A lovestruck Romeo sings the streets a serenade

This is the seventh in a series of posts that will feature detailed analysis and commentary about some of my all-time favorite albums.

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In the late ’70s, things weren’t looking so great for rock music fans.  Those who grew up on the blues-based rock of the ’60s and early ’70s were finding slim pickings on the airwaves, as first disco, then punk, then techno New Wave sounds dominated.

The veteran rock bands were still recording and performing, but most seemed to be running out of gas, and there were precious few new young studs coming along to breathe life into the once-sturdy world of rock guitars and intelligent songwriting.

Thankfully, there were exceptions.  Although I was among American buyers who were a dire-straits-quiz-1little tardy on the uptake, I soon became knowledgeable about a sensational songwriter/guitarist who I strongly believe ranks right up there with the very best of the last forty years:  Mark Knopfler.

Early interest in music and journalism paved the way for the kind of literate songwriting Knopfler would favor as an adult.  Born in Scotland and raised in Northumberland, England, as the oldest son of a teacher/mother and architect/father, Knopfler showed enthusiasm for a broad range of music from Celtic folk songs to Chuck Berry’s rock classics, and he was particularly fond of his uncle’s blues harmonica and boogie-woogie piano playing.  He has said he was inspired by the likes of Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore, B.B. King, Django Reinhardt, Hank Marvin and James Burton.  Guitar became his instrument of choice, and he played in various school bands while also working as an intern and copy editor at the daily Newcastle newspaper.

In 1977, Knopfler, his brother David, and two schoolmates (John Illsley and Pick Withers) comprised the original lineup of the London-based group Dire Straits, named, says Knopfler, “because that’s what were in, financially, at the time.”  They struggled in pubs and small clubs, sometimes warming up for The Talking Heads and others, and cut a couple of demos of their earliest songs, all written by Knopfler.  Vertigo Records, a division of Phonogram Inc, took a chance on them and released their debut LP, “Dire Straits,” in the fall of 1978.

Karin Berg, an A&R representative at Warner Bros. Records in New York, recalls when she first heard the album.  “I thought it was the kind of music that audiences like my friends were hungry for, but it took some work to convince my colleagues,” she said. dire_straitsDire Straits were signed to Warner, and by the spring of 1979, “Sultans of Swing” was the #4 single on the US charts, with the album perched at #2.  Both the single and the album became international successes, and Dire Straits was in dire straits no longer.

Critics went crazy for Knopfler’s spare, fluid guitar sound.  It was “infectious” and “sounded like no other guitar anywhere on the radio,” said one writer.  “It’s very tasty guitar playing, almost like jazz for the layman,” said another.  He was praised not only for his guitar prowess but for his catchy songwriting and intellectually stimulating lyrics.  “Sultans of Swing,” for instance, “paints a vivid picture of an overlooked, underappreciated pub rock combo,” wrote Rick Moore of Songwriter magazine.

I couldn’t help but notice “Sultans of Swing,” which got saturation airplay, but I was slow to warm to Knopfler’s oeuvre.  Most of the tracks on that first LP just didn’t grab me, except “Down to the Waterline,” so the album mostly sat ignored on my shelf.  I didn’t even bother to buy the follow-up album, “Communiqué,” later in 1979 (which proved to be an oversight later corrected), despite such worthwhile tunes as “Lady Writer,” “Single-Handed Sailor” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

But boy, did I sit up and take notice when Dire Straits’ third LP, “Making Movies,” arrived in late 1980.  Knopfler had been writing more sophisticated, more personal songs, and Sleeve_of_Making_Movies-1.svghad taken a shine to the Bruce Springsteen/Patti Smith collaboration “Because the Night,” on which recording engineer Jimmy Iovine had put his imprimatur.  Knopfler signed up Iovine, who brought with him E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan, and the result was a more cinematic approach to recording that gave us Dire Straits’ first masterpiece.

Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke recognized it immediately:  “‘Making Movies’ is the album on which Mark Knopfler comes out from behind his influences, and Dire Straits comes out from behind Knopfler.  The combination of the star’s lyrical script, his intense vocal performances, and the band’s cutting-edge rock and roll soundtrack is breathtaking — everything the first two albums should’ve been, but weren’t.  If ‘Making Movies’ really were a film, it might win a flock of Academy Awards.

Bittan’s piano added an important new element to the Dire Straits sound in the studio, but it was the songs themselves that made all the difference, with four of the seven tracks clocking in at well over five minutes.  “Tunnel of Love,” a crowd favorite on every tour thereafter, has the audacity to begin with an extract of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Carousel Waltz” before heading off on a Knopfler amusement-park metaphor:  “And the big wheel keep on turning, neon burning up above, I’m just high on the world, come on and take a low ride with me, girl, on the tunnel of love…”  Seems likely to me that the song played a role in Springsteen’s 1987 album title song of the same name.

I’m partial, too, to the grand romantic sweep of “Romeo and Juliet,” an impeccable song about a failed love affair that truly astonishes, and it remains an important piece in Knopfler’s setlist to this very day.  His journalistic training made him a keen observer of people and their professions, and the lyrics of “Skateaway” use wonderfully potent phrases to tell the tale of a girl who roller-skates throughout Manhattan, dodging dense traffic as she delivers packages and important papers to the city’s movers and shakers.

“Espresso Love” and “Solid Rock” show the group rocking out as never before, and “Hand in Hand” gives forceful evidence of Knopfler’s ability with a ballad.  The only dud on the album is its closer, a lightweight piece on the European gay culture called “Les Boys” that, while interesting lyrically, doesn’t come close to measuring up musically to the rest of the album…

I suppose I should mention here that Knopfler is not exactly the best vocalist I’ve ever heard.  His is an acquired taste, like so many rock vocalists who aren’t singers as much as expressive and passionate.  And besides, I’m here to praise his songcraft and guitar playing.

12695198833_d8df7200f3_bKnopfler reinforced his exemplary songwriting reputation in 1982 with Dire Straits’ fourth LP, “Love Over Gold,” which some fans think is their best work, and I’m almost inclined to agree.  It includes what I believe is the group’s finest recorded moment, the 14-minute tour de force “Telegraph Road,” as well as the furtive mood piece “Private Investigations,” a sleeper hit single in England.  Bittan had returned to his post with the E Street Band, but keyboardist Alan Clark joined the band on stage and in the studio, proving his mettle admirably.

“ExtendedancEPlay,” a four-song EP released in ’83, included the retro-rockabilly rave-up “Twisting By the Pool” and a marvelous jazz workout called “Badges, Posters, Stickers and T-shirts” featuring a boogie-woogie piano arrangement that would have no doubt made Knopfler’s uncle giggle with delight.  “Alchemy,” a double live LP full of excellent documentation of the group’s live shows, kept the quality Dire Straits products coming in 1984.

Then came “Brothers in Arms,” the group’s commercial apex by far.  It’s a remarkable record full of vintage Knopfler compositions, and the world responded at the cash registers, where upwards of 30 million copies have sold.  The monster single “Money For Nothing,” which perfectly captures the music video era through the eyes of an envious 220px-DS_Brothers_in_Armsblue-collar worker, sat at #1 in the US for seven consecutive weeks in 1985, and “Walk of Life” and “So Far Away” also both made the Top 20.  The title track has since emerged as one of the most perceptive set of lyrics ever written describing the difficult experiences of soldiers at war.  Me, I put the deep album track “Your Latest Trick” at the front of this pack, carried by the sexiest sax riff this side of Junior Walker.

As much as I enjoy “Brothers in Arms,” there’s another that outranks it for me in the Dire Straits catalog. Following hugely successful international tours throughout 1985 and 1986, Knopfler and the band took a break for a few years, recharged their batteries and re-emerged in 1991 with the nearly perfect “On Every Street.”

It seems that no matter what you do after a multi-platinum runaway success, the critics will be underwhelmed and decide the new LP just doesn’t measure up.  I was beyond thrilled with it, a cornucopia of Knopfler and Company at their best, killing it on 220px-Dire_Straits_-_On_Every_Streeteverything from straight rock (“Calling Elvis”) to gentle country (“Ticket to Heaven”), from radio-friendly Nashville pop (“The Bug”) to provocative late-night jazz-blues (“Planet of New Orleans”).

Through it all, Knopfler showed he had somehow improved his guitar proficiency, laying down gorgeous riffs and chord changes with seductive intimacy in his usual lean, clean way.  Check out “Fade to Black” and the incredible title track for all the evidence you’ll need.

The group dove right back into touring over the next two years, topping attendance records around the world.  I saw them play an arena in Cleveland, a big echo-y barn of a place where I’d heard other bands fail miserably at providing decent sound quality.  Dire Straits found a way to bring their pristine studio production values to the big venue, making it by far the best sounding show I’d ever seen there (and I’d seen about 40).

By 1995, though, Knopfler had had enough. “I still enjoy playing some of those early Straits songs, and I’m proud of what we did, and certainly we had some great times. It’s Great-Unknown-Songs-9-–-Dire-Straits-Industrial-Diseasewhat we all wanted when we were kids.  But you’ve got to have the resilience to ride that thing, to pick up that ball and run with it…  After awhile, though, the group was no longer a good vehicle for the songs I was writing.  That, and my lack of interest in being a part of the arena rock show experience any longer, meant it was time to disband for good.”

It didn’t mean, however, the end to Knopfler’s musical career.  To the contrary, he always aspired to work outside the confines of the Dire Straits template, and in fact was involved in several side projects during the Dire Straits years.  He wrote music for the soundtrack albums of six different films, most notably “Local Hero” and “The Princess Bride”; he played a key role in the one-off British/bluegrass collaboration known as The Notting Hillbillies, and in “Neck and Neck,” a collection of instrumental duets with the late great Chet Atkins; and he produced albums and contributed guitar parts for other major artists like Bob Dylan (“Infidels”) and Randy Newman (“Land of Dreams”).

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits 1980

Since beginning a solo career in earnest in 1996 with the debut LP, “Golden Heart,” Knopfler has since churned out eight more solo studio records (including “Down the Road Wherever,” released this month), a popular pairing with Emmylou Harris (2006’s “All the Roadrunning”), and still more music for film soundtrack albums.

Knopfler is equally at home with British roots folk music and American blues.  “My idea of heaven is a place where the Tyne meets the Delta, where folk music meets the blues,” he said, and his solo albums in particular reflect that dichotomy.

And where did his singular guitar style come from?  Knopfler spoke of one night back in

1973 when he gathered with friends, and the only available guitar was an old acoustic with a badly warped neck that had been strung with extra-light strings to make it usable.    “Even so, I found it impossible to play unless I finger-picked it.  That was where I found my ‘voice’ on guitar.”

Far from the ego-driven rock star you might think, Knopfler is a self-effacing artiste more than anything else.  He actually thinks he’s only an average guitarist.  “In my band, I’m probably the weakest link.  I’ve got a lot of admiration for musicians who excel because they are really deep into their instruments, but that’s a whole universe away from what I do.  I see the guitar as something to write songs with.  It’s a lifelong love affair, but the rs-2717-rectanglesong is king.”

After more than 15 years of eligibility, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally saw fit to induct Dire Straits this past year.  Knopfler chose to bypass the ceremony, which irked some of his fans.  But he offered no apologies, nor any hopes for a Dire Straits reunion.  “I really don’t want to start getting all that stuff back together again,” he noted.  “I would only do that for a charity event.  I’m very glad I experienced it all, and we had a lot of fun with it.  It was hard, it was exciting, and it was traumatic.  There was a lot of insanity, believe me.  I like things the way they are now.”

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The Spotify playlist includes every track from the two Dire Straits LPs I’ve singled out as my favorites, but I couldn’t resist also including a few other stellar songs from their catalog.


 

 

 

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Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream

This is the sixth in a series of posts that will feature detailed analysis and commentary about some of my all-time favorite albums.

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Just about every list of all-time favorite albums I’ve ever seen includes at least one LP by The Beatles.  I mean, come on.  If you can’t name one of their 13 incredible studio albums as one of your favorites, let’s face it, there’s something wrong with your musical judgment.

images-39As a Beatles fanatic for more than 50 years, I concluded that there’s no way my list can be limited to only one, or two, or even three of their albums.

Among my Top 50 LPs, I have concluded that there are four masterpieces by The Beatles that rank among my all-time classics.  And you may be surprised to hear that the revered “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is not one of them.

It’s a landmark work, no question about it, what with “A Day in the Life” as its iconic finale and all.  But I think some, even most, of the tracks sound a bit dated these days.  They reek of The Summer of Love and that very identifiable period of time, and to my ears, they don’t stand up as well as some of their contemporaneous Beatles tunes.

I submit that the two albums before and after “Pepper” are far more interesting, more diverse, more inventive, more lasting in their sheer excellence.

Before I get to the four LPs in question, a few words about the band’s early recordings (and I’m speaking of their work in terms of their British albums, as they were intended, rather than the bastardizations released in the U.S., where sequence orders were changed and songs were removed and/or substituted against the artists’ wishes, until 1967).

The Beatles’ albums of 1963, 1964 and 1965 constituted a period in their professional pic_20141020164256_x6y6r0k25ujlives — particularly the songwriting careers of John Lennon and Paul McCartney — when their music was, by and large, simple and joyous, a huge breeze of fresh air that helped transform the popular music scene in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.  It was especially catchy and eminently danceable, and it got into your bloodstream and made you want to get up and shout.

And I totally loved it.  The originals like “All My Loving,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “You Can’t Do That,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I’ll Be Back,” “She’s a Woman,” “I’m a Loser,” “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride” showed an uncommon and consistent knack for hooks, harmonies and arrangements.  Arguably just as exciting were their covers of earlier rock classics — “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Money,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Twist and Shout,” “Kansas City,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Rock and Roll Music,” Dizzy Miss Lizzie.”

But beginning with the stunning music on “Rubber Soul,” The Beatles entered a new phase that could be characterized as a quantum leap.  Their songs offered more original_450challenging melody lines, more sophisticated arrangements, and lyrics that often went beyond the customary love-and-romance topics.  It was the beginning of the demarcation between their celebrity live act as The Fab Four and their more mature ambitions as recording artists.

You needn’t look further than two tunes that were primarily the work of Lennon:  “Norwegian Wood” and “In My Life.”  To this day, these tracks make me stop in my tracks whenever I hear them.  The words to “In My Life” are almost effortlessly timeless (I just heard it used as a “first dance” at a wedding last month), and the intriguing story of “Norwegian Wood” is purposely left open to interpretation, something new for a Beatles lyric at that point.

And now you could hear a sitar, for crying out loud, and a piano sped up in the studio to resemble a harpsichord.  McCartney’s new solid-body bass guitar brought forth new creativity in bass lines, including fuzz tone (“Think for Yourself”), and George Harrison began playing a Fender Stratocaster for the first time (“Nowhere Man”).  All three guitarists started using capos on their acoustic guitar-based numbers to raise their pitch as they slowed their music’s tempo (“Girl,” “Michelle,” “If I Needed Someone”).

11071McCartney has mentioned being inspired by the triad harmonies and jangly guitars of the Byrds and other American folk-rock bands, as well as the vibrant soul and R&B coming from Stax and Motown artists throughout 1965.  Songs like “Drive My Car,” “Wait,” “I’m Looking Through You” and the early peace-movement anthem “The Word” clearly reflect these influences.  At the same time, the band’s frequent use of marijuana had increased that year, broadening their palettes, imaginations and artistic interests.

I was only ten years old and didn’t really understand all that yet, but I still found the music simply irresistible.  My older sister had been a Beatlemaniac, but “Rubber Soul” was to be the last Beatles album she bought.  As the band continued to branch out and experiment with genres, instrumentation and lyrical subject matter in the ensuing years, she was among those who felt abandoned by the group they’d once adored.  Me?  Man, I was just getting started!

In the summer of 1966, The Beatles were coming to the realization that touring had become a dead end for them.  They sounded pretty bad on stage, when you could hear them at all over the din of the screaming crowds, and they were both bored and frightened by the need for constant security from the lunatic fringe.

Concurrent with their early use of psychedelics, The Beatles had discovered their love for revolverthe recording studio and its seemingly infinite possibilities, encouraged by producer George Martin and facilitated by engineer Geoff Emerick to come up with new sounds, new techniques, new sonic landscapes that couldn’t be (and weren’t meant to be) duplicated in concert anyway.

 

The apex of this recording studio wizardry, even more than “Pepper” a year later, was “Revolver,” a whirlwind of 14 daring compositions that showed a truly remarkable ability to blend rock, Indian raga, straight pop, children’s rhymes, psychedelia, ballads and more into a cohesive whole that they really never equalled again.

Previously, The Beatles’ songs had been composed and imagined prior to entering the studio, but by this point, some tracks were created, layered and pieced together almost accidentally from only the roughest of ideas.  Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows,” an astounding departure from all Beatles tracks that preceded it, is based on one note, on top of which Lennon envisioned “a thousand Tibetan monks chanting.”  McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” originally conceived as a piano-based tune about a solitary old woman, evolved into a portrait about death, brought forth through the use of a “Psycho”-like string quartet and chilling harmonies singing in a minor key.

Harrison’s “Love You To” marks the band’s first foray into Eastern sounds, and it’s admittedly an acquired taste, but his other two contributions, “Taxman” and “I Want to images-35Tell You,” rock out as hard as almost anything in their catalog, thanks to some fine bass work and drum fills from McCartney and drummer Ringo Starr.

The yin-yang of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting axis, which had become evident with singles like “Day Tripper”/”We Can Work It Out,” was on full display on “Revolver.”  I am mesmerized by Lennon’s harsh guitar-driven “She Said She Said,” “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert,” and the half-awake feeling evoked on “I’m Only Sleeping.”  On the flip side, there are two of McCartney’s loveliest ballads, “Here, There and Everywhere” and “For No One,” and an amazing blast of Motown-like horns that drive “Got to Get You Into My Life.”  Good God, so much great music here!

…Two years later, much had changed.  Albums were about to overtake singles as the dominant music delivery format.  The Beatles manager Brian Epstein had died, and with no one to fill the void, the group’s ship had been foundering.   The establishing of Apple Corps with a new record label and other diversified businesses — but no one really 4Images_Colourqualified to run them — brought chaos and a drain on finances.  Most important, each Beatle was becoming more of an individual with priorities that often conflicted and/or superseded the band’s overall interests.  Prime case in point:  Yoko Ono.

Still, in that tempestuous environment of 1968, the artistry of The Beatles somehow continued to grow.  Their three-month retreat to India for immersion in transcendental meditation had proved to be fertile ground for their songwriting proclivities, resulting in nearly 30 new songs as they reconvened in the studio that summer.  Martin urged them to be selective and pick the best 14 or 15 songs and make a really great single LP, but Lennon’s and McCartney’s (and Harrisons’s) egos wouldn’t budge.  They wanted to record them all and release them as a double album, which would be entitled “The Beatles” but, thanks to its stark white cover, would immediately be dubbed “The White Album.”

I was 13 by then, and I remember being (like most people, I reckon) overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new music.  If “Revolver” was diverse, “The White Album” was virtually 602567571339encyclopedic in its coverage of musical styles:  quasi-reggae (“Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”), country-western (“Don’t Pass Me By”), early heavy metal (“Helter Skelter”), raw blues (“Yer Blues”), proto-punk (“Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?”), solid rock (“Back in the USSR”), avant-garde sound montage (“Revolution 9”), even 1920s music hall (“Honey Pie”).

More than ever before, the tracks sounded less like group collaborations.  Indeed, some songs were virtually solo works.  “Martha My Dear,” “I Will,” “Blackbird” and “Mother Nature’s Son” feature McCartney alone on acoustic guitar or piano with no instrumental or vocal help from anyone else.  In that same manner, Lennon performed solo on “Julia.”  The nose-to-nose songwriting the duo had once done was pretty much absent.  Instead, each man’s songs had the unmistakable trademarks of their author — Lennon’s wordplay and biting vocals, McCartney’s jaunty melodies and pop sensibility.

But you know what?  It worked, and it worked because when they put their heads 640x640_9609281together on a take to play, the result was often spectacular.  Check out the coalescing of Beatle talent heard on Harrison’s finest moment, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (which also includes an uncredited guitar part by Eric Clapton, by the way).  Or the beautiful cacophony of “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey.”  Or the shimmering melody/guitar/vocal of “Dear Prudence.”  Or the rollicking good fun of “Birthday.”  Or the luscious slow groove behind the album version of “Revolution 1.”

And so far, I’ve mentioned only half the tunes here.  It really was an embarrassment of riches.  McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon” never fails to please, and Lennon’s three-songs-in-one “Happiness is a Warm Gun” ranks among his finest of all time.  Personally speaking, I think Lennon’s songs — which include “Sexy Sadie,” “Cry Baby Cry” and “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” — are superior to McCartney’s on “The White Album,” but the satisfying balance struck between the 30 tracks has left a lasting impact on me.

It was 50 years ago this month since its release, and to mark that occasion, Apple is releasing this week a comprehensive new package of remixes, outtakes, studio chatter and a sprawling booklet of photos and analytical text.  Merry Christmas, White Album fans!

This brings me to the fourth of my four indispensable Beatles albums, the brilliant swan song, “Abbey Road.”  Little did we fans know at the time, but the foursome had pretty much already broken up in early 1969, at each other’s throats over business differences and a need to spend time apart after the unpleasant experience of filming and recording Beatles_-_Abbey_Roadsongs for the “Let It Be” project (which was shelved for over a year before finally seeing release in May 1970).

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and they chose to reconvene one last time in the summer of ’69 to produce a “proper” farewell album with the kind of high quality material and professionalism for which they were so well known.

And boy, did they come up with a gem.  “Abbey Road” boasts the slickest production values, two of Harrison’s finest songs ever, two of Lennon’s most iconoclastic pieces, and the pièce de resistance, the eight-song, 16-minute medley that comprised the bulk of Side Two.  And it was all packaged in what turned out to be their most famous cover, capturing the foursome crossing the street outside the studio where all the magic had happened.

Harrison had been developing as a songwriter over the previous two years, a fact that became instantly noticeable in “Here Comes the Sun,” a gorgeous dose of positive vibes, and “Something,” Harrison’s luxurious ode to his wife Pattie, which Lennon himself images-38described as the album’s best song (even as it split duty on the double-A-sided single with his own “Come Together”).

I love the way Lennon’s “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” takes a sort of kitchen-sink approach, with slow blues, mid-tempo blues and then a compelling coda that builds and builds over three minutes from a hypnotic guitar riff into a sea of white noise before abruptly cutting off.  As much as I like McCartney’s performance on the blues shouter “Oh Darling” I’ve always wondered what it would’ve sounded like if Lennon had taken a stab at the vocals…

McCartney’s imprint on this record is most evident in the extraordinary medley and the way he and producer Martin took several half-finished songs and weaved them into a little symphony that sounds as if the pieces belonged together all along.

“You Never Give Me Your Money” starts things off as a complete song, then uses crickets to segue gently into “Sun King.”  Lennon’s two other contributions — the unsavory characters “Mean Mr Mustard” and “Polythene Pam” — come next in a one-two punch before cascading brilliantly into the delicious “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.”  That would be the album’s best moment…if not for the three-song finale of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and “The End,” which may be the best five minutes of Beatles music ever recorded.

the_beatles___last_photoshoot_tittenhurst_park_by_felipemuve-d688omnAs you listen to those three songs again on Spotify, be sure to take note of the guitars near the end of “The End,” just before the denouement, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  It’s only nine bars long, but it perfectly showcases, and differentiates, the distinctive guitar styles of McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon, three times, in that order.  Along with Ringo’s one and only drum solo which comes just before it, this exchange is a marvelous final way to feature the foursome as they wave goodbye.

There really isn’t much to say about the brilliance of The Beatles’ music that hasn’t already been said.  Suffice it to say I’ve always been a serious student and shameless devotee of their catalog, and I’ll bet most of my readers are, too.