Part 6: The Beatles Grow Up (1977)
Many British Invasion rock artists who came of age in the ‘60s were doing disco-like songs in the late ‘70s, from the Stones (“Miss You”), to the Kinks (“Wish I Could Fly Like Superman”) to Rod Stewart (“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”) to… well, Paul McCartney (“Goodnight Tonight”). But somehow I don’t think the Beatles would’ve succumbed to the pressure. At least not yet (you’ll see what I’m talking about next time).
But there is still an about-face on this album — the songs feel more sophisticated, and many of them touch on personal, domestic themes rather than the psychedelia, peace, and whimsy that defined the late ‘60s Beatles and carried into much of their early ‘70s music in our alternate reality. So this album is called The Beatles Grow Up. In one sense it can be seen as a pioneering example of what we now call “Adult Contemporary.” In another sense the title can be seen as an imperative, a little jab at the musical press for having not received Gesundheit as well as they’d hoped. In other words, they’re telling them to grow up. In any case though, this record screams late ‘70s, or at least the non-danceable side of that era.
This was an album that was also quite challenging to sequence. What would y’all do differently? I’m dying to hear suggestions I may not have thought of.
This is also where it gets interesting regarding the Lennon studio catalog, which in real life does not exist between 1975 and 1980. I made the executive decision to include songs from 1980’s Double Fantasy on this album, reasoning that John Lennon likely first imagined those songs in the 1977-78 timeframe anyway, and then songs from Milk and Honey will be included on the 1980 album, which we’ll get to next time. Then we get into the least-of-all-sacrileges (a.k.a. Julian) era, as explained in the second installment of this series. That’s just the best way the timing of it all could be worked out. And the Double Fantasy songs fit it very well on this album, if I do say so myself.
Would the Beatles have made any movies after 1970? I’m not sure, but if any of the albums could be the soundtrack to a movie, this would be it. I envision a fairly plot-free set of montages of home videos, all with that mid-‘70s haze about them: John and Yoko reading to baby Sean, Paul and Linda cooking in their country kitchen, George and Olivia meditating together, Ringo and Maureen still together perhaps, going for a stroll on the Thames… many of these songs just seem tailor-made for montages. In fact, I almost called this album Montage.
Finally, a piece of paper with George Harrison’s unmistakable penmanship has slipped through a wormhole and is undoubtedly a set list from the spring of ’78 on the Grow Up World Tour. One loyal reader pointed out that the 1974 set was slightly lacking in the rockin’-out quota, and looking it over, I think he was right, so I’m attempting to remedy that here (in spite of it being the Grow Up World Tour):
FIRST ELECTRIC SET:
Band On the Run
Watching the Wheels
What You Got
No No Song
With a Little Luck
The Ballad Of John and Yoko
Here Comes the Sun
Two Of Us
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
BACK TO ELECTRIC:
Listen to What the Man Said (in a slightly less wimpy arrangement)
Maybe I’m Amazed
I Wanna Be Your Man (punk rock style – would that be awesome or what?)
It’s All Too Much (in my alternate reality, anything is possible)
She Came In Through the Bathroom Window / Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End
All You Need Is Love segueing into She Loves You
Now THAT is a show! OK, onto the album.
“Let ‘em In” – This would’ve just barely got past the Lennon granny-song-censoring machine because it name-drops the Everly Brothers. Maybe they would’ve snuck another “Paul is dead” clue in the false fade-out. This was a big hit in real life, of course, but in the context of this record (and with all the other contenders for singles) I see it more as a conceptual lead-in.
“(Just Like) Starting Over” – A logical continuation of John’s ‘50s emulations from the prior record, and a good way to help introduce the album’s loose theme of reconciliation and settling down.
“She’s My Baby” – OK, this is a big mystery here: Does Paul sing on this? I’ve always thought it was the Wings’ Denny Laine singing and trying to sound like Paul, but I just checked the album’s liner notes and they say Paul sings on every track except where noted, and this isn’t noted! So is it Paul after all? Well, if it’s not, imagine it is, because this was just too darn good to leave off. This is one of the few Beatles solo songs that I think would’ve been written and recorded by the Beatles virtually intact if they had not broken up. A note-for-note perfect melody, straight out of their mid-‘60s rulebook. Love it.
“Crackerbox Palace” – I’ll forgive the “I was so young when I was born” line, because this is one of George’s greatest achievements; gorgeous slide guitar and an addictive sing-along chorus. And it had a video with Monty Python! Bonus points. I believe in was shown on Saturday Night Live sometime in 1976. George’s 33 1/3 is a monster album, especially when you compare it to what came before…
“Woman” – Speaking of greatest solo achievements. I can’t write about this one and do it justice, so I won’t. OK, I’ll write one thing: there are modulations, and there are modulations.
“I’ve Had Enough” – The only real rocker on Grow Up and it still fits, because it’s about an angry not-quite-so-young anymore man.
“With A Little Luck” – Cheesy yes, but so were many Beatles songs from the ‘60s and they were still great. Call this the “All You Need Is Love” of the ‘70s, an anthem for a more complicated time. There’s an actual video for this out there, but the video is for the single version. The link here is to a clip of the album version, which is soooo much better, because it has that keyboard solo.
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” – I can see John putting his foot down and insisting thatalthough they could keep his songs about Yoko off the albums, they couldn’t stop him from an ode to his son, as long as he kept the lyrics non-specific (I think the “darling Sean” at the end may have just been “darling boy” in the Fixing a Hole reality). So coincidentally, I found this alternate version in which he really DOES just sing “Darling Boy” at the end. And then there’s this hilarious “Goodnight Sean” chorus at the end which kind of sounds like the Beatles’ sense of humor.
“Girlfriend” – Many folks know this as a Michael Jackson song from Off the Wall but it was originally on Wings’ London Town, a record that I hate to admit I like as much as I do. This is the “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” of the ‘70s and I think the vocal harmonies would sound that much better were they sung by John and George.
“Six O’Clock” – I did say we’d hear from the Ringo album again, didn’t I? It’s like this: Ringo’s three late ‘70s albums, Rotogravure, Ringo the 4th and Bad Boy do not, in my opinion, contain a single track that is faux-Beatle-worthy. Not one. OK, I kind of like “It’s No Secret,” “Wings” is OK, “This Be Called a Song” has a vaguely-interesting steel drum, but they all pale in comparison to several songs on Ringo that couldn’t be included earlier because of the rule of staying faithful to the Beatle formula of one Ringo song per record. So I decided I’d stretch the bounds of time a bit and pull out this McCartney-penned gem that sounds just as easily like it could be from 1977.
“Watching the Wheels” – I always thought this song was a few years behind its time, in a good way that is, and although it was a reasonably successful hit in 1981, would’ve been much bigger in 1977. Of course this song was really about John’s self-imposed six year absence from the spotlight, which didn’t happen in this fictional sequence of events, but there’s no way I could leave this out.
“Learning How to Love You” – My dad had 33 1/3 when I was a kid, and I generally liked it, but always used to pull the needle off before this song (which concludes the real record, too), because I thought it was sappy and boring. Then many years later in my late teens as I was rediscovering the ‘70s (it was 1989 or so, and New Kids On the Block-eque music was taking over the pop charts, who could blame me?), I raided my dad’s record shelf and gave this a listen for the first time in about 10 years, and this came on and I went “Whoa!” I guess I can cut my seven-year-old self some slack.
WELL-KNOWN SONGS THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT
“Silly Love Songs” – I can run but I can’t hide. Why do “Let ‘em In” and “With a Little Luck” make it and not this one? Personal preference mostly. Maybe if it were two minutes shorter…
“Mull Of Kintyre” – Maybe if it were THREE minutes shorter…
“London Town” – It’s a B-side. Just not enough room.
“This Song” – Just not that exciting, and written about the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit, which wouldn’t have happened without “My Sweet Lord” itself (see part 1).
A singles-heavy record in the adult-contemporary-crazed late ‘70s:
Watching the Wheels b/w Dear One, #1, 1977
Crackerbox Palace b/w London Town, #7, 1977
With a Little Luck b/w Cleanup Time, #2, 1977 (kept out of the #1 spot by Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”, much to the disgust of Beatle fans across America)
Woman b/w Don’t Let It Bring You Down, #1, 1978 (managed to sneak into the #1 spot for one week in the midst of Bee Gee domination)
She’s My Baby b/w Beautiful Girl, #13, 1978
Next time: a little more experimentation, bring on the Rockestra!