The other day, as Mark was driving us to work, we were treated to Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on Radio Dos as we were inching our way through the daily Lindora grind. I’ve heard this song at least 100 times (iTunes reports a mere 43, but I’ve reset the counters a couple of times). I was humming along when I thought of something:
I’m listening to The Beatles. Studio-era Beatles.
I started to wonder — which I did aloud, as I often do when commuting with Mark — which of The Beatles’ incarnations were more popular? Depending on whom you ask, Studio-era gets more airplay. But does that make them more interesting?
Allow me to dig a little deeper on this one…
First off, let’s make sure we’re all speaking-dy the same lingua-dy. I refer to basically only two eras of The Beatles: the British Invasion, and Studio. (I’m sure you could break it down further, but we’re only talking a mere decade of existence, so let’s dispense with splitting hairs on this one.) I consider these two very important for one simple reason: the latter is when they got all weird.
For the record, I love Studio Beatles. But not everyone dug the sitar at first.
British Invasion Beatles changed the face of rock music as we know it. The Fab Four stormed the world and captured a lot of attention with with catchy music, a few snappy covers, and some very well-played marketing (the movies ring any bells?) that solidified their popularity.
Studio Beatles (is it just me, or is this starting to sound like “Malibu Barbie”?) took their popularity, and used it to allow them the freedom to do things they couldn’t have done without their existing fame. (Well, that, plus a visit to India and a number of drug-related issues.) They created music that was, by definition, experimental — it hadn’t been done before.
The breakpoint album for all of this is Revolver (1966). Prior to this album are songs such as Help!, Paperback Writer, I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, A Hard Day’s Night, Nowhere Man, and Drive My Car. After Revolver are With A Little Help, I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need Is Love, Helter Skelter, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Revolution, and Let It Be. Revolver itself is a transitionary album, including Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Yellow Submarine, and Good Day Sunshine.
I know what you’re thinking: What’s the difference?
Listen to the music. Not just the words, but the instruments (aside from the sitar, there’s much more orchestral arrangements and alternative devices like the mellotron), the layers of sound (A Day In The Life, as a perfect example), the vocals (Helter Skelter, I Am The Walrus), and even how it was all put together (if you listen to Strawberry Fields Forever, you can here where the song slows down — that was done by hand, slowing the mixing tape with a finger).
Prior to Revolver, the music is more recognisable. But after India, some new elements played into Revolver, and after The Beatles gave up touring, they put all their energy into what was next. And that next album was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. An album that, according to some, caused Brian Wilson to give up on Smile and sink deeper into mental illness — he believed that The Beatles had beaten him to what he had been trying to create.
And yet, I think, the Studio Beatles get more airplay. Not the weird stuff per se — you’re more likely to hear Hey Jude, Hello Goodbye, When I’m Sixty-Four, or Come Together. But it seems to be more of the latter.
So what do you think? British Invasion, or Studio? Which do you choose, and why?