After All These Years

It was forty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you
The act you’ve known for all these years
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

I don’t really want to stop the show
But I thought that you might like to know
That the singer’s going to sing a song
And he wants you all to sing along
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Billy Shears
And Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

10 thoughts on “After All These Years

  1. Paul McCartney may be the closest thing our generation has produced to Franz Schubert
    Yeah, close, except that McCartney can’t read music. Levitin directly credits McCartney with good melodies, which is fair; but generically credits “the Beatles” with the string arrangements. What is the problem with mentioning George Martin by name?
    Remember that I was telling you about the issue of rampant ghost work in Washington? Well, it’s not just in Washington…

  2. Yeah, close, except that McCartney can’t read music.
    I have a hard time reading this as anything other than musical elitism on your part, Greg. McCartney wrote far better music than Schubert by any objective measure; who cares if he needed Martin to transcribe it?
    Levitin directly credits McCartney with good melodies, which is fair; but generically credits “the Beatles” with the string arrangements. What is the problem with mentioning George Martin by name?
    Sure, Levitin should have credited Martin. But McCartney was heavily involved as well. Take the best song on Sgt. Pepper’s: “A Day in the Life.” McCartney was intimately involved in the orchestral arrangements for that song.
    Remember that I was telling you about the issue of rampant ghost work in Washington? Well, it’s not just in Washington…
    Are you honestly suggesting that George Martin wrote The Beatles’ music? Because, you know, that’s totally wrong.

  3. McCartney wrote far better music than Schubert by any objective measure
    Well, we have been here before. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Beatles; in fact my daughter is listening to the Beatles right now. But I also like a good hamburger, sometimes. It is just not true that McCartney wrote far better music than Schubert by any objective measure. He wrote far better music by the highly subjective measure of a contemporary Anglo-Saxon audience. That is, if it’s the Beatles recordings specifically. When other people play the Beatles, it usually sounds okay, but not all that fantastic.
    Basically Levitin’s thesis that the Beatles will last through the centuries is wrong. They actually get relatively little airplay even today on American classic rock stations, probably less than Led Zeppelin, for instance.
    Who cares if he needed Martin to transcribe it?
    I agree, it doesn’t matter who transcribed it. McCartney needed Martin to polish it up, arrange it, and make it into a marketable product. There is a lot of Paul McCartney that wasn’t arranged by George Martin; how often do you listen to it?
    Ghost work is not usually an all or nothing matter; Milli Vanilli is the exception rather than the rule. Right now I’m listening to Eleanor Rigby with its famous string harmony. McCartney couldn’t possibly have arranged that. Eleanor Rigby is almost two different musical pieces superimposed, one by McCartney and one by Martin.
    If the intention was truly universal music, then Paul McCartney is a great example of wasted potential. He truly is (or was) a naturally gifted musician; whereas I am no musician at all. But he became famous without training; his relationship to musical training was never quite honest.
    On the other hand, people are entitled to other intentions. If the goal was very popular music, then McCartney (with help) was fantastic. Levitin just doesn’t see the difference.

  4. Well, we have been here before.
    Indeed we have. And you’re still wrong. Leaving aside your argument that Beatles cover versions are bad (Earth Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” and Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby” beg to differ), the Beatles were immensely talented musicians. They had better senses of melody, harmony, and rhythm than most who came before them. I’m sure Schubert was a completely proficient composer. But when it came to applying his virtuosity to create a product that was appealing and emotionally affecting, he fell well short of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison (we can all agree that Ringo was a deadweight). I agree that popularity isn’t everything; the greatest band of popular music history, the Velvet Underground, was never popular. But when everyone loves a band – and I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t love the Beatles – that tells you they’ve connected to something deep and universal within the human psyche. Schubert never did that.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like the Beatles; in fact my daughter is listening to the Beatles right now. But I also like a good hamburger, sometimes.
    There’s a great YouTube video which rattles off hipster-era commandments, one of which is “Thou shall not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular.” Obey the hipster commandments, Greg. Just because the Beatles are popular does not mean you should feel guilty about listening to them, or that they’re somehow “bad for you”; similarly, the fact that very few people listen to Schubert these days does not make him a genius or “good for you”.
    There is a lot of Paul McCartney that wasn’t arranged by George Martin; how often do you listen to it?
    Yeah, the Beatles solo albums sure sucked. Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass and Ram aren’t some of the best albums ever made or anything. Oh, wait – they are.
    If the intention was truly universal music, then Paul McCartney is a great example of wasted potential. He truly is (or was) a naturally gifted musician; whereas I am no musician at all. But he became famous without training; his relationship to musical training was never quite honest.
    Oh, come on. McCartney? Wasted potential? Seriously? If this is his potential “wasted,” then I *really* want to listen to his non-wasted potential. It’d be positively Godly.
    Basically Levitin’s thesis that the Beatles will last through the centuries is wrong. They actually get relatively little airplay even today on American classic rock stations, probably less than Led Zeppelin, for instance.
    I don’t even know where to start on this one. The Beatles are a part of the culture in the way Mozart or Beethoven are a part of the culture. The first song my second-grade chorus class did was “Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da,” almost thirty years after it came out. We followed up with “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Every Beatles song is a standard, Greg. Everyone knows all of them. They’re a cultural touchstone, not just of a generation, but of humanity in general. To say they’ll fade into obscurity is beyond ridiculous.

  5. They had better senses of melody, harmony, and rhythm than most who came before them.
    Well, they had a good sense of melody and rhythm. They didn’t really do the harmony. I would also agree with “better than most” for some value of “most”, which however does not include Schubert.
    I’m sure Schubert was a completely proficient composer. But when it came to applying his virtuosity to create a product that was appealing and emotionally affecting…
    Honestly I don’t know all that much about Schubert specifically. So, inspired by this conversation, I just listened to An Die Musik for the first time. It’s the most beautiful thing that I have heard all week, and that comes after most of a day of Beatles. I wish I had a translation.
    I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t love the Beatles
    It seems that Vivian is almost a double counterexample. She just discovered the Beatles this week. She does like the Beatles well enough, but only up to the end of the red album. She isn’t a fan of anything on the blue album (unlike me).
    Actually I know a number of people who are entirely bored with the Beatles. Again, I’m not one of them.
    McCartney? Wasted potential?
    Here are Sir Paul’s own words on the matter from 1990: “I’m still planning to write better songs. I was out to be another Cole Porter – still am, babe.” He’s right. He is still chasing Cole Porter’s level of class.
    Just because the Beatles are popular does not mean you should feel guilty about listening to them
    I don’t feel guilty for listening to the Beatles, or quite think that they are bad for me. They are neither good nor bad. I do feel regret that I didn’t have better musical training, and I’m glad that it’s a different story with my children.
    Plastic Ono Band, All Things Must Pass and Ram
    First, George Martin is not quite the only producer who can make the Beatles or other pop musicians sound good. (And, as I’ve been saying, the Beatles did have enough talent that they were certainly not Milli Vanillis.) Second, only one of these three albums was by Paul McCartney. Third, when I look at the titles on Ram, I see “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (which is okay but derivative to the Beatles) and 11 titles that, for whatever reason, I have never heard. Among McCartney’s later oevres, I had in mind cloying creations such as “Jet” and “Let ‘Em In”, which are both on “Wings Greatest”.
    It does seem that Paul McCartney was eventually a competent pop song producer. You have to be a little careful because there is really a lot of ghost work in the music business, some of it 100% uncredited. But the depth of songs like “Penny Lane” is clearly missing from later Paul McCartney. “Wings Greatest” does have one song that in my view lives up to the old High Beatles: “Live and Let Die”. It was coproduced by, guess who.

  6. You know, we’re just never going to agree about this. Quick points:
    Beatles > Schubert
    Vivian seems to be like our president: she likes the Beatles pre-psychedelia (though, considering as Vivian is a very nice girl, I doubt the comparison goes far beyond that). I, on the other hand, listen to Abbey Road and the White Album more than anything else.
    McCartney’s being modest. He’s long since surpassed Porter, and he knows it.
    As for the merits of the solo albums, they are numerous. Plastic Ono Band created rock angst; every confessional album since then has, consciously or unconsciously, been enormously influenced by it. Ram, along with the Velvets’ self-titled album (which, by the way, is the greatest album ever made), created the genre of indie pop the same way Iggy Pop created punk. All Things Must Pass is, along with Sandinista!, the greatest triple-album ever. I’m not so much into Wings, I must say. Band on the Run, I knew Abbey Road. Abbey Road was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Abbey Road.

  7. It occurs to me that in this conversation, we’ve said a lot about the Beatles, but very little about Schubert. As I said, I actually don’t know a whole lot about him. I can listen to a bare handful of his pieces through Wikipedia (!), and we also do have some Schubert CDs. They sound great, but I don’t even know enough to know what to play or what to listen for.
    I would think that a fair review of Schubert’s music would be a formidable task. Are you up to it?

  8. The only two Schubert pieces I’ve heard are Ave Maria and Trout Quintet. Ave Maria is gorgeous, but I found Trout Quintet plodding.
    That said, I am admittedly not up to the task of listening to all 998 of Schubert’s compositions and commenting on each one. Probably for the best, since I’m starting to feel like this whole debate resembles Letterman’s “Top 10 NBA players and household surfaces” list.

  9. The only two Schubert pieces I’ve heard are Ave Maria and Trout Quintet.
    I can’t say that I ever plan to listen to all of Schubert’s works, or even to a fifth of them. But maybe old Franz deserves a fairer hearing than just two pieces.
    (Hey, he wrote a lot. Maybe it’s because he kept composing until he died at the ripe old age of 31.)
    I’m starting to feel like this whole debate resembles Letterman’s “Top 10 NBA players and household surfaces” list.
    I agree.

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