Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue

My fellow Debris Slider Marshall has recently taken me to task for a Facebook post wherein I, asked to name 15 albums that would always stay with me, included the Beatles' 1967-1970. I thought this email colloquy would be appropriate to reproduce here, since one thing I want this blog to focus on is not just how culture is created and disseminated but how we, the end users, experience it. Given my age, it was perfectly natural that my primal impressions of the Beatles' career would include the Red and Blue albums. Herewith, Marshall and I hash that out:

Marshall: Tommy,
Am I wrong, or have you cited the Beatles' red and/or blue albums as "albums"? You can't. I'm older than you, so I have the leg-up on this one. The red and blue albums were Greatest Hits albums and we all ("we all") laughed at the chicanery to modify albums that were right then on the stands, ready to be loved.

Anyway. Whatever you were doing there, well, you cut that out.

TN: Are you referring to my Facebook post wherein I was asked to name 15 albums that would always stay with me? I'm younger than you, so my experience of this is quite different from yours. (Plus, I know enough not to hyphenate "leg up.") My musical consciousness was not developed until the Beatles were kaput, so I learned of all these songs in retrospect, mostly just from hearing them here, there and everywhere on the radio. Eventually, sometime in the mid-70s, I became aware that there was this group that had put out a tremendous number of hit songs, just about all of which I loved.

These were the days in which you'd go to a record store and spend your time flipping through dozens of big vinyl records, all stood up in a row. They'd all cost $7.99 or so [Marshall subsequently insisted that this should have been $5.98], and since I wasn't much more than a little kid, that was a lot of money to me. Eventually, while flipping through the B section, I found that there were two Beatles albums that seemed to have all their best songs on them. "She Loves You"! "Yellow Submarine"! "Penny Lane"! "Let It Be"! "Old Brown Shoe"! (I will admit to being baffled as to why "Another Day" wasn't on there, since that was an old song unnmistakably sung by Paul McCartney, at a time when he would have been a Beatle.)

How could I not want to own these albums? NEED to own these albums? Sure, there were other Beatles records in the rack, but who ever really wanted to hear "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," or "I'm Looking Through You"? I had never heard of those songs, and had no desire to hear them. I wanted the songs I knew, and loved. The decision was easy.

So I make no apologies for having made the Red and Blue albums my introduction to Beatles records. They were so delightful, they way they were packaged with the identical flash-forwarded photos on the covers, and the way the Blue album's vinyl was actually blue (although the Red album was disappointingly black). I made a similar decision that didn't turn out so well, buying Hard Rain as my first-ever Bob Dylan album because I loved several of the songs that were on it - not realizing it was a live album, with screamed, tuneless vocals and every song rearranged for muddy electric guitar.

But I did cite the Blue album as one of the albums that would always stick with me, which I suppose is what has rankled you. The thing is, the Beatles of that period put out an awful lot of great singles that never did end up on an LP, except for the much-ridiculed Magical Mystery Tour album or the now-nonexistent Hey Jude album. Songs that will always stick with me include "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Hey Jude" and "Revolution," none of which I ever owned except as part of the Blue album. Plus, I do really like "Old Brown Shoe."

With apologies to Elvis Presley, the Beatles put out what is clearly the greatest double-sided single of all time - and I have no idea whether that single is "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" or "Hey Jude"/"Revolution." [Marshall: That's an awfully close tie, I agree. (I remember being absolutely terrified when my sisters played "Revolution 9" near my bedroom. Well, it was a very small house.)] Poor old "We Can Work It Out"/"Day Tripper" can't even make it out of the first round.

And iTunes has totally scrambled the way we experience full-length albums, which is to say that we (or at least I) rarely experience them as a full piece any more; we pick out the specific songs we want to hear, and listen to them over and over again. Suffice it to say that if I were to create a LP-sized playlist of my favorite Beatles songs to listen to on my iPod, it would bear a strong resemblance to the first vinyl record of the Blue album.

And the first real Beatles record I ever owned was the White Album, which made for a nice set. Red, White and Blue.


  1. I can't believe there are two Marshalls on this thing. That guy sounds like a complete ass.

  2. Wait. Am I to understand that there are Dylan records without "screamed, tuneless vocals"?

  3. I don't want to interrupt the two Marshalls talking to each other (which is why I never actually go to Marshall's house), but "I'm Looking Through You" is awesome.

  4. Yeah. That's why it's on an actual Beatles album.

    ("Album." I am so old.)

  5. (Marshall -- I'm with you on this one! And, damn it, I love you.)

  6. the double names are so confusing. One of you should be "Marshall's Silver Hammer" and the other "Uncle Albert/Admarshall Halsey."

    Side 1 of the Blue Album is up there with Side 3 of Hot Rocks in terms of "best album sides ever."

  7. I want to take a breath here and say that any vinyl that got those songs into the world was brilliant. I admire the Beatles, I'm guessing, more than anyone here. (Possibly it's because you're mainly younglings.) In any case, I abjectly retract everything I said, with the requisite apologies.