Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Beatles = your musical history education

In continuation of my endless praise for The Beatles, I ask this question: how diverse were The Beatles? Few bands come anywhere close- you'd be best off listening to, say, the works of a studio musician, or The Knickerbockers, or maybe The Lemon Pipers. Even then, the only musician I can think that explored more forms of music than The Beatles is Frank Zappa.

Case in point: there are generally two camps of Beatle-wannabe bands... the kind who loves their recordings from '62-'65, and the kind who loves their recordings from '66-'69. It's usually the hard-rocking pop rock, power pop or even Britpop bands with moptops that like their early stuff, while slightly more sophisticated and experimental psychedelic acts like their later stuff. A good example of the latter is The Apples in Stereo, although bands like them are just as likely to be inspired by The Electric Light Orchestra. There were a lot more of these sort of bands in the 70's, such as Tin Tin, Grapefruit, and Klaatu, and many of them were even mistaken for The Beatles and released on Beatle bootlegs! I notice that the main thing that joins these two camps together is the Revolver album- which makes sense, since it was pretty much a transitional album.

My point here is that these two main periods of their commercial career are so different that fans can be divisive about it.

In many ways I wish The Beatles made more music than they did, which is one of the main reasons why I collect bootlegs. Basically, I want more of the same- so I look for more. This led me to believe something early on in my life: if The Beatles liked it, I like it.

You can pick any song you wish, whether they wrote it or not, learn about the history behind it, and there you have it! Another world opened up to you. I intend to discuss just this very thing throughout the blog, and I shall begin with the very first song performed by The Beatles ever recorded.

Not everyone knows it, but "In Spite of all the Danger" isn't the first song they performed that ever got recorded. Instead, it is truly remarkable to learn that the legendary concert on the day that John first met Paul had been recorded by someone with a portable tape recorder! Remember, the only member we're familiar with that was in the group then was John, and the band was called the Quarrymen.

So as many Beatle fans know, the Quarrymen played skiffle music. Now, what exactly is skiffle music? It's basically a form of jug band music, which in of itself is a danceable form of folk music, using cheap guitars, homemade instruments such as tea-chest bass (a variation of washtub bass), and banjo. There was a skiffle craze in Britain in the mid-50's, and many an unambitious bloke formed a band. Leading the movement was Lonnie Donegan, whose version of "Puttin' On The Style" is covered here by the Quarrymen.

Skiffle takes inspiration from American folk, blues, and country, and plays it uptempo. Sound familiar? Well, that's because white Americans were doing a similar mixture, giving rise to rockabilly. Having listened to samples of an extensive Lonnie Donegan collection, I'm convinced that rockabilly and British skiffle are examples of parallel musical evolution. That's why I'm not so surprised that The Beatles switched to rock 'n' roll almost immediately, seeing as the Sun Records that were being imported had the same roots as skiffle- it was just played on different instruments.

So if you ever wondered what The Beatles were playing and listening to at the very beginning, I suggest buying yourself a Lonnie Donegan CD. So that's a single song down, and an entire branch of music opens itself up.

So that's the first of many genres of music The Beatles played: Skiffle. I shall be making a list here, so watch and be amazed...

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