What would another Beatles album have looked like?
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
I think every serious Beatles fan has played this game at one point or another:
Take a look at each member’s post-Beatles catalog, pick your favorite songs, and make a new Beatles album. Invariably, you always compile a mix that’s pretty fun beginning to end.
In the midst of the nouveau Beatlemania on the heels of their fantastic stereo and mono remasters, I’ve been doing an incredible amount of Beatles listening, even for me. Taking in the richness and clarity of the stereo remasters, in particular, has me listening to a band I’ve always loved an incredible degree more, which basically means that I’ve pushed a lot of other listening to the side.
It was inevitable that I’d eventually slide into the band member’s solo work, where each had his own highs and lows on vinyl. And I decided to play that game: what could the next Beatles album have looked like?
I settled on some rules. I held it to songs released in 1969 and 1970, and I tried very hard to keep it to a single disc. As presently constituted, it’s about 59 minutes long, which would’ve been a bit too long for a traditional record. But, I’m a sap, and I couldn’t cut any more songs than I already had. I’ve also divided it up into two sides, since that’s how I've always heard it in my head. The envelope, please ...
1. Mother (Lennon)
2. All Things Must Pass (Harrison)
3. Every Night (McCartney)
4. Instant Karma! (Lennon)
5. Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney)
6. Isn’t it a Pity (Harrison)
7. Look at Me (Lennon)
1. I’d Have You Anytime (Harrison)
2. Working Class Hero (Lennon)
3. Beware of Darkness (Harrison)
4. Junk (McCartney)
5. Cold Turkey (Lennon)
6. Art of Dying (Harrison)
7. Teddy Boy (McCartney)
8. Let it Down (Harrison)
9. My Mummy’s Dead (Lennon)
The emotional heft of this album is instantly present, almost overpowering. George Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity” sandwiched between Paul McCarney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and John Lennon’s “Look at Me” carries a lot of weight to close the album’s first half, while the decision to start with “Mother” and end with “My Mummy’s Dead” obviously brings a theme of mortality through the record, which is also represented in “Art of Dying,” “Working Class Hero” and “Beware of Darkness.” It’s a very dark and brooding album, certainly much darker than the Beatles ever got in their career together, and would have thrown the music world for a collective shock, I imagine. Nevermind that a few years earlier they were singing “She Loves You,” just two years prior they had released “Hey Jude” to mega-success. Hearing “Working Class Hero” in the context of a Beatles record could have sent the BBC reeling.
But this is where McCartney’s tunes really help. I like the juxtaposition of “Junk,” a gentle ballad of those things so inconsequential yet essential, to “Cold Turkey,” Lennon’s primal scream ode to kicking the habit. And “Teddy Boy” on side two provides a nice lift in between of “Art of Dying” and “Let it Down.”
One song I would’ve liked to have fit in was Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy,” though it violated my made-up rule of the song having to have been released before 1971. It came out in April ’71, though it was recorded the year before. A close call, to be sure, but Ringo didn’t sing on every Beatles record. Funny enough, he’s more than present on this set, drumming on several of Lennon’s and Harrison’s songs.
What’s also interesting about this collection is the presence of Eric Clapton, who plays on Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and most of the Harrison tracks present. Indeed, he even inadvertently creates an amazing transition when “Cold Turkey” wails right into “Art of Dying.” During the filming/recording of Let it Be, Harrison famously left for a few days, and Lennon remarked that he was ready to replace him with Clapton. While he was never the songwriter the other three were, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have been able to hold his own in the band in pure musical terms. If anything, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” had already proven that.
Of course, any imagined project like this is going to be rife with disagreement in the song selection department (especially if we’re trying to keep it to a single album). For example, I thought a couple of songs just could not have been on any Beatles album. In the interest of equal time, McCartney’s “The Lovely Linda” and Lennon’s ode to Yoko, “Hold On,” were both left off. And what to make of Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord?” It’s one of his finest songs, surely, but it’s near impossible to imagine it done in a group settling. And it goes without saying that Lennon’s “God,” with its “I don’t believe in Beatles” line, would not have been included.
Also, this collection ignores a few realities of the situation. All those weighty songs? Some of those would’ve surely been pared off. Hell, “Cold Turkey” had already been tossed off Abbey Road. And though we are of course suspending belief that the four would still want to record together, it’s hard to fathom Lennon and McCartney allowing Harrison this much exposure on an album, even though at this point, with his massive backlog of songs, he was at his creative peak. Another truly remarkable note: even with these six songs stripped from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, what’s left of that album would have still been arguably the best solo work by any former Beatle.
Alas, I think getting wrapped up in that is to just acknowledge the history of this band. This album could never have happened — Lennon was too volatile, Harrison too overlooked and McCartney too alienated. They weren’t meant to carry on, to keep plugging away for the sake of keeping the band together. They went on in their own directions, and what was left behind is, without question, the greatest musical legacy of the 20th century.
Still, it’s always fun to play “what if.” Pull these songs together in a playlist and see for yourself, or come up with your own arrangement. You’ll find yourself reveling in the joy of re-writing history for hours, too.
September 30, 2009