Toward the end of “Eight Days A Week” there is a moment where John Lennon sings the word, “Oh,” taking it over five or six notes, his voice cracking in pain. Nobody else could sing quite like that. Lennon was the only rock singer who could send a shiver up my spine. The quality in his voice is not something a singer can work hard to achieve; it came from his soul.
There was a lot of nonsense about the Beatles back in the ‘60s. I knew a guy who spent an entire college quarter in an English class discussing whether Paul was dead and examining the albums for clues. Imagine a bunch of stoned hippies in a college classroom listening to “I Am the Walrus.”
Setting aside all the pretentious hype and John Lennon’s New Leftist politics – yes, let’s set that WAY aside – I think the Beatles did achieve something rare in their early music. They combined rock energy with melodic beauty. This is harder to do than you might think at first. The Turtles had melodic beauty but no energy. The Who and the Kinks had energy but not as much melodic beauty. The Beach Boys hit both in a few songs.
I believe Lennon and McCartney were able to write with energy and beauty when both men contributed. The later Beatles songs that they wrote alone, as well as their solo work in the ‘70s, shows (with some exceptions) that McCartney tended toward beauty without a lot of energy and Lennon tended toward energy without a lot of beauty. But together, in songs like “Ticket to Ride,” “She Loves You,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!” they created something rare in rock. If you want a treat, listen to “And Your Bird Can Sing.” The guitars and bass rock and the melody is good.
It’s hard for young people to understand quite what the big deal was with the Beatles. As Lennon liked to remind people, the Beatles were just a rock band. It’s hard for ME to understand sometimes, and the first album I ever bought was “Magical Mystery Tour.” They were just a rock band, but some of their songs are pop-rock at its best.
John Lennon was murdered 25 years ago today. Remember the man by celebrating the music he made.