Wednesday, January 25, 2006

How come the Solo Albums don't sound like the Beatles?

When George got stabbed by that maniac who broke into his house, I went to work wearing a Beatles button on my coat. I think it had a picture from Help! on it. A guy, who I kinda knew, was staring at it, and we started talking Beatles. Turns out the guy was (and is) a huge Beatles fan. When I mentioned the solo albums, he kind of shrugged and said "I never bought them. They didn't interest me."

I bought and consumed every solo album they put out. Even the shitty Ringo albums like Ringo The 4th and Bad Boy. I even bought Lennon's non-music albums like Life with the Lions. But I'm a fanatic and am fascinated by their every move. Their story is the most interesting one in the history of show business, and their solo albums are as much a part of that story as their work together.

However, the big question is: How come the solo stuff never really sounded like the Beatles?

Here's my take on it:

1. Anti-Beatles: Paul said that when he started to do solo albums, he purposely tried to come up with tunes that didn't sound like the Beatles. I assume the others felt the same way.

2. The Bullshit Factor: There was a lot of pressure bringing a song to a Beatles session. George has talked about it. But when they went solo, surrounded by yes-men, there wasn't anybody around to say, "That's bloody awful!".

3. George Martin: He was a big part in the sound and mood of a Beatles song. Look at the Martin produced McCartney stuff (like "Live and Let Die"). It almost does sound like the Beatles.

4. Musical Chemistry: Paul was the only Beatle with extraordinary musicianship skills. The others were average players. But the fact is, and Paul says this in the Anthology film, "We played good!" Certain people "play good" together, regardless of their skill level. So no matter who John, Paul or George got to play on their solo albums, they could never find the magic they created together. Just check out the rooftop concert in Let It Be. What a tight little combo. Magnificent.

5. Vocals: Their voices blended beautifully.

6. The Variety Factor: A Beatles album was like a variety show. Four singers, four styles.

7. They'd Lost It: How long were Lennon and McCartney expected to crank out such beautiful and interesting music!? They gave us hundreds of great tunes, and maybe they just couldn't produce the same quality in such quantity anymore.

All that being said, and admitting that yes, the solo albums never equaled their work as a team, there are solo albums that rank at least as high as the weaker Beatles albums. Just pop in All Things Must Pass, Band on the Run, Plastic Ono Band or even Ringo, and you have to admit that they are as enjoyable as Beatles For Sale or Yellow Submarine.