Please Please Me

I can’t say another word about the historical significance of Beatlemania. I don’t want to read any more words about it either. The Beatles have evolved, as historical figures, from a head-scratching phenomenon in their own time, to being subject to hindsight analysis from every conceivable angle, and at this point with absolutely no stone left unrolled, have entered the realm of pure academia, where overly-researched subjects go to die. Which is to say that the entertainment value of ever more arcane reiterations of the same well known story has become very low. But over-familiarity shouldn’t in any way take away from the still-unparalleled fun of The Beatles’ music. It’s all about the music, ya know. And the music doesn’t really need an annotated companion volume. It doesn’t need all that historical context. It doesn’t need analysis. It just exists. Just enjoy it and don’t think so hard.

Penny Lane

Out of all the things to love here – of which there are many – the thing I love most right now is the image The Beatles present of themselves in the video. Although they were, at that point in their career, treated as artistic demigods and were (as they remain) the most seriously respected rock artists in the world, they apparently still wanted to be seen as an adorable band of brothers who exist in a whimsical alternate universe full of mad tea parties. Perhaps that can be pinned on the simple reality that their degree of fame made them isolated even from their rock star peers, let alone civilian life. But it seems that even The Beatles themselves liked the idea that The Beatles were more than four guys tied together by a shared occupation, more even than a family; they were a singular unit of a sort that generally exists only in works of fiction. They were like characters in a children’s story, a set of toys brought to life by the imagination of some cosmic Christopher Robin, or a team of wacky-adventure-having boy detectives. The Beatles managed to mythologize themselves to such a degree, and so swiftly and effectively, that they became, in essence, living cartoons. While at the same time occupying the very highest creative pedestal. It was a stranger-than-fiction effect that even Paul McCartney looks back on in bewilderment.

Paperback Writer

This is the song people point to as the exact moment when The Beatles stopped being a pop group and started being something more. That may be overly simplistic, but it’s definitely a game-changing song. It was the first Beatles single with a harmony too complex to easily play live or mime to on TV. It’s not that it couldn’t be recreated live – Paul McCartney regularly plays it today – but that with the screaming and chaos, it just wasn’t worth it. It was also an adventures new step forward lyrically, McCartney’s response to critics who accused him of only writing about love. McCartney does have an affinity for only writing about love, to this day, but at the time, so did everyone else. The Beatles quickly proved that they could whip up a brilliant pop song about literally any random thing, and other songwriters followed suit, thus making the pop charts one hell of a lot less thematically monotonous.

One After 909

“That was something I wrote when I was about seventeen. I lived at 9 Newcastle Road. I was born on the ninth of October, the ninth month. It’s just a number that follows me around, but, numerologically, apparently I’m a number six or a three or something, but it’s all part of nine.” – John Lennon

That’s about all there is to it. John Lennon just really liked the number 9, even at 17. He apparently found it deeply meaningful that between himself, John Winston Ono Lennon, and his wife Yoko Ono they had nine O’s. I’m sure that there’s some dedicated fans tracking the number 9 numerology running all through Lennon’s life. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the last time he’d reference it.

Oh! Darling

I think this one is interesting because it marks one of the rare instances in which The Beatles turned to the blues for inspiration. They were rather unique, among a sea tide of blues based bands, for not being in the least bit a blues based band. The Beatles were unrepentant pop lovers, who leaned on the rockabilly of Elvis and on the far less cool basis of pre-rock popular music. They didn’t care very much about pretensions of authenticity and somewhat looked down on those of their rivals who had them. I’m sure that element of purity helped them maintain their undeniable toppermost position in the rock pecking order for as long as they were a unit.

Octopus’s Garden

The Beatles really are the gateway drug for children to become rock fans. If this isn’t the stepping stone between nursery rhymes and headbanging, whiskey-swilling, pill-popping, promiscuous depravity, I don’t know what is. I mean, look at me. I used to be an innocent child who loved wholesome things like Alice in Wonderland. Then I started listening to The Beatles. Now I take drugs two or three times a week, and engage in meaningless sexual encounters with men I’m not married to. For all intents and purposes, I’m a fallen woman, and it’s all thanks to these guys and their deceptively simple tunes about octopi. Thanks, Beatles! Without you, I’d be a goddamn normie. I, and millions like me.

Nowhere Man

And here is why the Beatles had to quit playing live. You can see the frustration of trying to play lyrically and melodically complex tunes in the face of incessant screaming. It’s not that they couldn’t recreate the complexity of their new sound live; it’s that nobody in the audience was paying attention. What’s the point of a flawless three part harmony if no one can hear it? Not to mention deep lyrics about alienation and loneliness.  John Lennon in particular was just oozing existential ennui at this point, feeling like a show pony and writing songs about the sheer pointlessness of his life. The charade of being endlessly chipper and adorable was about to end. It’s slightly weird to see them, being already so far ahead of their ‘mania era selves, still stuffed into the matchy-matchy suits and just barely toeing the line.