Lady Madonna like you’ve never heard it before

A review of the new Beatles disc, “LOVE”, with a short excerpt from one of the tracks.

I admit, my first reaction upon hearing about this disc was pretty cynical: There they go, repackaging the old material, yet again, to squeeze a few more bucks out of fans who already own all the original Beatles discs.

Thankfully, a friend emailed me to say that the disc is great, so I requested it as a Christmas present. And he’s right: it’s well worth the money.

LOVE was conceived by George Harrison and Canadian Guy Laliberté (the founder of the Cirque du Soleil) before Harrison’s death. They asked George Martin to “create a soundscape of around one and a half hour’s length using any sound [he] needed from the original Beatles multi-track recordings” (from George Martin’s liner notes).

Beatles LOVEGeorge asked his son Giles to work on the project with him. Giles came up with the breakthrough idea: he combined the drum beat and bass from “Tomorrow Never Knows” with the music and vocals of “Within You Without You”. It works brilliantly, and it opened everyone’s eyes to the creative potential of the project.

Many of the tracks are fundamentally unchanged from the familiar performances we’ve heard hundreds of times before. For example, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Something” and “Come Together” are presented in their entirety. Each track is given a new introduction, however, or an excerpt from another song is tacked on at the end to form a bridge to the next track.

The transition pieces make terrific use of Ringo’s drums. Ringo doesn’t get much credit for his contribution to the Beatles: it’s hard to shine when you perform in the immense shadow cast by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. But Ringo had to be creative. When Lennon and McCartney were going where no songwriter had gone before — particularly on the psychedelic material — Ringo had to invent a role for the drums.

During the intro to “Get Back”, at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and throughout “Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows”, Ringo’s drums constitute the core track around which George and Giles Martin build their experiments.

George and Giles actually managed to improve on some of the original performances by spicing them up with snippets of other songs. Lady Madonna is a good example: the original song is given a harder edge by inserting a different, two-part solo. I decided to make an excerpt available for you to download, because the best way to understand the concept of this disc is to hear it with your own ears.

 
like you’ve never …

This is Lady Madonna like you’ve never heard it before. (Click on the link and wait a few seconds. If the song doesn’t begin to play automatically, you’re missing a plug-in and you’ll have to click on the download link. N.B. For additional amusement, look for the little esnips DJ and click on that icon. You’ll hear the Beatles as channelled through the Chipmunks after several cups of espresso. I have no explanation for it, but it’s certainly amusing!)

Two songs are, in effect, brand new Beatles material. The first I’ve already mentioned: “Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows”. The second is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Beatles devotees may have heard George Harrison’s demo recording on acoustic guitar, which was made available on Anthology 3. For LOVE, George Martin wrote an unobtrusive string accompaniment for the demo version: just right to fill out the song. It is a beautiful tribute to George Harrison whose song-writing talents were underappreciated until after the Beatles had disbanded.

George’s songwriting is prominent on this disc. There are sixteen songs written by John Lennon (including short bridge excerpts), eleven by Paul McCartney, six by George Harrison, and one by Ringo (“Octopus’s Garden”). Thus George and John are disproportionately represented on the disc vis-à-vis Paul.

Other highlights: “Get Back / Glass Onion”; “Drive My Car / What You’re Doing”; “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite / I Want You / Helter Skelter”; and the new ending of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. In short, there’s plenty of fresh material here to warrant the price of the disc.

A few quick observations:

  • The songs tend toward the Beatles’ heavier rock sound (though there are some ballads, too: e.g. “Yesterday”, with a “Blackbird” excerpt for its introduction). No doubt the material was chosen with the Cirque du Soleil performance uppermost in mind.
  • Most of the material comes from the latter half of the Beatles career. About three quarters of the material comes from Abbey Road (7 songs), the “White Album” (7), Sgt. Pepper (5) or Magical Mystery Tour (4).
  • Actually, it’s misleading to count tracks based on the titles on the back of the disc. Lots of other things make it into the mix: “Penny Lane”, “Hello Goodbye”, “Hey Bulldog”, the drum solo from “The End”, etc.
  • Several songs were shortened by editing out one of the middle verses. “Hey Jude” certainly benefits by truncating the “na na na na, na na na na” portion of the song, and rearranging a section of it for variety’s sake.
  • The sound quality is superb, much better than on any previous Beatles disc. Particularly on “I Am the Walrus” and “Revolution”, the sound quality is sufficiently improved to make the songs fresh for that reason alone.

I’ll give the last word to the friend who recommended this disc to me:

Love is presently the number 1 selling CD in Canada. Not sure what it is doing elsewhere in the world, but I would assume it would be similarly successful. It has been 38 years since they have recorded together and they have a CD out with revamped material and it goes to number 1.

Only the Beatles could pull that off.

The Beatles

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aaron
    Jan 23, 2007 @ 18:28:01

    Back in town and catching up on my blogging. I had seen Love but didn’t know anything about it until I heard an interview with Giles Martin, complete with samples and discussion of them. You might want to check it out — http://www.npr.org/programs/asc/archives/beatleslove/. I’ve since acquired it, and while I can’t say I “love” all the tracks, I certainly enjoy most of them.

    Reply

  2. Stephen
    Jan 24, 2007 @ 11:33:41

    Thanks for the link, Aaron.

    Reply

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