For Christmas in 1997, I received a two disc compilation set of Beatles music. The previous year, one of my brothers had received the “Red Album”, a collection of early Beatles songs from 1962-66 and our family had enjoyed the poppy goodness of Beatle-mania era songs. That was really my big introduction to the band (other than occasional radio play) and I liked it. This “Blue Album” set was completely different.
As most music fans know, the Beatles ditched their early teen idol personas and scaled back on their touring, opting instead for a more artistic and studio-driven approach to music. The early years produced hits like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help!”, but the later years yielded “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Hey Jude”. Hearing this set for the first time threw me for a loop. I remember thinking “this must have been when they started taking all those drugs” because there was a song about a walrus and an octopus’ garden and so forth.
After repeated listens, I slowly began to pick up on the nuances of the recordings. I marveled at the complexity of “Sgt. Pepper’s…” when I listened to it on my portable CD player. I grinned at the horns and strings that so naturally appeared in “All You Need is Love” and the insanity of cacophony built up in “A Day in the Life”. I began to realize why The Beatles were so often heralded as the best band ever: they were like four bands with the same four guys in each one, or maybe even 6 bands. They four men played off each other in astoundingly artistic ways and generated such a diverse playlist that it was like nothing I’d heard before.
I think if I only ever heard the Red Album compilation and never the Blue, I would have been a fan, but not a big fan. This set of songs sparked my imagination and opened me up to the full potential of rock music. I am a huge fan of the band now and have spent a lot of time reading about their music and their cultural impact. I’m still hoping to someday purchase their newly remastered albums on CD in hopes of discovering more little gems buried deep in the recordings that I hadn’t noticed before and recapture the thrills I had when I first heard their music.