I know: the question has been asked many times before. But I’ve been thinking about the Beatles lately because I had a call recently from one of America’s great writers on contemporary music, Tim Riley, who wrote an a near-perfect book called Tell Me Why, which is really a series of brilliant short essays about Beatles songs.
Gracefully written essays that treat the songs with a trained musician’s ear, not just as poetic texts to decode but as songs that achieve that evanescent alchemical fusion of word and music in which the lead and leadenness of type on a page is transmuted into gold on the stage. Or in the groove.
Riley amazingly both knows how this works and can articulate it better (on the Beatles anyway) than anyone I’ve read. While so many other writers (surprise!) reduce musicians to their words.
Anyway, he was telling me he’d completed a draft of his much anticipated John Lennon book, seven years in the making, and if there’s anyone I want to read on the subject it’s Riley because he knows the music inside and out.
In the course of our discussion he spoke almost ecstatically about the remastered reissues of the classic Beatles albums and how much there was to discover in them, so as soon as we hung up I hied myself to my next door Borders (no product placement fee), found the remasters, and decided to buy one at a time. But which one? It came down to Revolver, Rubber Soul, or Let It Be.
I have an indelible memory of seeing the film Let it Be when it was first released. An experience that’s imprinted itself on my soul, it was that movie, more than the album, but on the other hand, “Two of Us” may be one of the greatest Beatles songs ever. One of the most beautiful love songs, one of the greatest road songs. And I love Rubber Soul. “Nowhere Man.” “”In My Life.” “If I Needed Someone.” But there’s the obstacle of the impossibly syrupy “Michelle,” which I just can’t stand.