(or why, when you are spending $250,000, you choose wisely)
Ohh! Controversial words and metaphorically shoot me down in flames if you like, but with his lyric-play and less commercial ear, John, possibly, wrote the better songs (Sorry Paul, but Octopus Garden?) and sure The Beatles were, and will remain, mega-popular but, with one exception, I think their recording output wasn’t exactly ground breaking.
Take the word-pictures played out in Eleanor Rigby: Truly excellent I know, but Ray Davies was doing the same with the Kinks. The Let It Be album is just straight ahead Blues/Rock and I bet, at the time of its release “She Loves You” was dismissed as disposable teen-pop in just the same way as Justin Bieber's output is scorned by many today. Yeah? Yeah? Yeah?
"No!, No!, No! Ok? Just No"
No, the recording (and note the use of that word) that is above anything else The Beatles ever did, and anything else recorded for pretty much a long time after that, was created just over 50 years ago and appears as the last track on, arguably, the best Beatles album: Revolver.
That recording is “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
Strangely for a track that sits way-way apart from the more “conventional” nature of the other songs that make up Revolver, Tomorrow Never Knows was the first track to be recorded in the studio sessions for the album.
So I ask myself:
“What would have Revolver been like if they had carried on in that fashion for the remainder of the album?”
The recent sad demise of Sir George Martin prompted wry comments about his skill in the studio of the 1960’s versus the producers of today and kit they have access to. Without a doubt, the production of Tomorrow Never Knows highlights his and The Beatles skill at using the studio as a creative tool.
This blog is not the place to go into how it was created. There is an excellent (yes really!) Wikipedia* article about the recording process of it, but in essence its creation, from John’s lyrics inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (of which, having read it, I can vouch for), the spinning-in of recordings on quarter-inch tape collated by Paul, George’s inspired suggestion of incorporating a sitar, to Ringo’s repetitive, but still far from simple mid-skip drum pattern, is a pure synergy of artistic and recording talent.
When you analyse its structure, to technically create such a track in the studio today wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Pro Tools, a click here and a reversal of a waveform there, but what you wouldn’t get is the elusive “soul” of the track that was created as a by-product of the way it was recorded.
That’s what sets Tomorrow Never Knows head and shoulders above anything else The Beatles ever recorded and, as a professional audio engineer, why of the bands output, it’s number one in my book.
You may take this claim, and dismiss it, as just my personal opinion?
Well I offer some validation:
Remember the $250,000 I mentioned above?
When the producers of Mad Men paid Apple that sum in a very rare TV licencing deal of a Beatles record, what song did they want so as to get the maximum audible bang for their bucks during the closing credits of the Season 5 episode "Lady Lazarus"?
"This better be good"
You’re ahead of me:
It was “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
“Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream”
Probably the best fan tribute video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUMFp0F6mp0
The tape loops as used in the tracks creation - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bY8ZNkoT5e8