When We Was Fab: Five Great Solo Beatles Recordings

– Nathan

My favorite band is The Beatles. Actually, to me they’re more than a band, they’re something I can’t describe without getting too swept-up in a whirlwind of adjectives. So I’m a bit biased to them both as group performers and individual musicians. We all love The Beatles together, but for some reason, the populous has determined that they have to be hated on their own. I don’t think anyone ever wanted them to break up, and this refusal to engage with their solo work is just an extension of that sentiment; we absolutely will not accept that they are on their own. I recently posted a link to Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” on Facebook, a song I happen to enjoy very much, only to have someone shoot it down by saying that everything by the Beatles post-Beatles is terrible. This, my friend, is not true at all, and I’m here to inform you that you don’t have to go along with the popular consensus, you don’t have to hate this wonderful rock and roll. It can be just as good as The Beatles, even just as great. You just have to open your ears, turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.

“Cold Turkey” – Plastic Ono Band

Just like Cousin Oliver wasn’t the only thing that killed the Brady Bunch, Yoko Ono gets an unnecessary amount of heat for ending the Beatles, as she wasn’t the only contributing factor. (However, we should be glad that The Beatles broke  up when they did, because it helped keep their record perfect and untarnished, leaving them unchallenged as the greatest band to ever work a room, but I digress.) However, if there’s one thing about the woman that I really cannot stand, it’s her shriek-singing, and it’s part of the reason why I don’t necessarily enjoy the Plastic Ono Band, except for this one phenomenal single. “Cold Turkey,” about John Lennon’s painful withdrawal from heroin, is probably one of the best singles he put out either as a solo artist or in a group other than the Beatles. Featuring a dastardly mean guitar part, the song is one of shivering desperation that makes the turntable sweaty just at the thought of playing it. And fortunately, Yoko Ono’s hyena-ing only appears briefly in live performances of the song, and John’s screaming is much easier to handle. Or maybe it’s good because it’s a semi-Beatles team-up, with Ringo on drums. Not to mention Eric Clapton.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band- John Lennon

This is often considered John’s best album, and one of the greatest rock albums of all time, and it truly is. While it’s a critical cliche to call it his “primal scream” album, the intense Freudian analysis makes listening to the album a searing experience. John plays the role of the self-pitying junkie we all love too much to straighten out. It’s him at his worst mentally, at his most psychological, his most self-deprecating, his most terrifying, but that black rage rises up like a melting Swamp Thing from his stagnant soul and transforms into something heart-breaking and strangely beautiful. It hurts the listener and the Beatles fan to hear him reject everything he once was and proclaim with quivering and shrugging deftness that “the dream is over,” but when the needle winds out of the groove and the record slips back into its case, we can only think that maybe it’s for the best. Maybe he’s not the walrus. Maybe he is just John.

All Things Must Pass –George Harrison

George Harrison’s equivalent of musical diarrhea, All Things Must Pass is an explosion of everything he wasn’t allowed to do as a Beatle. This triple album was released only a short while after the band dissolved, and while one album is filled with instrumental jams, it’s amazing to see how much talent was suppressed by Paul and John. These songs even rival some of his group compositions, as songs such as “My Sweet Lord,” “What is Life,” and “Isn’t it a Pity” are probably some of the greatest recordings of all time. George was usually considered the quiet Beatle, and he sort-of lives up to that reputation on this album, as none of the songs are as wrenching as John’s, as big as Paul’s, or as schmalzy as Ringo’s. However, the simplicity and the timidity of this album are probably what make it so great. While he isn’t afraid to delve into the brass section of the orchestra or pick up his precious slide guitar on tracks such as “All Things Must Pass,” he mostly keeps it simple, adopting his Eastern philosophies musically as well. Overall, it’s probably my favorite of all the Beatles solo albums- there isn’t really a track I dislike, while even the ones by John and Paul that I consider capital-G Great have a few I don’t care for. George is usually the Beatle I lean toward most often as my favorite, and this album reaffirms that belief.

“Photograph” – Ringo Starr

Ringo’s album Ringo, from which this single is taken, was the closest the Beatles ever got to a reunion until the Anthology series, and “Photograph” was co-written by Harrison and features vocal and guitar work by him. Maybe it’s this album’s friendliness that makes it more enjoyable than any of his other solo work. Or maybe it’s that Ringo appears to be a proxy for us, the listener, as a number like “Photograph” seems like a plea for a reunion disguised as a break-up song. While he did leave the group for a brief period during the recording of The White Album, we always seem to cast him as the one trying to get the gang back together, the one we identify with the most, probably because he jumped on the boat later and almost missed reaching the toppermost of the poppermost. While I don’t care for the saxophone bit, “Photograph” seems to come from the same place as “Octopus’s Garden,” a sentimental cry for friendship and love in a world that can’t seem to find it, and that’s why I love it.

Band on the Run-Paul McCartney and Wings

Without a doubt this is Paul’s finest album, Wings’ finest album, a generally fine album. While I can’t say I’ve been a fan of the majority of Paul’s solo work, Band on the Run shows him at one of his creative peaks as a performer. Paul may primarily be a “singles” musician, but he’s also incredibly talented at stitching together a complete album; he was incredibly instrumental in keeping Sgt. Pepper from falling apart. Band on the Run is filled with some of his finest singles- “Let Me Roll It,” “Band on the Run,” “Jet”- but it’s also cohesive and works very well as a complete entity, a skill he seems to have lost as his career has advanced. While it may not show, he’s extremely inventive, and Band on the Run shows that genius for sure, as it his greatest work as a solo musician, a fantastic piece of rock and roll.



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