THERE WAS a time when, for many of us (particularly bored and wasted students), the release of new Beatles records were the main points of reference by which we remembered the chronologies of our lives. My freshman year was primarily spent waiting for Sgt. Pepper to be released; later there was the white album winter and the spring of "Get Back." Even if you are not a raving hard-core rock freak, a song like "Hey Jude," played so constantly for months on jukeboxes, radios, and record players, could not have failed to become the background music for whatever you were doing in the fall of 1968.
Somehow the importance of rock and roll in our lives has declined in the last year or two, even for those who were the most obsessed. This is partly due to a falling off in the quality of the music ( viz. Dylan, the Beatles, the Airplane, the Band, and Country Joe). And partly to our growing up. But most of all it is the result of our crumbling illusions about our world, of our realization of the forces of politics and power structures that not only controlled the world but even permeated our sequestered university communities. Placed beside these new ideas, even Rubber Soul began to pale in significance. The concept of the Sub-Culture became increasingly a political concept. (The Sub-Culture itself may never have really existed.) By the time the Let It Be album was released, it was not an event of very great importance to anyone except those who would make money on it.
Around that time, the Beatles broke up, mostly because Paul couldn't get along with the others, but perhaps also because they sensed their own growing irrelevance. In 1970, we did not need the Beatles as much as we had in 1967. Since the breakup, they have released five albums as individuals, the worst of which is ridiculous and the rest of which, while not bad, remain decidedly tangential to our lives.
Ringo's two albums serve only to reinforce our previous picture of him: lovable, but (with the exception of his drumming) a thoroughly inept musical personality. His first release. Sentimental Journey, featured the title tune and eleven other oldies, such as "Night and Day," "Stardust," and "Bye Bye Blackbird," all sung off-key and with a remarkable lack of expressiveness, against a background of lush 1940s Big Band arrangements. The total effect of the record is to make you realize what a great singer Frank Sinatra is within that genre. Ringo's singing is a good standard by which you can learn to appreciate almost any singer, even whoever is the second worst. Sentimental Journey is so ludicrous that it will be worth buying for a goof, once they start selling the overstock for $2.00.
Ringo's second effort-effort seems the most appropriate word-a country record entitled Beaucoups of Blues, is a vast improvement. The songs (none of them written by Ringo himself) are pretty good, the arrangements are tight, and the Nashville sidemen are, at the worst, competent. It's just that you can't help wishing all the time that Ringo would shut up. (The great rock voice that Ringo had on the early albums, on songs like "Honey Don't" and "Boys," seems to have disappeared with his tonsillectomy.)
IN THE last two weeks, both George and John have released their first solo albums, if we choose to be kind and overlook the live Plastic Ono Band album and John's earlier "experimental" records. The Harrison material is absurdly overproduced, both physically and musically. Someone at Apple seemed to think that George's solo debut called for a boxed three record set, complete with lyrics, a color poster, and different kinds of adorable record labels, all of which is kind of a drag. The inclusion of a third, "free" record, made up of several rather uninspired rock jams between George and his friends, is pretty superfluous.
The other two discs in the set had the misfortune of being co-produced by Phil Spector. One would think that the Beatles would never work with Spector again after his disgusting butchery of "The Long and Winding Road." Yet here he is again, arranging almost every cut as though George were the Crystals or the Righteous Brothers. Phil Spector has in fact produced some great records, but he feels obliged to force his style on every song he touches, even when it clearly doesn't fit.
Once you wade through the orchestrations, there are some very good songs, yet nothing that even approaches the quality of Harrison's earlier material, nothing as good as "Here Comes the Sun." "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Something," "Sour Milk Sea," "Savoy Truffle," "It's All Too Much," or "If I Needed Someone." The best cuts are those that sound like they were recorded while Spector was out of the room ("Apple Scruffs," "If Not For You") and those that seem like deliberate imitations of other people. "What is Life," for example, which is not nearly so bad as the title suggests, is a cross between "Keep on Runnin" by the Spencer Davis Group and any number of Paul Revere and the Raiders songs. "My Sweet Lord," a Top 40 hit, is musically a direct steal from the Chiffons' great "He's So Fine," and must have been done as a deliberate goof. There is something genuinely funny about substituting "hare krishna" for "dulang dulang dulang." "If Not For You," a Dylan song, is done slower than the original version on the New Morning LP and sounds better. The lyrics to most of the songs are about God and Jesus and sound best if you ignore them.
JOHN LENNON'S new album is hard to write about, because it sounds like notes from Lennon's psychoanalysis, which it may in fact be, since he was in therapy in Los Angeles before and during the recording sessions. Even if you're the type who doesn't like to listen to lyrics, there is so little going on musically that you are forced to pay attention to the words. The music is not bad; it's just simple and not very interesting and never more than John singing and playing either guitar or piano (on which he is barely competent), backed by bass and drums. Once again, Phil Spector is listed as producer, but Lennon seems to have wisely restricted him to adding echo and nothing else, giving the whole album the sound of "Instant Karma." All the songs are intensely personal, some of them resembling the feeling of "Julia." (One cut. "Look at Me," uses almost the same melody.) More interesting, however, is that half the songs have some kind of political content, which implies that John may be ditching his simplistic "Give Peace a Chance" ideas.
Toward the end of the record, John apologizes for the breaking up of the ground. "I don't believe in Beatles," he sings. "I just believe in me/Yoko and me/and that's reality/the dream is over/yesterday/I was the dreamweaver/but now I'm reborn/I was the walrus/but now I'm John/and so dear friends/you just have to carry on/the dream is over." There are no more Beatles. And these aren't Beatles albums. And it shows.