Part 6: The Beatles Grow Up (1977)
Many British Invasion rock artists who came of age in the â€˜60s were doing disco-like songs in the late â€˜70s, from the Stones (â€œMiss Youâ€), to the Kinks (â€œWish I Could Fly Like Superman”) to Rod Stewart (â€œDa Ya Think Iâ€™m Sexyâ€) toâ€¦ well, Paul McCartney (â€œGoodnight Tonightâ€).Â But somehow I donâ€™t think the Beatles wouldâ€™ve succumbed to the pressure.Â At least not yet (youâ€™ll see what Iâ€™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 â€˜60s Beatles and carried into much of their early â€˜70s music in our alternate reality.Â So this album is called The Beatles Grow Up.Â In one sense it can be seen as a pioneering example of what we now call â€œAdult Contemporary.â€Â 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 theyâ€™d hoped.Â In other words, theyâ€™re telling them to grow up.Â In any case though, this record screams late â€˜70s, or at least the non-danceable side of that era.
This was an album that was also quite challenging to sequence.Â What would yâ€™all do differently?Â Iâ€™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.Â I made the executive decision to include songs from 1980â€™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 weâ€™ll get to next time.Â Then we get into the least-of-all-sacrileges (a.k.a. Julian) era, as explained in the second installment of this series.Â Thatâ€™s just the best way the timing of it all could be worked out.Â 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?Â Iâ€™m not sure, but if any of the albums could be the soundtrack to a movie, this would be it.Â I envision a fairly plot-free set of montages of home videos, all with that mid-â€˜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 Thamesâ€¦ many of these songs just seem tailor-made for montages.Â In fact, I almost called this album Montage.
Finally, a piece of paper with George Harrisonâ€™s unmistakable penmanship has slipped through a wormhole and is undoubtedly a set list from the spring of â€™78 on the Grow Up World Tour.Â One loyal reader pointed out that the 1974 set was slightly lacking in the rockinâ€™-out quota, and looking it over, I think he was right, so Iâ€™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
Youâ€™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 Iâ€™m Amazed
I Wanna Be Your Man (punk rock style â€“ would that be awesome or what?)
Itâ€™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!Â OK, onto the album.
â€œLet â€˜em Inâ€ â€“ This wouldâ€™ve just barely got past the Lennon granny-song-censoring machine because it name-drops the Everly Brothers.Â Maybe they wouldâ€™ve snuck another â€œPaul is deadâ€ clue in the false fade-out.Â 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.
â€œ(Just Like) Starting Overâ€ â€“ A logical continuation of Johnâ€™s â€˜50s emulations from the prior record, and a good way to help introduce the albumâ€™s loose theme of reconciliation and settling down.
â€œSheâ€™s My Babyâ€ â€“ OK, this is a big mystery here: Does Paul sing on this?Â Iâ€™ve always thought it was the Wingsâ€™ Denny Laine singing and trying to sound like Paul, but I just checked the albumâ€™s liner notes and they say Paul sings on every track except where noted, and this isnâ€™t noted!Â So is it Paul after all?Â Well, if itâ€™s not, imagine it is, because this was just too darn good to leave off.Â This is one of the few Beatles solo songs that I think wouldâ€™ve been written and recorded by the Beatles virtually intact if they had not broken up.Â A note-for-note perfect melody, straight out of their mid-â€˜60s rulebook.Â Love it.
â€œCrackerbox Palaceâ€ â€“ Iâ€™ll forgive the â€œI was so young when I was bornâ€ line, because this is one of Georgeâ€™s greatest achievements; gorgeous slide guitar and an addictive sing-along chorus.Â And it had a video with Monty Python!Â Bonus points.Â I believe in was shown on Saturday Night Live sometime in 1976.Â Georgeâ€™s 33 1/3 is a monster album, especially when you compare it to what came beforeâ€¦
â€œWomanâ€ â€“ Speaking of greatest solo achievements.Â I canâ€™t write about this one and do it justice, so I wonâ€™t. Â OK, Iâ€™ll write one thing: there are modulations, and there are modulations.
â€œIâ€™ve Had Enoughâ€ â€“ The only real rocker on Grow Up and it still fits, because itâ€™s about an angry not-quite-so-young anymore man.
â€œWith A Little Luckâ€ â€“ Cheesy yes, but so were many Beatles songs from the â€˜60s and they were still great.Â Call this the â€œAll You Need Is Loveâ€ of the â€˜70s, an anthem for a more complicated time.Â Thereâ€™s an actual video for this out there, but the video is for the single version.Â The link here is to a clip of the album version, which is soooo much better, because it has that keyboard solo.
â€œBeautiful Boy (Darling Boy)â€ â€“ I can see John putting his foot down and insisting thatalthough they could keep his songs about Yoko off the albums, they couldnâ€™t stop him from an ode to his son, as long as he kept the lyrics non-specific (I think the â€œdarling Seanâ€ at the end may have just been â€œdarling boyâ€ in the Fixing a Hole reality).Â So coincidentally, I found this alternate version in which he really DOES just sing â€œDarling Boyâ€ at the end.Â And then thereâ€™s this hilarious â€œGoodnight Seanâ€ chorus at the end which kind of sounds like the Beatlesâ€™ sense of humor.
â€œGirlfriendâ€ â€“ Many folks know this as a Michael Jackson song from Off the Wall but it was originally on Wingsâ€™ London Town, a record that I hate to admit I like as much as I do.Â This is the â€œYouâ€™re Going To Lose That Girlâ€ of the â€˜70s and I think the vocal harmonies would sound that much better were they sung by John and George.
â€œSix Oâ€™Clockâ€ â€“ I did say weâ€™d hear from the Ringo album again, didnâ€™t I?Â Itâ€™s like this: Ringoâ€™s three late â€˜70s albums, Rotogravure, Ringo the 4th and Bad Boy do not, in my opinion, contain a single track that is faux-Beatle-worthy.Â Not one.Â OK, I kind of like â€œItâ€™s No Secret,â€ â€œWingsâ€ is OK, â€œThis Be Called a Songâ€ has a vaguely-interesting steel drum, but they all pale in comparison to several songs on Ringo that couldnâ€™t be included earlier because of the rule of staying faithful to the Beatle formula of one Ringo song per record.Â So I decided Iâ€™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.
â€œWatching the Wheelsâ€ â€“ 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, wouldâ€™ve been much bigger in 1977.Â Of course this song was really about Johnâ€™s self-imposed six year absence from the spotlight, which didnâ€™t happen in this fictional sequence of events, but thereâ€™s no way I could leave this out.
â€œLearning How to Love Youâ€ â€“ 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.Â Then many years later in my late teens as I was rediscovering the â€˜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 dadâ€™s record shelf and gave this a listen for the first time in about 10 years, and this came on and I went â€œWhoa!â€Â I guess I can cut my seven-year-old self some slack.
WELL-KNOWN SONGS THAT DIDNâ€™T MAKE THE CUT
â€œSilly Love Songsâ€ â€“ I can run but I canâ€™t hide.Â Why do â€œLet â€˜em Inâ€ and â€œWith a Little Luckâ€ make it and not this one?Â Personal preference mostly.Â Maybe if it were two minutes shorterâ€¦
â€œMull Of Kintyreâ€ â€“ Maybe if it were THREE minutes shorterâ€¦
â€œLondon Townâ€ â€“ Itâ€™s a B-side.Â Just not enough room.
â€œThis Songâ€ â€“ Just not that exciting, and written about the â€œMy Sweet Lordâ€ lawsuit, which wouldnâ€™t have happened without â€œMy Sweet Lordâ€ itself (see part 1).
A singles-heavy record in the adult-contemporary-crazed late â€˜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 Booneâ€™s â€œYou Light Up My Lifeâ€, much to the disgust of Beatle fans across America)
Woman b/w Donâ€™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)
Sheâ€™s My Baby b/w Beautiful Girl, #13, 1978
Next time: a little more experimentation, bring on the Rockestra!