Checking my WordPress stats on Saturday, I decided to take a look at the “Tag Surfer” function. Basically, it’s a search of WordPress.com blogs, and if you give it a tag to search for — like, say, “Beatles” — it will pull up a list of recent posts written on wordpress.com blogs categorized as “Beatles.”
Because, obviously, I’ve been on a Beatles kick, what with Geico’s world famous biscuits and gravy and all. Wait. That doesn’t make sense. Geico? Biscuits and gravy? Sorry.
As I was saying, I’ve been on a Beatles kick, what with the Lennon Listen and all.
And the first post that I saw, on the WordPress Tag Surfer? Imaginary Next Beatles Album, by Maximum Bob. He was “proposing a track listing for an imaginary ‘next Beatles album’ as if they hadn’t split up in 1969, and hadn’t all released solo albums in 1970.”
What if the Beatles hadn’t broken up? What kind of album would they have produced for release in the fall of 1970? It’s not the first time I’d seen something like this. There’s Stephen Baxter’s album “God,” from his short story, “The Twelfth Album,” for one.
I had some issues with Baxter’s choices. For 1970, the album he put together simultaneously looked backward (to Rishikesh with songs like “Junk” and “Child of Nature”) and forward (to 1971 with songs like “Back Seat of My Car” and “Gimme Some Truth,” though the latter is arguable). Though I’ve come to like that playlist, even feel like it’s “right,” I’d never really thought about putting one together myself.
Then, of course, I saw Maximum Bob’s. He had some rules. They numbered six.
- No more than 25 minutes per side (because that’s about the limit for a vinyl album).
- At least one track with a Ringo vocal.
- No more than two tracks with a George vocal.
- The rest made up of Lennon or McCartney tracks.
- Songs should be from first solo releases.
- You’re allowed one cheat track.
I’d never played this game before, so I spent some time, put the thinking cap on, and went to work.
I made several assumptions. First, I assumed that songs like “Cold Turkey” and “Instant Karma!” had been released as Beatles singles, perhaps as McCartney’s way of keeping Lennon in the Beatle fold. (Also, I’d think the “Something”/”Come Together” single probably happened, giving Harrison his first Beatles A-side.) Likewise, I imagined that the single preceding this late 1970 album was probably “My Sweet Lord” as the A-side and either “God” or “Working Class Hero” as the B-side. (Actually, I think “My Sweet Lord”/”God” would work fantastically well together, given the completely opposite messages of the two songs.) In other words, there are some really strong songs that I assumed were going to be singles, not album tracks.
What I produced was this, an album I call “Hot As Sun” (the title taken from an article Rolling Stone ran in 1970 about a mythical lost Beatles album):
- Oo You (McCartney) — This sounds like an opening track, from the fade-in to Paul’s spoken “More guitar.” This track starts the album off with some kick, having a meaty sound to it. Honestly, until I put together Maximum Bob’s playlist I’d completely forgotten this track. Like a lot of Paul songs from the “White Album” onwards, this song isn’t so much about the lyric as it is about the sound, much like Abbey Road‘s “Oh, Darling” or the “White Album”‘s “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” It’s got a bluesy rock-n-roll groove, and it has a callback to “Blackbird.” The album starts out with some energy, and that leads us to…
- It Don’t Come Easy (Starkey) — Like Stephen Baxter, I’m getting Ringo out of the way early. But this isn’t unusual for a Beatles album; look at Sgt Pepper or Abbey Road with Ringo coming early on side one. After an up-tempo Paul song, we have Ringo doing an up-tempo number. But this song also starts one of the key themes of the album, the idea that life (and love) is difficult.
- That Would Be Something (McCartney) — I considered leaving this off completely, as I don’t like this song. Yet, George Harrison did, believing it to be a fine piece of work. What would the Beatles have done with this? I can only guess. Maybe it would have been heavier, maybe Paul would have let rip with one of his patented throat-ripping vocals (like on “Long Tall Sally” or “Oh, Darling!”). It’s a fluff piece, but one with some energy behind it. Paul’s penchant for silliness gets out of the way early. And it eases us into the next song.
- Isolation (Lennon) — Now, after Ringo says that “It Don’t Come Easy,” John sings, “We’re afraid to be alone, everybody got to have a home.” This is John being philosophical about the inherent loneliness of human existence, about the uncaring nature of the universe. And he lets rip with some primal screams against the unfairness of all it all. And since I decided to call the album “Hot as Sun,” this song references the album title in a way with the lyric, “The sun will never disappear, but the world may not have many years.” And then, we’re alone, just in time for…
- Every Night (McCartney) — Pairing this up with “Isolation” works. If John’s song is about the loneliness of human existence, Paul’s song reinforces that with lines like “Every night I just go out, get out of my head. Every day I don’t want to get up, get out of my bed.” But then the song says, essentially, fight that by connecting with someone — “Every night I want to stay home and be with you.”
- What Is Life? (Harrison) — Then George Harrison has to chime in on the problem of existence and his solution — love. “What is my life without your love?” he asks. The song is a cry for connection, “Tell me who am I without you by my side?” What matters, says Harrison, isn’t so much who we are, but the person those who love us see as us. And like Abbey Road, side one ends with a wall of sound.
Side one of “Hot as Sun,” then, has the message: Life is hard, we need to connect, we connect through love. These are Beatle-y messages. Wasn’t it Paul who said in the Beatles Anthology that the Beatles songs were about peace, love, and understanding? Side one hits all those points. 🙂
Run time? 18 minutes 32 seconds.
- Love (Lennon) — And side two fades in with one of John Lennon’s best — and most heartfelt — solo tracks, “Love.” The lyrics are simple, the vocal plaintive, and the message about what love is profound in its simplicity. Probably like “Julia” on the “White Album,” this track would have been done by John alone, with none of the Beatles, leaving it much as we hear it on Plastic Ono Band. 🙂
- I Live For You (Harrison) — This is the “cheat” track, per Maximum Bob’s rules. Not only did this track not appear on Harrison’s first solo album (it wasn’t released until the 30th-anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass in 2001), but this track gives Harrison three tracks on the album. But that’s somewhat justifiable, as Harrison had three tracks on Revolver. But why is it here? If “Love” speaks to what love is, then “I Live For You” speaks to its importance. Or, more specifically, what another person means — and can mean — to someone. Along with “Something,” this is one of Harrison’s better love songs.
- Valentine Day (McCartney) — And now we have an instrumental. It has a nice groove to it. The Beatles had worked on instrumentals before, releasing only “Flying” during their heyday, but I can picture the four Beatles pulling out an instrumental and working it into shape. Some of the other instrumentals on McCartney wouldn’t have worked — “Singalong Junk” is too lightweight, “Momma Miss America” is way too freakin’ long. “Valentine Day” is a brisk 1:45, and its groove sounds very compatible with the song that follows. This one’s a keeper.
- Well Well Well (Lennon) — This is an odd song on Plastic Ono Band, as the lyrics don’t really mean anything. The first verse is nonsense, and the song turns into an excuse for John to scream “Well” at the top of his lungs. And just as “Oo You” calls back to “Blackbird,” “Well Well Well” calls back to “Revolution” in the lyrics. Like “Valentine Day,” this seems like the kind of song that the Beatles would have enjoyed working on in the studio, much like “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
- Apple Scruffs (Harrison) — Now that John has that out of his system, George turns toward one of his sillier songs, “Apple Scruffs.” And it is a silly song, being about the female fans that besieged the Beatles’ offices. There’s nothing profound to this song, it’s just an excuse for George to have some fun and bring the boys along for the ride.
- I Found Out (Lennon) — And after George’s silliness, John lets rip with a self-referential rocking number. In many ways, “I Found Out” is a song about having to learn how to live with one’s self, which makes a nice contrast to the general theme of love and connection on the album. Which leads us into the album’s final track…
- Maybe I’m Amazed (McCartney) — Baxter and Maximum Bob both closed their Beatles ’70 albums with “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and I’m not one to argue. It’s the perfect closing song. Because it is a song about love, about finding someone, and why that’s important. And, just as “Oo You” sounds like a song to open an album, “Maybe I’m Amazed” sounds like a song designed to close an album. I think it’s one of McCartney’s best songs, and it closes “Hot As Sun” on a hopeful, optimistic note.
Side two starts out quiet, continues the theme of life and love, builds energy as it progresses, but it’s also doesn’t take itself seriously, then ends of a positive, uplifting note.
Run time? 25 minutes 25 seconds.
How did I do by Maximum Bob’s rules?
- Side one is under twenty minutes. Side two is over by twenty-five seconds. With different fade-outs, it’s not even an issue.
- “It Don’t Come Easy” is the Ringo track.
- George has three tracks — “What is Life?” “I Live For You,” and “Apple Scruffs.” So, I broke rule three, to have only two George Harrison tracks. :/
- Everything beyond “It Don’t Come Easy” and George’s three tracks is a Lennon or McCartney song.
- Everything is taken either from the first post-Abbey Road solo album produced by the Beatles or is taken (like “It Don’t Come Easy”) from a 1970 single. Except for “I Live For You,” which was from the All Things Must Pass sessions but not released until 2001. So, in that sense, I broke rule five. :/
- I have one “cheat” track — “I Live For You” — even if it breaks two rules.
I think I skirted by on a technicality! :cheers:
I’m not a mix-tape kind of guy. It’s not something I’ve ever done. But you know what? I like this track line-up for “Hot As Sun.” It feels cohesive to me, in a way that Stephen Baxter’s “God” didn’t. More importantly, for the purposes of the exercise, it’s feels Beatle-y.
Perhaps if they had gotten together in Abbey Road studios in August and September 1970, the Beatles would have put together an album much like this.
It’s a nice dream, anyway. Color me pleased. 🙂