jblum (jblum) wrote,

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The Last Beatles Album

One of the most frustrating CD mixes I ever made was one disc compiled from the first two Beatles Anthology albums... beginning with "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird". Those two tracks back to back are just enough to sucker you into imagining one last Beatles album continuing on from them... and while I managed to smooth the transition to the old stuff by following them with "Cry For A Shadow" (a "new" old song rather than an alternate version), I still could never shake the image of what might have been.

And then, I realised that from the 1994 Threetles sessions onwards, there were just about enough cases where the Beatles and their usual gang worked together, in some combination or another, to assemble something which sounds like it could be an album. Three tracks from each of them.

For this game, I'm using White Album rules -- some of the tracks can have only one Beatle on them, but they must have at least two people involved from the Beatles team (defined as the Fab Four plus their producers). For the purpose of this exercise, I'm counting both Sir George Martin and Jeff Lynne as producers... otherwise it would be impossible to include any of George Harrison's tracks, since he never worked with Martin on his solo stuff (and indeed reportedly vetoed using him on the '90s reunion tracks because he felt Martin always pushed him to the margins). So, Jeff Lynne's status as the world's biggest wannabeatle pays off here. And since all three of the survivors in the '90s used him to produce some of their own tracks, I don't think they'd object too much.

I know I'm cheating with this disc -- I'm not strict at all, I'll even throw in a bonus track which doesn't follow the rules at all. But I figure it's worth it -- this is a way of spotlighting a bunch of really good songs which people don't notice otherwise. (And if you're one of the usual suspects here in my LJ, if you're interested I might just burn a copy of this set for you.)

Side A:
1. Real Love (John, with Paul, George, Ringo, & Jeff Lynne)
The last Beatles single, and to me far superior to "Free As A Bird", more musically inventive and textured. Placed here because, well, it's all four of them -- and John's is the voice you need to sell this as really being The Beatles.
2. What In The World (Ringo, with Paul)
From Ringo and the Roundheads' debut album in 1997, "Vertical Man". A charming, rocking piece of Roundheads pop, with Paul's bass and backing vocals adding some characteristic grace notes. It's a bit of a pastiche, but it feels Beatley, so it's up front to suck the audience in. Plus I like the idea of spotlighting Ringo early on -- sort of the Billy Shears surprise, that we're not going to be doing the ordinary expected things.
3. Somedays (Paul, with George Martin)
From Paul's "Flaming Pie" in 1997 -- Paul digs into his bag of ballads, and comes up with a perfectly crafted and surprisingly melancholy little piece, with George Martin conducting. This would be this disc's Eleanor Rigby. (Other candidates would be "Little Willow" or "Calico Skies" from the same album, but this one feels a touch more Beatley.)
4. Any Road (George, with Jeff Lynne)
From George's posthumous "Brainwashed". The album needs a burst of joy by this point, and this is George in his best Wilburys mode. I love the travelling feel of this number, and the lyrics are a Doctor Who song video waiting to be made...
5. King Of Broken Hearts (Ringo, with George)
Placed here again to cement the sense of group work -- George's instantly recognizable lead followed by Ringo's voice, and an eerie echo of John in the backing vocals... plus it really shows that Ringo will be pulling his weight on this album.
6. Rising Sun (George, with Jeff Lynne)
From "Brainwashed". George goes majestic. A classic end-of-side-one moment, which builds up to a strong conclusion. The hints of mortality in the lyrics (written after George's stabbing) add to the reflective, middle-aged feel of this stretch of the album, and thus leads nicely to...
7. Bonus track: From A Lover To A Friend (Paul)
From "Driving Rain" in 2001, written in the wake of Paul's loss of Linda. This actually has nothing to do with the other Beatles, but it's *worthy* of them, and adds a bit of artistic ambition to what's actually a fairly musically conservative collection. The rambling, cracking vocal on the bridge -- "How can I walk when I can't find the way" -- is a sign of how heartbreaking Macca can be if he lets himself.

Side B:
1. Free As A Bird (John, with Paul, George, Ringo, & Jeff Lynne)
The other gimme -- the first reunion single. I always thought this one sounded a little too Jeff Lynne / Wilburys rather than Beatles in its arrangement, with the lockstep acoustic guitars and drums, George lead, lack of Paul musical flourishes, and Ringo sampled and quantized into oblivion. But in context here, I think it works.
2. I'll Be Fine Anywhere (Ringo, with George)
From "Vertical Man". Very much a lightweight retro number from the Roundheads, with not one but two simultaneous guitar solos from George to liven it up. The old-school Jerry Lee Elvis Orbison feel flows nicely from the backwards-looking ukulele fade-out of "Free As A Bird".
3. Really Love You (Paul, with Ringo & Jeff Lynne)
From "Flaming Pie" again. This is Paul, Ringo, and Jeff jamming in the studio, and making up the words as they go along. Very simple, almost throwaway, but it's got a back-to-basics playfulness which picks up on the previous track.
4. Pisces Fish (George, with Jeff Lynne)
From "Brainwashed". We've had Funny George and Cosmic Statement George, now here's a gentle reflection of them both in one. (Another possible choice for this slot would be the beautiful instrumental "Marwa Blues", but the whimsy of the lyrics gives this track the edge.) It's setting the mood for the final tracks of the album... reflective, self-understanding, appreciating where you're at in life.
5. Beautiful Night (Paul, with Ringo & Jeff Lynne & George Martin)
From "Flaming Pie" again. A rousing finale, one which amusingly gives Ringo the last word.
6. Grow Old With Me (John, with George Martin)
And John gets the last word. You can't follow this. This was one of the tracks the other three considered completing, but they couldn't clean the tape up enough at the time. Years later they had the computing power, and it was included on John's "Wonsaponatime" collection with George Martin orchestration.

If you listen to this... well, it's not Abbey Road, but what is? It's still kind of eerie how well these wildly different solo artists still mesh after all this time, and still sound like they belong in the same band. And as an artistic statement, it's got an interesting character... a mixture of conscious looks backwards and continued attempts to do their own thing.

Now -- who wants to do the same for an ex-Beatles-circa-1973 collection? You could draw from George's songs with Ringo from "All Things Must Pass", John's songs with Ringo from "Plastic Ono Band", John's songs with George from "Imagine", Ringo's songs with all the others in various combinations from "Ringo" and "Goodnight Vienna", maybe some solo Paul from "McCartney"...

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