6/01/2010

On Pitchfork and The Beatles

We're not gonna front: over the years we’ve had a like/hate relationship with the often holier-than-thou online music monolith that is Pitchfork. Beloved by hipsters and those who worship at the altar of empty calorie cool, it's seemingly arbitrary critical designations can be, at times, excruciatingly annoying for those who scoff at certain revered, but ultimately, fleeting objects of devotion. (And if you read this blog with any regularity, you know exactly what artists we are referring to.) But, we must begrudgingly admit, when P-fork get it right it can be a breathtaking read.

As the calendar turned to June 1st, the anniversary of what many consider the greatest album in the annals of popular music and of the 20th century as well, came to mind. And while we're not one of the fervent torchbearers for the continued deification of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [Parlophone-1967], it would be ludicrous to not acknowledge, as the guys on Pitchfork did in their 2009 appraisal of The Beatles' remastered catalogue, that its influence is “so pervasive and so instructional regarding the way music is crafted and sold to the public that [the album format] is still the predominant means of organizing, distributing, and promoting new music four decades later, well after the decline of physical media.”

Um, yeah.

But their analysis of Abbey Road [Apple-1969] is where they truly nail it. We’ve read up plenty on our favorite album of all-time and have enjoyed quite a few moments of insight and pleasure among the numerous essays describing and deconstructing an album beloved and known to millions, but one, due to its chronological appearance, to be pregnant with significance, unwanted or not. And P-fork does not disappoint.

The music is tempered with uncertainly and longing, suggestive of adventure, reflecting a sort of vague wisdom; it's wistful, earnest music that also feels deep, even though it really isn't. But above all it just feels happy and joyous, an explosion of warm feeling rendered in sound...It was an ideal curtain call from a band that just a few years earlier had been a bunch of punk kids from a nowheresville called Liverpool with more confidence than skill. This is how you finish a career.”

Whenever the topic of The Beatles comes up in conversation—particularly in the wee hours after plenty of “spirits” have been consumed—we can be counted on to bring up one of the most fascinating aspects, in our humble opinion, of the band’s career.

After they stopped touring in August of 1966, they initiated a 3-year span (from 1967 until they went their separate ways in 1970) in which they recorded the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour [Parlophone-1967], The Beatles (aka The White Album) [Apple-1968], Abbey Road, and the posthumously released Let it Be [Apple-1970]. And we're not even taking into account random singles or Yellow Submarine [Apple-1969].

Three years?! Modern acts take that amount of time in between albums and no one bats an eye. Sure, The Beatles were holed up in the studio and not dealing with the rigors and time consuming nature of being on the road during this time, but how many acts can stay home for three years and come up with several album's worth of some of the most groundbreaking popular music of any era? It is in this realization where we and P-fork converge and tip our proverbial cap.

The Beatles' run in the 1960s is good fodder for thought experiments. For example, Abbey Road came out in late September 1969. Though Let It Be was then still unreleased, the Beatles wouldn't record another album together. But they were still young men: George was 26 years old, Paul was 27, John was 28, and Ringo was 29. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, had come out almost exactly six and a half years earlier. So if Abbey Road had been released today [Sept. 2009], Please Please Me would date to March 2003. So think about that for a sec: Twelve studio albums and a couple of dozen singles, with a sound that went from earnest interpreters of Everly Brothers and Motown hits to mind-bending sonic explorers and with so many detours along the way—all of it happened in that brief stretch of time. That's a weight to carry.”

Amen.

2 comments:

Mighty High said...

But Pitchfork is how I find out about the AMAAAAZIIING new She & Him tape. Don't be hatin'!

Arturo said...

Amen, indeed!! and this is coming from somebody who is very (to be diplomatic) ambivalent about The Beatles. Going to play Let it be...naked for the kids in the car...
Thanks!!