The Beatles – Hey Jude

heyjudeThere was absolutely no reason for me to purchase this album.

I mean, I’ve got all these songs already. They’re all on my computer. They’re all on my iPod. Buying this does nothing more than put more money in the pocket of a big music corporation that’s already received more than enough of my cash, really.

And yet, I bought it. Didn’t even think twice about it.

I think part of it is the album cover. That’s a great freakin’ cover, right there. Another part of it is nostalgia: I remember listening to this record in the living room with my dad, though his vinyl copy always had a skip right after the first verse of “Old Brown Shoe” and you had to gently nudge the needle further along to keep listening. For a long time, it was the only way I could hear the song “Hey Jude” unless it came on in the car on the radio, at which point you sat your ass in the car and you listened to it all the way through, regardless of where you were or where you needed to be. You didn’t turn it off in the middle of that song, ever.

So I was going to buy this album regardless of anything else. There was never a question about it. And it’s not a question of whether or not this is good music: I mean, it’s the freakin’ Beatles, of course it’s good. The question before me now is, does this thing hold together as an album?

Frankly, no. It’s not a well-conceived collection of songs in the vein of the Beatles’ latter-day works like Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road, it’s just a bunch of songs that were singles that all got thrown onto a single LP. You’ve got the really incongruous Hard Day’s Night-era “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better” to start off the album, but they just don’t fit at all with the aesthetic of the late-period Beatles. I mean, 1964 was a lot further away from 1970 than you’d think, stylistically-speaking, and those early pop masterpieces don’t sound like they’re even from the same band when you jump from that to “Paperback Writer” and the trippy “Rain.”

But looking at these ten tracks as individual songs written and recorded by one of the best bands in the existence of music, it’s a pretty damn good record. There is literally not a bad song on here, though I’ve never been crazy about “Rain.” Most of these are from a band at its creative peak. McCartney in particular comes out well here: “Paperback Writer,” “Lady Madonna,” and “Hey Jude” are some of the best damn songs he ever wrote, that last one in particular a tune that everyone sings along with (it helps that the lyrics to the coda are so easy). Lennon’s offerings are generally top-notch as well; my aforementioned distaste for “Rain” notwithstanding, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is playful, “Revolution” is cynical and world-weary and hopeful all at once, and “Don’t Let Me Down” is everything Let It Be was supposed to be. George gets his chance to shine, too, with “Old Brown Shoe,” which – while not in a top ten list of best Beatles songs by any stretch – has been one of my favorites for years.

Is this album necessary? No. All of these songs are easily available on other albums, and a good number of them are available through collections like Past Masters and 1. But hell, at this point, Beatles albums are at least partly about nostalgia, about capturing that moment when you first heard them, and for someone who grew up listening to the American albums released by Capital Records, Hey Jude is a welcome addition to my Beatles collection.

Bob Dylan – Dylan (1973)

Bob_Dylan_Dylan_1973_AlbumOkay, here we go: this is, according to popular opinion, the worst album Dylan ever recorded. It’s not even a proper album; rather, it’s a series of outtakes from Self Portrait, with which Dylan shares a particular vibe and aesthetic.

As the story goes, Dylan was leaving Columbia Records to join the newly-formed Asylum Records, run by David Geffen. He had a contractual obligation to put out another album with Columbia or something to that effect, so they scraped these songs from the bottom of the barrel and put it out, against Bob’s wishes. Not long after, Dylan actually came back to Columbia, and he’s been recording for them ever since.

But that’s hardly the point. The point is, are these nine songs as God awful as everyone claims? Is this, in fact, the worst album of Dylan’s long, varied career?

In a word, no. This is far from his best work, and probably not as good as the stuff on Self Portrait, but it ain’t his worst work by a long shot (hello, Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove). What this collection is, is whimsical. It’s goofy. It’s a pretty fair amount of fun, too, owing to the fact that Dylan seems more relaxed here than on pretty much any other album I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard all of ’em at this point. Yeah, it’s a bunch of covers and has all the weight and substance of marshmallow fluff, but how often do we get to hear Dylan just having fun playing music? Almost never.

So, the nitty gritty. Dylan sings this in that nasally, twangy Nashville Skyline crooner voice. If you don’t like that, you’re not going to get anything out of this record. Second, the song selection is all over the place, as befits an “odds and sods” sort of collection like this. You’ve got everything from contemporary pop to traditional standards, and Dylan approaches them all with the same laid back nonchalance. There’s a certain charm to hearing him sing “Lily of the West” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The arrangements are loose and open, and he’s got those female backing vocalists from Self Portrait all over the album, but it’s all pretty breezy. His take on “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” really isn’t all that worse than Johnny Cash’s, though it may lack some of the gravitas of the Man in Black’s rendition. Admittedly, Dylan’s take on “Mr. Bojangles” was something we could have all done without, but the guy straight up doesn’t seemed to have given a damn.

Ultimately, Dylan isn’t the travesty of music that it’s often made out to be. Sure, it’s not going to ever be anyone’s go-to Dylan album (as with most – if not all – of his output after John Wesley Harding and before Blood on the Tracks), but it’s hardly the worst of the bunch, even from that narrow window of late ’60s/early ’70s Dylan output (can we all agree New Morning wasn’t that great? And Planet Waves? Ugh). It’s slight and unassuming, slightly goofy and whimsical and just a little bit of fun, if you’re willing to laugh at the joke.