Capitol mix) must be The Greatest Record Ever Made, a title which an infinite number of the very finest records can claim, as long as they take turns.
But no: 1964. A Hard Day’s Night. The music The Beatles crafted for their feature film debut is a quantum leap beyond, embracing the moptopped frenzy of utter global domination and running into an open field with a triumphant exclamation. We’re out! Top of the world, lads. A few of the songs on the soundtrack–“A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell,” “And I Love Her”–already exude an unexpected maturity within a pure pop framework, and the same could be said of “You Can’t Do That” and “I’ll Cry Instead,” written and recorded contemporary to the movie, but not used therein. This is not to slight the other soundtrack tunes; ain’t nothing wrong with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the Dave Clark Five pastiche “Tell Me Why,” or the infectious “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” which are (at worst) part and parcel of the transition from Great to GREAT, and even that sells ’em short. Your drive-my-car mileage may vary. As 1964 careens into ’65, our Fab Four work with producer George Martin to become something…other. Something greater. To me, this is the very essence of the best of The Beatles. The tracks on the Help! soundtrack in 1965 are just incredible, as is the “We Can Work It Out”/”Day Tripper” 45. Moving to ’66 again, the American hodgepodge LP Yesterday And Today (released between Rubber Soul and Revolver) is mostly scrumptious leftovers from ’65 and ’66 (including “Day Tripper,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “Nowhere Man,” George’s Byrds-like “If I Needed Someone,” and Paul’s obscure ditty “Yesterday”). Honestly, I can’t imagine a more riveting collection of pop music than what The Beatles did in this magic span of ’64 to ’66.
And we’ve deliberately skipped past a couple of albums that are at the heart of it all for me, two crass commercial repackages slapped together by Capitol Records in ’64 and ’65, a pair of nearly-sequential releases (separated by The Early Beatles, itself a repackage of ’62-’63 Beatles tracks Capitol had once rejected) that are my All-Time Top Two: Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI.
If I’d been born in the U.K. rather than the U.S.A., it’s likely my view on specific Fave Rave Beatles albums would be at least slightly different. I was raised on the American LPs, which are not the same as even their nearest British equivalents. My pal Rich Firestone has asked me if I could consider the British Beatles For Sale album my favorite, since it contains almost all of the best material from both Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI. He’s right, of course–Rich is right a lot of the time–and objectively Beatles For Sale ought to be my favorite Beatles album. But I can’t quite relinquish the history and emotional attachment I have to those two American hatchet-jobs. I love ’em. I love ’em in all their mutant, misbegotten, glorious splendor. And Beatles For Sale doesn’t have the Larry Williams covers, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Bad Boy.”
British pop LPs at the time offered a more generous number of tracks per album than a stingy American record company would care to match. The Beatles native label Parlophone was no exception, and Capitol was likewise as stingy as any other Yank label. U.K. albums with fourteen tracks routinely became American albums with eleven tracks. Combining this creative shuffling with various single sides that were non-LP in England allowed Capitol to streeeeeeetch its Beatles supply into more product. Beatles For Sale was The Beatles’ fourth album; its U.S. counterpart Beatles ’65 was Capitol’s fifth Beatles album (counting the documentary cash-in The Beatles’ Story), and Capitol by that point hadn’t yet released any version of the group’s debut LP Please Please Me. By the time Help! was released in England as The Beatles’ fifth album, the American version (which was half Beatles, half Ken Thorne soundtrack music) was Capitol’s eighth Beatles album. Take that, Colonials!
Although I give the edge to Beatles VI in my fave album coronation, I do regard Beatles ’65 as part of that album’s story and glory. Side One of Beatles ’65 duplicates the sequence of the first six songs on Beatles For Sale: the incredible “No Reply,” followed by “I’m A Loser,” “Baby’s In Black,” Chuck Berry’s “Rock And Roll Music” (the first Chuck Berry song I ever heard), “I’ll Follow The Sun,” and the much-maligned Dr. Feelgood cover “Mr. Moonlight.” That is one hell of a great rock ‘n’ roll album side, even if Capitol did cut and save the final song on Beatles For Sale‘s first side (The Beatles’ take on “Kansas City”) for Beatles VI. And even if so many people seem to think “Mr. Moonlight” was the worst track The Beatles ever released; I like it! Side Two of Beatles ’65 grabs two Carl Perkins covers from Beatles For Sale (“Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”) with both sides of the “I Feel Fine”/”She’s A Woman” single and “I’ll Be Back” from the British version of A Hard Day’s Night.
Beatles ’65 is great. Beatles VI is greater. This album is just flawless, from its performances to the compelling rockin’ pop ambiance of its sequencing. The album opens with “Kansas City” (later re-titled “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” to reflect that it’s a cover of Little Richard’s medley of the two songs); it closes with the majestic “Every Little Thing,” as pure and uplifting a pop track as The Beatles ever did. It takes all of the remaining six tracks from Beatles For Sale–“Kansas City,” “Eight Days A Week,” a sublime reading of Buddy Holly‘s “Words Of Love” (first Buddy Holly song I ever heard), “Every Little Thing,” “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” and “What You’re Doing”–adds a couple of songs from the British version of Help! (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Tell Me What You See”), the first appearance anywhere of The Beatles’ romp through “Bad Boy,” and the “Ticket To Ride” B-side “Yes It Is.”
While this could all be a Philistine’s recipe for artless background music, it is somehow perfect anyway. Each track is precisely where it should be. “Kansas City” bops with sure foot and steady gaze into the breezy AM sound of “Eight Days A Week,” the casual confidence of “You Like Me Too Much,” the raucous rave of “Bad Boy,” the unforgettable assimilation of everything The Everly Brothers knew remade by Lennon and McCartney as “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” and the sheer magic of “Words Of Love,” one of the two finest Holly covers ever done. (Before you ask: The Rolling Stones‘ “Not Fade Away.”) Side Two continues the victory lap, with the snappin’ “What You’re Doing,” the nearly crooning “Yes It Is,” the incandescent “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” and finally the pristine eins-zwei pop sweetness of “Tell Me What You See” and “Every Little Thing.”
Goosebumps. Even more than five decades later, now and forevermore: goosebumps.
I know that this period of The Beatles’ recorded legacy is not in the highest favor. Beatles For Sale is considered a lesser effort, an exercise in exhaustion manufactured on corporate demand as The Beatles did everything they could to avoid crumpling under the pressure of the mania they’d generated. The two American LPs it spawned are held in even greater disregard. I still insist they deserve better recognition.
Is Beatles VI really my all-time favorite album? Essentially, it is. I fudge the answer a bit by also talking about Beatles ’65, and my ultimate imaginary 2-LP Beatles album would likely be a combination of the two that also includes the Beatle tracks from the U.S. version of Help!–I needs me some “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “The Night Before,” too. If Beatles VI were a 14-track British single LP, I’d shoehorn in ’65 For Sale‘s “No Reply,” “I’ll Follow The Sun,” and “Rock And Roll Music” to make a perfect album perfecter. In reality, I’ll just keep on listening to everything The Beatles did from 1964 through 1966. But if I gotta pick one real-world LP, then Beatles VI it is. Honestly, there just isn’t any album I love more than that one.
One Two I Love You
There’s nothing better in music than a song that lifts the spirits, and, boy, does this song do that. Written by head harmonica man Keeth Apgar and his son, it’s the musical equivalent of a big red balloon, or a sunny afternoon. Now that it’s carpool season again, we’re betting that this one will definitely start your family’s day off on a positive note.
The Well Wishers
Not only is this buoyant slab of power pop a real go-getter, it’s a charity single benefitting the California Community Foundation’s Wildlife Relief Fund. Considering the horrendous wildfires that have been consuming the western United States the past few years, it certainly is a worthwhile cause. Two tracks for $1.
Until we get around to doing a full-length review of Ken Sharp’s latest Lp, Miniatures, we highly recommend that you give this cool track a spin. Sharp strikes us as being from the Brill Building school of songwriting. In fact, you can almost hear this tune being sung by Davy Jones or The Ronettes. Top-notch stuff.
Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.
I wish I could remember where or how I first heard of Doc Savage. In the early ’70s, even before reading about The Man of Bronze in Steranko‘s History Of The Comics, I somehow already knew Doc was a precursor to Superman. But I hadn’t had any exposure to the character, and I knew nothing at all about him.
When I was 11 or 12, maybe as old as 13 or thereabouts, I would occasionally help my Dad when he worked in the visitors’ clubhouse at MacArthur Stadium. MacArthur was the home of our AAA baseball team the Syracuse Chiefs, and Dad ran the clubhouse for the visiting team’s players. Dad was responsible for keeping the place clean and stocked, unpacking the players’ uniforms and arranging their individual lockers, and making sure there was an ample supply of food and beverage. Dad did this for years and years, and it was something he loved doing. This connection also gave me an opportunity to meet Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Whitey Ford, among others. My older brothers had helped Dad at the clubhouse in previous years, so I also gave it a shot when I grew old enough to try.
God. I was inept.
My recollection is that Dad was pretty patient with my woeful efforts to do the damned job. I tried, but I was just too slow. Still, I spent a lot of time at the ballpark, and I unearthed a few treasures in my spare moments. I found an old Detroit Tigers uniform, which I combined with a skull mask one year to create a Halloween costume as The Ghost Of Ty Cobb. And one day, I found a paperback novel: specifically, a Doc Savage novel, The Land Of Terror by Kenneth Robeson.
I had never read a pulp novel before. My heroes were the heroes of comic books, with strict codes against killing. So I was surprised to read this early Doc Savage adventure, and to see our hero Doc dispense with a bad guy. Permanently. Clearly, this was not how The Justice League of America would handle things!
Subsequently, I learned that the character of Doc Savage would himself regret this early use of fatal force, and would later eschew killing entirely. This copy of The Land Of Terror was missing a page, but it served as my initiation into a whole new world of heroic fiction, a world in which I would immerse myself through much of the ’70s.
Doc Savage had flourished originally in the 1930s and ’40s, the star of his own pulp magazine. Each issue of Doc Savage featured a complete purple-prose pulp adventure novel, credited to the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym, and usually written by main Doc Savage scribe Lester Dent. In the ’60s, Bantam Books began a very successful line of Doc Savage paperback novels, each book reprinting one of Doc’s old pulp adventures, generally wrapped in a stunning new cover painted by James Bama. Bama’s chiseled, gritty rendition of Doc looked nothing like Doc’s original likeness in the pulps, but it was irresistible, and it sold a lot of paperbacks.
I couldn’t tell you the name of my second Doc Savage novel, but I sure read a bunch of ’em. My parents even got me a box of them as my Christmas gift one year, and that was really cool. As noted above, I read more about the history of pulp magazines in Steranko’s History Of The Comics, and learned about just how much Doc Savage influenced the creation of Superman, right down to both characters having the same first name (“Clark Savage, Jr., meet Clark Kent. Kent, Savage. Savage, Kent.”). The Man of Bronze and the Man of Steel even shared a fondness for Arctic retreats, which they both referred to as a Fortress of Solitude. Doc’s fightin’ entourage, which Bantam hype referred to as “The Fabulous Five,” was also a big influence on both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, especially on their earliest work with The Fantastic Four.
Doc Savage’s paperback success was sufficient to prompt Marvel Comics to license the character for his own comic book series in 1972, and a feature film, Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, was released in 1975. I liked the comic books, and really wanted to see the movie (starring Ron Ely, who had been TV’s Tarzan in the ’60s), but I don’t know if it even played in Syracuse. My cousins in Florida saw it and loved it, but reports that it was a campy take on the character dimmed my enthusiasm. I have yet to be able to sit through the film in its entirety.
I never exactly lost interest in Doc Savage, but I did kind of move on. The Shadow became my favorite pulp character, manifested in a terrific DC Comics series and some paperback pulp reprints courtesy of Pyramid Books. Bantam’s Doc Savage books had those gorgeous James Bama covers, but Pyramid’s Shadow books offered equally eye-popping cover paintings by Steranko. The ’70s were a golden age of vintage paperback pulp, with Doc and The Shadow joined on drugstore spinner racks by the likes of The Avenger, Tarzan(with cover art by my then-favorite comics artist, Neal Adams), The Phantom, Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Operator 5, and G-8 And His Battle Aces. I can’t tell you how much I loved this stuff at the age of 15. I wanted there to be new Batman pulp novels, and I wanted to write pulp novels. In high school, I wrote two short stories starring The Shadow for publication in The NorthCaster, and I even started writing a pulp novel called The Snowman. (The only decent, original pulp work I ever finished writing remains The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, which was completed for this blog.)
But it all started with a Doc Savage paperback, a battered little book I discovered when I probably should have been cleaning or sweeping or unpacking a visiting player’s bag. That was my Fortress of Solitude.
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Having garnered golden reviews from his first album – “Straighten Up” – Johnathan Pushkar returns to center stage with the equally exceptional “Compositions.” Planted in familiar and fertile soil that nurtured his debut effort, the Nashville, Tennessee based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist once again back pedals to the pre-psychedelic age of rock and roll for inspiration. Johnathan’s bright and boyish vocals – which parrot a cross between Buddy Holly and Gary Lewis – united with his deft tunecraft abilities, portrays the mood of the era he mines with remarkable precision.
Peddling giddy anticipation, “Any Second Now” recalls a long lost British Invasion nugget. From the radiant guitars to the zesty rhythms to the airy chorus, the infectious song opens “Compositions” with a sugar-fueled jolt. Pronounced by ringing hooks and a tasty break, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is the kind of chipper cut the Knickerbockers were known for laying down.
Performed at a lower volume and softer pitch, “Making Plans” is a mid-paced ballad soaking in the sorrow of being separated from a sweetheart for the summer, while the foot-wiggling “Just Friends” owes a nod to the country flavored musings of the Beau Brummels. Then there’s “Does What She Does,” which spills forth with twinkling melodies and jovial harmonies in the recognizable style of the Beach Boys. Charted of string arrangements and a somber feel, the delicate “No One Ever Said You Had To Stay” dispatches the story of a homecoming queen whose life after high school was met with disappointment, where the brooding blush of “Alexandra” shoots arrows at a possessive girlfriend and is peppered with some cool Zombiesque keyboard fills.
Due to its quaint lyrics and tight and riffy pop songs, “Compositions” tends to be frozen in time circa 1965, which is sincerely meant as a compliment. The sole track defying tradition is a reprise of “Juniior’s Farm” that was recorded by Paul McCartney and Wings in 1974. Not only does Johnathan’s take of the song remain true to the initial rocking production, but drummer Geoff Britton – who played on the original version – lends his tub thumping skills to the session.
As attested by the fine offerings on “Compositions,” Johnathan certainly has his bowl-headed and Beatle-booted affairs in order. Everybody appreciates a catchy little ditty, and this album is stuffed with such pleasures.
We’ve always thought that actor Michael B. Jordan, whose film credits include Red Tails, The Fantastic Four and Black Panther, looks more than a bit like professional host, Nick Cannon.