Riffing off my previous essay, with its slightly tongue-in-cheek usage of the word schizoid, I thought I’d take a quick look at major changes within bands themselves during the 60s. Two come to mind easily:
The Moody Blues and the Beatles.
Listen to the Moody Blues’ first hit from 1964, Go Now. It doesn’t set trends. It follows them. It’s well within the parameters of the British Pop Invasion, with its echo of American Pop R&B and Blues. Yes, it has a Mersey beat twist. But it in no way prepares us for what would follow.
Just three years later the Moody Blues, with a few changes to their original lineup (losing Denny Laine, picking up Justin Hayward), would embark on a musical Odyssey that only the Beatles had come close to attempting. In 1967, when they made their album, Days of Future Past, the world got a chance to hear what full orchestras could do when they backed up Rock bands suddenly immersed in psychedelia.
Nights in White Satin
Influenced by James Joyce’s Ulysses, Days of Future Past was a day in the life of an everyman, literate, poetic, melodious, with abundant cosmic irony. Without a truly great singer, the Moody Blues produced a sound that made identification easy, and the idea of an everyman natural. No Rock gods they. A fan could imagine him or herself doing what they did, if they were lucky enough to have a glorious orchestra backing them, that is.
Now, the Beatles were a special case. No band had ever undergone such mercurial changes. It’s as if the trajectory of the band matched the flight of youth itself, the working out of teenage angst, anger, love and loss for the whole world to see. Like a museum of the maturation process, compressed into all too few years. Far too few, in fact, now that we can see it all from a distance, amazed at what they accomplished in such a radically short period of time.
Of course, with the early Beatles, there is always the explosion of the fans to contend with, their breakdowns, their screaming, their crying, their emotions frayed to the breaking point. Watching the Fab Four play, it’s next to impossible to shut out the sounds of their frenzied fans, and it would take their exit from live performances and their monk-like devotion to the studio process to give us all that detachment we needed to truly appreciate the genius of their compositions.
Please Please me Documentary
The above song was primarily a Lennon composition. He told us Roy Orbison and Bing Crosby were influences of the moment. Regardless, in retrospect, it’s hard to rate it among the best of Beatles songs, though it is an example of before and after of the most obvious kind.
But just a few years later we had the amazing transformation of Revolver and then Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles grew up right in front of our eyes. More than grew up. They pulled a culture into a new era of emotional and spiritual complexity we had not seen before. Literate, like the Moody Blues, but with an added nod to Surrealists and Dada, the Beatles embarked on a journey of the widest range any Rock band in history had ever attempted. The sweep of themes, coloration, tonal arrangements and cultural references was unprecedented. And they could sing. They sounded great, alone and together, harmonizing or belting out solos.
A Day in the Life
The contrast between the first Beatles song shown and this one couldn’t be more stunning. It’s trippy, cheeky, surreal, filled with dream imagery and a surging unconscious seeking dominion. Please Please Me, on the other hand, is boy meets girl, steak and potatoes, in the full light of day. You gets what you pays for. But the song with the very long piano chord is a night time vision, a suppressed view reemerging when we probably don’t want it to. The Beatles were able to capture a sense of existential night time dread, along with its possible escape hatch, all in one composition, utilizing orchestral arrangements to deepen and expand the trip.
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Will add some related material shortly, drawing upon the recent and very fine movie, Nowhere Boy.