‘The kids of AD 2000 will understand what it was all about and draw from the music much the same sense of well being and warmth as we do today. For the magic of The Beatles is timeless and ageless.’ That prediction in the sleeve notes for Beatles For Sale was made by Derek Taylor in 1964, when pop stars had a limited shelf life of perhaps two years. But sure enough, since its release in November 2000, the success of The Beatles’ album 1 proved him right in spectacular fashion with over 30 million sales worldwide …and counting. Decade after decade, the music of The Beatles continues to captivate generation upon generation.

Proving that the simplest ideas are often the best, the compilation included every number one Beatles single listed in the British chart published by Record Retailer and the Hot 100 of Billboard magazine. Fortunately, the 27 chart-toppers fitted onto a single CD with just a few seconds of playing time to spare. For those keeping score, six songs were number one just in the UK; eight reached the top only in America. ‘Eight Days A Week’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘The Long And Winding Road’ were not released on singles in the UK. Thirteen songs reached number one in both countries.

The tracks play in the chronological order of the dates when the singles were first released. The US fell under the spell of The Beatles a little late, so in 1964 ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Love Me Do’ followed the number one breakthrough of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. From ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ onwards, the world was in sync as it waited for the next exciting single. Rightly, we celebrate the group’s achievements with their albums, but the release of the next Beatles single was always a much anticipated event. Listening to 1, you can hear the group’s dazzling progression in performance, songwriting and recording.

Released first on seven-inch vinyl discs, these songs have been heard over the years on a range of formats, including eight-track cartridges, analogue cassettes, compact discs and digital downloads. Now streaming on a device near you, the magic of The Beatles continues to be ‘timeless and ageless’.
The frequency of The Beatles’ albums seems startling now but as ten months passed between the release dates of Revolver in August 1966 and the next LP on 1 June 1967, there was much speculation about what was seen as a long gap. The wait was the result of The Beatles pursuing a new direction. They had decided that their concert at Candlestick Park, San Francisco on 29 August 1966 would be their last. Touring had become musically frustrating and too dangerous. In December 1966, Paul explained: ‘We feel that only through recording do people listen to us, so that is our most important form of communication. We take as much time as we want on a track, until we get it to our satisfaction.’

With Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles and producer George Martin showed the world what could be achieved with this approach. Their experimental and painstaking work meant that around 400 hours were needed to complete the LP - an astonishing total at that time. Unusual studio techniques were applied throughout Sgt. Pepper. Artificial Double Tracking, or ‘phasing’ as it was nicknamed, was used to alter the true sound of an instrument or a voice. There was also the speeding up and slowing down of tapes during recording and mixing, which changed the tempo and pitch of a voice, instrument or whole song.

No singles were released from Sgt. Pepper, although it includes two of the best known Lennon/McCartney hits - ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. The songs range across styles from the poignant ballad ‘She’s Leaving Home’ to the jaunty music hall pastiche ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ and the giddy fairground atmosphere of ‘Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!’. The album ends with ‘A Day In The Life’ - a composition seamlessly combining two distinct ideas originating from John and Paul. The most radical aspect of its arrangement was the superimposition of an orchestra building to a cacophonous climax. George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ introduced pop fans to the unfamiliar sound of an Indian ensemble trading licks with a classical string section. However, it is not only the exotic instrumentation on the album that dazzles, listen for the soulful drum fills, exciting guitar flourishes, elastic bass lines and characterful vocals.

As the sessions for Sgt. Pepper progressed, George Martin recognised the commercial risk he and the group were taking: ‘As it was getting more and more avant-garde... there was a slight niggle of worry. I thought, “Is the public ready for this yet?”’. It was.
After the longest wait yet for the ‘official’ next album, there was widespread and heightened anticipation of what The Beatles would do to follow Sgt. Pepper. Issued on 22 November 1968, the stark white cover of their ninth UK album signalled they had, once again, overturned all expectations. Called simply The Beatles, but forever to be known as ‘The White Album’, the double-LP may be the most eclectic album ever released. The Beatles seemed determined to write and play in every style imaginable.

The origins of the music are rooted in The Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh, India where they studied transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their trip in March 1968 was a communal experience that reinforced the group’s unity. It certainly inspired a prolific phase of songwriting. In May, before sessions began at EMI Studios, The Beatles taped acoustic demo versions of 27 songs at George Harrison’s house. They began recording these new compositions at Abbey Road on 30 May and studio work occupied most of their time until the final date on 16 October 1968. ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Revolution’ were the first songs to be heard from the sessions when they were released as a stand-alone single on 30 August 1968. It is doubtful whether any other artist would have even considered leaving off their album such a monumental hit single.

The juxtaposition of loud and soft is one of the reasons ‘The White Album’ is so surprising. The raucous rocker ‘Helter Skelter’ precedes the delicate ‘Long Long Long’. The pastoral calm of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ is placed between the fiery ‘Yer Blues’ and the wildness of ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey’. As usual, there are many humorous touches - as heard in ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’, ‘Rocky Raccoon’, ‘Piggies’ and ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. In 1968, The Beatles changed their approach to recording. As Ringo remembered: ‘On “The White Album” we ended up being a band again and that’s what I always love.’ Conversely, more than ever before, it was not considered necessary for all of The Beatles to play on every song. Only sixteen out of 30 tracks featured the participation of all four. Uncredited, Eric Clapton played lead guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.

It was clear to everyone in 1968 that The Beatles had recorded an album that was in sharp contrast to its predecessor. As George Harrison explained: ‘We always tried to make things different. There was no chance of a new record ever being like the previous one.’ The group’s remarkable achievement in creating ‘The White Album’ is that, despite such dazzling diversity within the collection, each track is stamped with the unmistakable sound of The Beatles.
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