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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Beatles Scholar's Work in Australian Capital Symphony Program

10:35 PM Posted by Nicole M
Kenneth Womack, PhD, an internationally renowned authority on the Beatles and their influence, is featured in the program for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra's 'Beatles in Symphony' performance on October 8, 2016.

An excerpt from Reading the Beatles: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, and the Fab Four (edited by Kenneth Womack and Todd F. Davis) is included, as well as Womack's own 'Three Great Beatles Moments,' as seen below.

1. ‘A Day in the Life’ (1967)

Fans and critics alike often refer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as popular music’s first ‘concept’ album. In truth, though, the Beatles’ notion of a fictitious ensemble peters out after ‘With a Little Help from My Friends,’ the album’s second track. The concept ‘doesn’t go anywhere,’ Lennon later remarked. ‘But it works ‘cause we said it works.’ Most significantly, Sgt. Pepper saw the Beatles erasing the boundaries that they had been challenging since Rubber Soul and Revolver. ‘Until this album, we’d never thought of taking the freedom to do something like Sgt. Pepper,’ McCartney observed. ‘We started to realize there weren’t as many barriers as we’d thought, we could break through with things like album covers, or invent another persona for the band.’ And with ‘A Day in the Life’—the album’s dramatic climax—the Beatles virtually re-imagined themselves as recording artists. Filled with variegated sonic hues and other assorted sound effects, the song contrasts Lennon’s impassive stories of disillusion and regret with McCartney’s deceptively buoyant interlude about the numbing effects of the workaday world. The song’s luminous, open-ended refrain—‘I’d love to turn you on’—promises a sense of interpersonal salvation on a universal scale. Yet Lennon and McCartney’s detached lyrics seem to suggest, via their nuances of resignation and unacknowledged guilt, that such a form of emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream. As the music of the Beatles and a studio orchestra spirals out of control and into oblivion, that thundering, massive piano chord punctuates and reverberates within the song’s unflinching melancholic ambiance.

2. Side two of the White Album (1968)

These nine tracks, from ‘Martha My Dear’ through ‘Julia,’ illustrate the White Album’s stunning eclecticism—the true measure of the album’s resilience. McCartney’s baroque-sounding ‘Martha My Dear,’ with its crisp brass accompaniment, meanders, rather lazily, into Lennon’s bluesy ‘I’m So Tired.’ Lennon later recalled the song as ‘one of my favorite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well.’ Written during the Beatles’ famous visit to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s retreat at Rishikesh during the spring of 1968, McCartney’s folksy ‘Blackbird’ imagines a contemplative metaphor for the civil rights struggles in the United States during the 1960s. The sound of a chirping blackbird lightly segues into Harrison’s uncomfortable but unforgettable political satire, ‘Piggies.’ The song cycle continues with McCartney’s countrified ‘Rocky Raccoon,’ a track that shifts, rather astonishingly, from the disquieting universe of cowboys, gunplay, and saloons into a gentle paean about nostalgia and loss. Ringo’s ‘Don’t Pass Me By,’ with its barrelhouse piano chorus, abruptly steers the sequence into the sudsy world of the beer hall. Originally entitled ‘Some Kind of Friendly,’ the song became a number-one hit—why not?—in Scandinavia. One of McCartney’s finest blues effusions, ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?’ explodes from the embers of ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and brilliantly sets the stage for the side’s final two numbers, ‘I Will’ and ‘Julia.’ A soothing melody about the tenuous argument between romance and commitment, ‘I Will’ remains one of McCartney’s most memorable experiments in brash sentimentality. Arguably his most powerful ballad, Lennon’s ‘Julia’ memorializes the songwriter’s late mother while simultaneously addressing his spiritual deliverance at the hands of ‘ocean child’ Yoko Ono, his newfound soul mate.

3. The Abbey Road medley (1969)

The medley that concludes Abbey Road and, with that, the band itself, essentially consists of an assortment of unfinished songs. Beginning with ‘You Never Give Me Your Money,’ McCartney’s plaintive piano strains give way to Lennon and Harrison’s dueling rhythm guitars. As Harrison later observed, the song ‘does two verses of one tune, and then the bridge is almost like a different song altogether, so it’s quite melodic.’ The lyrics bespeak the tragedies of misspent youth and runaway fame: ‘Out of college, money spent / See no future, pay no rent / All the money’s gone, nowhere to go.’ The song’s bluesy guitar riffs segue into the chorus of a children’s nursery rhyme: ‘One, two, three, four, five, six, seven / All good children go to heaven.’ Later, in ‘Golden Slumbers,’ McCartney resumes the medley’s earlier themes with a deft reworking of Thomas Dekker’s four-hundred-year-old poem of the same name. As the medley progresses toward its symphonic conclusion, the song’s bitter nostalgia—‘Once there was a way to get back homeward / Once there was a way to get back home’—yields itself to a larger realization, in ‘Carry that Weight,’ that we inevitably shoulder the past’s frequently irredeemable burden for the balance of our lives. In ‘Carry that Weight,’ McCartney acknowledges his own culpability in the Beatles’ dissolution, yet his rather humbling, self-conscious lyrics extend an olive branch to his increasingly distant mates: ‘I never give you my pillow / I only send you my invitations / And in the middle of the celebrations / I break down.’ From ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ through ‘The End,’ his lyrics impinge upon the inherent difficulties that come with growing up and growing older. Only the power of memory, it seems, can placate our inevitable feelings of nostalgia and regret—not only for our youthful days, but for how we lived them. Appropriately, McCartney concludes the medley with, in Lennon’s words, ‘a cosmic, philosophical line’: ‘And in the end the love you take / Is equal to the love you make.’


Find more information on Kenneth Womack and his work at KennethWomack.com.