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A Comprehensive Look At The Beatles Self-Titled Double Album Masterpiece

Back with the real Beatles

By Geofrey Cannon | 19 November 1968 | The Guardian

The Beatles new album is about to be released. This is the first of two articles which is likely to be the biggest event of the pop music year

The Beatles, February 1968. Photograph: AP

The Beatles have accustomed us to look for clues to the meaning of their work. Everyone can look at the cover design of Sergeant Pepper and play “spot the reference.” There’s Stan Laurel and Max Miller; Marlon Brando and Dylan Thomas; but who’s that peering over the top of Paul McCartney’s head?

So, we are encouraged to think, the Beatles are influenced by all these figures. Then: perhaps the reverse. Do we see a gallery of heroes or villains? Or, worse still, a mixture? Or perhaps Peter Blake the designer made his own choice? Since there is no way of deciding between these questions this, interpretative, approach to the Beatles’ work is clear victim of a put-on. Nevertheless the questions go on and on.

Now, look at the cover of The Beatles. Outside, it’s blank white gloss card, with The Beatles blind embossed, plus a serial number (mine’s 0010192, what’s yours?). Inside, a list of the tracks, and black and white photographs of each member of the band, looking quite unlike each other. Tucked in with the discs, the same photographs, loose, in colour. For your bedroom wall. Also a big foldout: one side the lyrics; the other side, a soft-core Richard Hamilton collage of the Fab Four’s history.

The panorama of Sergeant Pepper’s cover design is on the acetate of The Beatles. Most of the tracks on the new album are packed with sounds in the style of other musicians. Back Home in the USSR [sic], to take the first track, contains Chuck Berry (Back Home in the USA), the Beach Boys (409 and California Girls – the last a direct quote), and early Beatles. A full list for all 30 tracks on the album would be of around 60 names.

What is the meaning of this? There are several interpretations. Perhaps the Beatles are quoting musicians they admire. Or, on the other hand, perhaps those they fear – “we can do their thing, better.” Perhaps they have turned their backs on the world (this will be a popular view) and can now only play games. Or perhaps the album is a self-conscious tour de force, parallel to the Holles Street Hospital chapter in Ulysses.

And then, apart from use of other musicians’ sounds: the “mystery” tracks. Is Julia “really” about John’s mother? Is Sexy Sadie the Maharishi? Is Martha My Dear Paul’s dog?

Nope, Or, yeah. As John sings in Glass Onion: “Well, here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul” (yeah). Since their public beginnings, the Beatles have, instinctively and obsessively, and with style, attempted to outdistance interpretation. Their obsession has entered their work since Rubber Soul, their first self-conscious album, has dictated the form of The Beatles.

If the Beatles’ opacity in the face of interpretation – of attempts to view their work in terms of reference to the external world – were merely a matter of a quarrel with the press, then neither it nor The Beatles album would be worth considered attention. In fact both are a demand to be seen as artists, and to refuse the rule of journalists or commentators. And the Beatles’ instinct has served them well; their stand is crucial to them, to our grasp of their music, and afterwards to our own self-perception. Does this sound like a gigantic claim? So it is. It’s difficult living among heroes, to avoid a flip tone of voice. But the Beatles are not camp stars; they are, whether you, I or they like it or not, the real thing. Their stature is meaningful and can be delineated.

The Beatles rates high not just as new music, nor just as art, but as a demonstration of a fact so blatant as to be invisible, so close and new that we’ve few bearings on it yet: that art is now in process of replacing science as the determinant of the way we see ourselves and the world. The point has to be made in this context; without it the potency of the Beatles, now fully equalled only by Dylan and Godard, remains hermetic; an enigma.

But the Beatles’ artistic consciousness is autonomous. It cannot be felt or discussed except in its own terms. The joyful idea contained in the Beatles’ music is that individual consciousness can be as real as the external world. They are the first full citizens of the post-scientific age, with a few other artists. The Beatles are their music; who John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo are at home is another matter.

By Geofrey Cannon | The Guardian

19 November 1968

The Beatles, February 1968. Photograph: AP

The Beatles have accustomed us to look for clues to the meaning of their work. Everyone can look at the cover design of Sergeant Pepper and play “spot the reference.” There’s Stan Laurel and Max Miller; Marlon Brando and Dylan Thomas; but who’s that peering over the top of Paul McCartney’s head?

So, we are encouraged to think, the Beatles are influenced by all these figures. Then: perhaps the reverse. Do we see a gallery of heroes or villains? Or, worse still, a mixture? Or perhaps Peter Blake the designer made his own choice? Since there is no way of deciding between these questions this, interpretative, approach to the Beatles’ work is clear victim of a put-on. Nevertheless the questions go on and on.

Now, look at the cover of The Beatles. Outside, it’s blank white gloss card, with The Beatles blind embossed, plus a serial number (mine’s 0010192, what’s yours?). Inside, a list of the tracks, and black and white photographs of each member of the band, looking quite unlike each other. Tucked in with the discs, the same photographs, loose, in colour. For your bedroom wall. Also a big foldout: one side the lyrics; the other side, a soft-core Richard Hamilton collage of the Fab Four’s history.

The panorama of Sergeant Pepper’s cover design is on the acetate of The Beatles. Most of the tracks on the new album are packed with sounds in the style of other musicians. Back Home in the USSR [sic], to take the first track, contains Chuck Berry (Back Home in the USA), the Beach Boys (409 and California Girls – the last a direct quote), and early Beatles. A full list for all 30 tracks on the album would be of around 60 names.

What is the meaning of this? There are several interpretations. Perhaps the Beatles are quoting musicians they admire. Or, on the other hand, perhaps those they fear – “we can do their thing, better.” Perhaps they have turned their backs on the world (this will be a popular view) and can now only play games. Or perhaps the album is a self-conscious tour de force, parallel to the Holles Street Hospital chapter in Ulysses.

And then, apart from use of other musicians’ sounds: the “mystery” tracks. Is Julia “really” about John’s mother? Is Sexy Sadie the Maharishi? Is Martha My Dear Paul’s dog?

Nope, Or, yeah. As John sings in Glass Onion: “Well, here’s another clue for you all/The walrus was Paul” (yeah). Since their public beginnings, the Beatles have, instinctively and obsessively, and with style, attempted to outdistance interpretation. Their obsession has entered their work since Rubber Soul, their first self-conscious album, has dictated the form of The Beatles.

If the Beatles’ opacity in the face of interpretation – of attempts to view their work in terms of reference to the external world – were merely a matter of a quarrel with the press, then neither it nor The Beatles album would be worth considered attention. In fact both are a demand to be seen as artists, and to refuse the rule of journalists or commentators. And the Beatles’ instinct has served them well; their stand is crucial to them, to our grasp of their music, and afterwards to our own self-perception. Does this sound like a gigantic claim? So it is. It’s difficult living among heroes, to avoid a flip tone of voice. But the Beatles are not camp stars; they are, whether you, I or they like it or not, the real thing. Their stature is meaningful and can be delineated.

The Beatles rates high not just as new music, nor just as art, but as a demonstration of a fact so blatant as to be invisible, so close and new that we’ve few bearings on it yet: that art is now in process of replacing science as the determinant of the way we see ourselves and the world. The point has to be made in this context; without it the potency of the Beatles, now fully equalled only by Dylan and Godard, remains hermetic; an enigma.

But the Beatles’ artistic consciousness is autonomous. It cannot be felt or discussed except in its own terms. The joyful idea contained in the Beatles’ music is that individual consciousness can be as real as the external world. They are the first full citizens of the post-scientific age, with a few other artists. The Beatles are their music; who John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo are at home is another matter.

By Geofrey Cannon | The Guardian

19 November 1968

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