There are certain things which make me happy. Cups of tea poured out of my favorite tea pot, playing the guitar, Love’s Forever Changes on a sunny day. Conversely a Beatles album has never truly made me happy. I know they routinely get the Best Album of ALL Time slots with Sgt Pepper’s on lists that deal with such things, but I just don’t like the Beatles.
If I want to listen to some psychedelia, a little eau de’psychedelique, a small taste of the ’60s I don’t go to Paul and the boys. Paul apparently had resisted doing LSD, and gone off alone in London to drop acid after the rest of them got turned on, they knew their days as mop top boy band were over, and this was the only way to go. I can’t say it didn’t work, I can’t say it isn’t an excellent album, but the best of all time? Lovely Rita Meter Maid? No way. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake with the Small Faces did English concept album whimsy better. Syd Barrett’s Floyd did the soundtrack to tripping in London in ’67 better, their long freak outs and light shows were the gold standard, and for pure, from the source, California acid soaked perfection, you can’t do better than Forever Changes. The Dead never get a shot in the top ten of these best albums of the ’60s lists, but no one can persuade me that The Grateful Dead: The Grateful Dead is not a more seminal, more real, more serious album than Sgt Peppers can ever hope to be. I would put Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane, before Sgt Peppers anyday.
Love weren’t a San Francisco band – they were in L.A, but with the indominable Arthur Lee at the helm, they were the epitome of the summer of Love. The album is trippy without falling wholly into circus-like twee whimsy – Sorry Brits, but the whole for the benefit of Mr Kite, and even Floyd with their bikes and their underwear stealing Arnold Layne are not the gold standard – there is a raft of songs which actually weren’t just fairytales for tripping hippies.
Love has something to say, Love has an edge. Take the song “A House is Not a Motel”, with it’s minor pentonic scales, driving drum beat cool, and it’s commentary on the Vietnam War.
The song turns into a counjuring, guitars wail, spirits cry, Arthur is a magician, and you know what, you can call his name, he isn’t listening, he knows where it is at:
By the time that I’m through singing
The bells from the schools of wars will be ringing
More confusions, blood transfusions
The news today will be the movies for tomorrow
And the water’s turned to blood
And if you don’t think so
Go turn on your tub
And it it’s mixed with mud
You’ll see it turn to gray
And you can call my name
I hear you call my name
What did The Beatles have to say? Come on boy’s give it your best shot!
The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten summer sets he’ll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill
Forever Changes is infused with an Indian raga sound, lush mariachi trumpets, layered guitars, and is a perfect snapshot of free love California at the height of the ’60s. Perfect little three minute pieces of gorgeous sound, with Arthur’s acid infused rebellion, the band was racially diverse, and didn’t shy away from serious song writing. Let’s face it, The Beatles never really said anything particularly deep. Within You Without you? Give me a break! Free me from the tyranny of Sargent Peppers! What did the Beatles do? Smoke a joint with Dylan, make some girl’s scream, drop some acid, and do the Kinks British whimsy before the Kinks got beyond those three driving chord speed-driven anthems.
Meanwhile, in the real world of psychedelia, Arthur and the boys were getting freaky. No When I am 64 twee nonsense. Instead, “wrapped in their armor, but my things are material” the Love boys were making music that was more serious, more grown up, darker, deeper. They were going andmoreagain. Sweet and innocent without the cutesy. I wonder if it is a British thing, this uniquely childlike devotion to village greens, and well behaved innocence. Let’s face it, the Beatles never really get sexy. They built lives on being safe objects of desire for teenage girls to scream at, and did very well from it too, but best album of all time? Best psychedelia offering of the golden year of 1967? “It is all so repetitious” sings Arthur, and I have to agree with him.
Hold up With A Little Help From My Friends, the most well known track from the album, covered by the late great Joe Cocker, against “Maybe the People would be the times or between Clark and Hillsdale”. I dare you, play one against the other. Both odes to friendship and hanging with the boys. Honestly ask yourself which has aged better, which is more interesting. I just can’t give it to Lennon and McCartney. Great psychedelia has that childlike edge, the Beatles tip over into just plain childish. There is no dark side, there is no trip to the journey, they have precisely no edge at all. “What would you do if I sang out of tune” ask the Beatles. I would raise my hands joyously into the air and feel like I wasn’t watching an old episode of some 60s kids show! They don’t make music that challenges, they don’t make music for grown ups. I might give them the White Album, but really, there is better stuff out there.
Maybe the People, takes you along with Arthur for a trip out, to places they play his tunes, to talk to friends who tell them they have girls, but they will catch up with him later, crowds, saved seats and wonderings about race in the United States. Arthur writes lush psych-folk for the lost children, the hippies and the street urchins. Arthur is real, the Beatles are just a snarky guy who got shot, the nicest guy in music, and the other two, they have not aged well, the music hasn’t aged well. It is the preserve of instrumentals, of uncool dances for old folks, and cheesy variety shows, it is aunties dancing at weddings with their plump sisters, sweating in the heat and getting tipsy on the sherry. Just one more dear! The Beatles are not cool.
Try playing “the snot has kicked against my pants, it has turned into crystal” at a cheesy 1980s wedding, and see where it gets you!
I have come to really not enjoy these lists which always end in the hegemony of The Beatles at number one, in some monopoly on the word “the best” which is wholly undeserved. I feel enough time has passed that we can look at this more objectively and say…they were a bit shit really.