A wonderful analysis of one of the greatest pop songwriting
Michael Dalton | Eureka, CA United States | 03/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Music documentaries don't get much better than this, especially if you are a fan of The Beatles. What could be better than a variety of music experts and friends of the band analyzing one of the greatest pop songwriting duos of all time?
This focuses on the formative years of the partnership that culminated in the landmark release of Rubber Soul. The film explores the early working relationship of Lennon and McCartney, which was mostly collaborative. They enhanced each other's work to a greater degree than in later years when they along with the other Beatles became like solo artists with a backing band.
The release of Hard Day's Night marked a significant change in the relationship. "Can't Buy Me Love," the first single, was clearly a McCartney song, just as "Hard Day's Night" was a distinctly Lennon song. Instead of the two singing together, for the first time each sang separately with double-tracked vocals. It was just the beginning of a divide that would grow in time.
The analysis of their personalities as well as the evolution of their songwriting skills is what makes this so fascinating. Temperament and different backgrounds, along with varied influences were all factors that shaped their songwriting.
Bob Dylan turned out to be one of the monumental influences, especially to Lennon. After the release of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Beatles began to change musically and lyrically. One small sign was Lennon's use of the harmonica on "I Should Have Known Better" and his use of the harmonica-holder, which Dylan had popularized.
Dylan propelled The Beatles to more serious songwriting. Here was a man that was eloquently sharing his life experiences in song. It may have inspired Lennon to write "In My Life," one of The Beatles' most beautiful songs. Dylan's influence led to songs like "I'm A Loser" and "Nowhere Man" that were somewhat confessional and showed a darker side of Lennon's life. He shocked people in 1970 by revealing that the song "Help" was autobiographical. Lennon's discreet writing of a sexual encounter on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)" may be another Dylan influence.
Though they had shared influences, McCartney's development was different. One of the surprising things is just how many songs he gave away that became huge hits for other artists. Some songs didn't quite fit The Beatles mode. His gift for melody was obvious, and unlike Lennon, who had a more narrow musical background, he had a greater range of music to draw from. His early exposure to Tin Pan Alley, jazz and show tunes provided him with the inspiration to perform songs like "Till There Was You" and "A Taste of Honey." This would lead to "Yesterday," a modern classic, and "Michelle." Both songs had broad appeal and gave The Beatles greater respectability.
After the release of Rubber Soul, which some critics regard as the band's finest collaborative album, the divide between Lennon and McCartney continued to grow in more ways than one. They would both continue to be innovators, but they would not work together as closely as they once had. This is where the analysis ends.
There are plenty of rare photos and digitally enhanced performance clips, which look and sound fantastic. It's worth having for this alone, but the interviews are excellent and often include analysis of specific songs. Like any great performance, you are left wanting more. If you are a Beatles's fan, you can only hope for more installments.
Interesting comments but too many incomplete clips.
Steven I. Ramm | Phila, PA USA | 03/09/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is another in the Chrome Dreams series from the UK in which "noted" music journalists - (Robert Christgau, Anthony DeCurtis, etc,) and "authors" (in this case, Johnny Rogan who wrote book on John Lennon's albums,) discuss the work of an artist or, in some cases, a particular album. This time they added "friends" Klaus Voorman and Maureen Cleeve. I've found most in this series to be interesting to watch once and the production - and packaging, in the case of this volume - is high quality.
Mixed in among the talking heads on this 78 minute DVD are excerpts of performances taken from European and Nippon TV. Many of these are rare , but none are complete or last more than, say, 45 seconds. This DVD would get five stars - and be a MUST HAVE - if the producers put the full performances on the DVD as "bonus material". Actually it should be the other way around, with the package as a performance DVD and the interviews as bonuses.
One nice touch is that two of the interviewees are musicians and make their comments while seated at a piano. This allows them to play examples of songs they are commenting on. It `s not just "opinion".
While the discussion of the different styles of music used by John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney are the focus of the DVD, about two-thirds of the way through, the commentators begin discussing Bob Dylan and his influence on the two Beatles. This means we see performance footage of Dylan (again, not complete) and the story really loses focus before returning to the main subject.
So, as I said earlier, it's certainly worth watching once, though it's not a DVD you'll return to often.
Superb insight into genius at work
still searching | MK UK | 07/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A few months ago the BBC aired an excellent programme entitled `How Pop Songs Work' with conductor, Charles Hazlewood, amongst others, providing insights into what makes for hit pop songs. Hazlewood's analysis concentrated on five main areas: melody, structure, lyrics, performance and arrangement. One of the songs chosen as an exemplar was John Lennon's `imagine'. Interestingly this was the only `Beatles' representative but, considering how prolific, not to mention successful, the song writing partnership of Lennon and McCartney were, it would not have been surprising if the programme had used only Beatles numbers. In a similar but less formal way, this DVD attempts to provide an analysis of what it was that made the Beatles, and in particular L&M so successful.
There are some truly fascinating insights into the particular chemistry of the pairing that changed the world of popular music forever: not only how their unique influences and backgrounds complimented one another, and the increasingly (creative) tension that produced the music that became the score to the story of our lives, but also how it is possible to discern the degree to which each contributed to particular album tracks.
Contributors also offer opinions of the extent to which it is possible to recognize Dylan's growing influence on, particularly, Lennon's songs in what became, between L&M and Dylan, an increasingly symbiotic `relationship'.
For anyone interested in the history of popular music, how genius works in practice or, perhaps, how the nature of collaboration - in comparison with a solo artist; e.g. Brian Wilson, produces works of art, this DVD will be an invaluable resource.