Who Could Ask for More?: Reclaiming the Beatles Paperback – 1 Nov 2007
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From the Back Cover
...When asked by a journalist whether the group intended writing any anti-war songs, John - without a moment's hesitation - replied tartly that ALL their songs were anti-war songs. These songs articulated both the immense fear that lay just beneath the surface of the supposedly carefree times they were living through and the ecstatic conflagration of sexual hysteria and primal, pagan consciousness that characterised those times; nowhere more so, perhaps, than in the final resonating chord of Sgt. Pepper's A Day In The Life which fuses orgasm, the annihilation of the ego in the LSD experience and the ultimate, unspeakable cataclysm of the Bomb itself in one explosive moment...
Who Could Ask For More? is both an in-depth study of The Beatles' songs and an often oblique commentary on their life and times. Identifying the constant fear of an imminent nuclear holocaust as the spark for the huge social changes of the decade, Chris Gregory seeks to `reclaim' The Beatles from the tendency to position them within a fake `sixties nostalgia' industry. He emphasises that their music represents ...the quintessential expression of the sexual, social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s... and that it constitutes ...a coherent act of resistance against the paranoid, repressed, `uptight' culture they had grown up in...Combining analysis of their words and music with fictionalised sequences depicting key episodes in their career, the book provides a unique insight into an artistic and cultural phenomenon whose effects still resonate strongly many decades after the group broke up. The extraordinary evolution of their art is discussed in relation to the musical context of their day, with particular emphasis on the influence of 50s rock and roll and 60s soul music. The book shows how The Beatles hit upon a world-conquering musical `formula' which offered an ecstatic release for the dormant repressed sexuality of the early 60s, how their encounter with Bob Dylan was the catalyst for their swift metamorphosis from `teen idols' to `countercultural icons' and how they reinvented notions of what rock music could achieve in a series of classic albums from Rubber Soul (1965) to Abbey Road (1969). The significance of their encounters with drugs and religion is considered in detail, as is the way they handled both the media and their own huge, unprecedented level of celebrity. There are discussions of their most complex and brilliant songs such as Yesterday, Nowhere Man, Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Fields Forever, A Day In The Life, I Am The Walrus, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and Hey Jude, demonstrating how they learned to express their newly awakened poetic sensibilties within an astonishingly wide range of musical styles, creating work which expressed with great potency the key social, political and psychological concerns of the day. Even a song as apparently `innocent' as Paul's When I'm Sixty Four is shown to have a subtle subversive meaning in the context of the commentary on the tragic defects of the `straight world' which forms the main theme of the group's masterpiece Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As the author writes, ...The Beatles' best music seduces listeners with its sensual qualities and ravishes them with its potent, inexhaustible energy, while challenging them to see the world with new, unblinkered eyes...
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
For a few short years rock music became a real dynamic force, pushing against the massive weight of cultural, religious, political and militaristic oppression with great strength, originality, diversity and revolutionary fervour.
In the middle of all this turmoil, watching it swirl faster and faster around them from the splendid isolation of their overwhelming and often terrifying fame, sat The Beatles. Psychologically bound together in ways that nobody else could truly begin to comprehend, they rode on a wave of creativity through a decade that witnessed the most profound social and cultural changes of the century. Inspired particularly by American black, gospel-trained soul harmony singers, they discovered a way to release sexual energy (especially female sexual energy) which had been repressed for literally thousands of years and transform it into an `uplifting' expression of pure, uncritical positivity ...Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!... The supercharged fusion of rock'n'roll and soul harmonies that they honed to perfection in their early singles, most irresistible in those moments when Paul and George would step up to the microphone, shake those shaggy locks and emit those ecstatic ...oooohs... was mirrored by the uncontrolled hysteria of their fans. As a result they were raised up onto a pedestal of stardom so exalted that it was as if they actually were, as the `prophet' of the LSD culture Timothy Leary once called them, `young messiahs'. And along the way they were simultaneously exposed to unprecedented adulation, mind-numbing isolation and extreme paranoia.
Despite these intense pressures, The Beatles proved especially adept at handling themselves. Although they had risen to fame as `teen idols' they were determined, from the outset of their career, not to be manipulated into becoming mere harmless `entertainers'. And the unprecedented massiveness of their success allowed them huge creative freedom. They were so popular that nobody could tell them what to do. Rather than caving in to the traditional `easy life' offered by the showbiz machine, they mutated from being performers of formulaic teen-beat songs into creators of popular music of astonishing depth and subtlety. On Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) they fused rock music with classical structures in a completely unprecedented way and produced multilayered musical and lyrical texts which perfectly defined, and subtly commented on, the cataclysmic social and cultural moment they stood in. They subsequently became leading avatars of the `counterculture', even attempting (albeit disastrously) to challenge the citadels of capitalism by setting up their own anarchic record company, Apple. With their post-acid immersion in meditation and Indian spirituality, they also played a crucial role in linking the youth `revolution' in the West with the ancient traditions of the East. At the same time their music, banned as `decadent' in the Soviet bloc, became a source of energy to those who resisted the monolith of totalitarian communism.
Crucially, The Beatles also seemed to sense when their `moment' had passed. With hindsight, arguably their most inspired and perfectly timed act of all was to break up when they did, almost exactly at the end of the sixties, before their luck expired and the magic evaporated. The music of their final two years moved beyond the psychedelic ornamentation and studio trickery of 1966-67 and gravitated towards the more basic forms that had originally inspired them. Their songs now resonated with a kind of world-weariness mixed with the philosophical insight gained during their unique experiential journey. On The `White Album' (1968) they demonstrated to the full their amazing musical virtuosity, switching from rock'n'roll to country to blues to ska to folk to avant-garde and to kitsch with consummate skill and apparently effortless ease. But it was already clear that the individual members of the group were rapidly outgrowing their collective identity. Within a year, as the epochal decade drew to a close, they were already writing their own epitaphs, wearily asking us to Let It Be. Though their recording career lasted barely seven years, such was the intensity of their times that the journey from wide eyed, fired-up youth to philosophical reflection seems very much like that of an entire lifetime. The closing moments of Abbey Road's `Long Medley' ache with knowing wisdom and grace - and a breath-taking maturity for young men not yet out of their twenties ...And in the end... Paul finally sighs, with a mixture of sadness, wistfulness and awe-inspired wonder ...the love you take is equal to the love you make... It is as if the simple message of Love Me Do has been repeated in more complex terms, with what appears to be a lifetime's experience carrying the weight of the words.
The Beatles' best music seduces listeners with its sensual qualities and ravishes them with its potent, inexhaustible energy, while challenging them to see the world with new, unblinkered eyes. Their recorded work epitomises an extraordinary moment in cultural history when the ecstatic celebration of human life itself becomes nothing less than a defiant revolutionary act. When asked by a journalist whether the group intended writing any anti-war songs, John - without a moment's hesitation - replied tartly that all their songs were anti-war songs. These songs articulated both the immense fear that lay just beneath the surface of the supposedly carefree times they were living through and the ecstatic conflagration of sexual hysteria and primal, pagan consciousness that characterised those times; nowhere more so, perhaps, than in the final resonating chord of Sgt. Pepper's A Day In The Life which fuses orgasm, the annihilation of the ego in the LSD experience and the ultimate, unspeakable cataclysm of the Bomb itself in one explosive moment.
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This is an indepth study of the art form of this phenomenal 1960s group from Liverpool.
Chris Gregory, Tekoa WA