7 Beatles Tracks That (Still) Deserve Applause

Michael Martin / 11.14.2018

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 57 years since four teenagers from Liverpool, England took the planet by storm. It was long before I was born, just as my father was born, and while my grandfather was a young man. The music of the Beatles has hugged the hearts of three generations, and the trend shows no signs of dipping down. Behind all the hits, the album covers, the screaming girls, and the haircuts were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Star, Engineer Geoff Emerick, and Producer George Martin. These six minds were some of the most imaginative and creative of their time, exhausting every bit of technology that was available to them a half century ago. As an audio engineer and a huge Beatles fan, I believe it’s time we take a look back to appreciate seven of the Beatles’ most technically amazing recordings.

7. “In My Life”

Other than this song being one of Lennon’s greatest lyrical works, it also contains one of the coolest studio tricks. John wanted a piano solo in the middle of the song, but the part they wrote was too difficult and fast to play. So, George Martin had the idea of recording the piano at half speed on tape, when played at full speed it has an amazing sound. Many people speculate that it sounds like a harpsichord playing fast trills. This effect was later implemented while recording the voices for Alvin and the Chipmunks.

6. “Tomorrow Never Knows”

This is the last track off of the 1966 album Revolver and is arguably the most distinct. It was their first dabble into psychedelia, incorporating a lot of studio tricks and effects. Most notably were John’s vocals that were fed through a Leslie revolving organ speaker, all performed underneath a 16-track bed of sound effects in which Paul had included reversed instruments, slowed down/sped up noises, and natural outdoor sounds as well. Listening to this song in stereo is a treat, and by the time you listen to the end of the album, it feels like a movie trailer for their next monster album“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

5. “Helter Skelter”

Though the music may not be the most complex, the overall sound of this “White Album” hit essentially birthed what we now know to be heavy metal. From Ringo’s squashy compressed drums and washy crash cymbals in the right channel to Paul’s distorted thumping bass in the left channel to the heavily overdriven guitars whaling and scratchy vocals screaming, this track had all the elements of heavy metal before those elements were even dictated. After released in 1968, history shows an increase in the heaviness of rock bands moving forward including the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc…

4.  “Abbey Road Medley”

The B-side of the famous “Abbey Road” album may be one of the most triumphant musical pieces in rock n roll. This medley consists of eight songs from “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “The End,” and is 16 minutes of interwoven magic. Many people consider the Beatles to be the founders of the “Concept Album,” and this certainly has many elements of it, something that isn’t commonly done these days. Blending eight songs together seemed to be a fitting end to the Fab Four’s final recorded album.

3. “Strawberry Fields Forever”

There’s a famous story regarding the recording of this song that makes me scratch my head in amazement still to this day. Legend has it, John Lennon recorded the first half of this song one day, and the second half on a different day. He then requested that the two be spliced together to make one full take which threw producer George Martin for a loop because the second take was in a higher key as well as a faster tempo. Somehow with engineering magic, George Martin and Geoff Emerick were able to slow done the tape speed of the second take (C major, 108 bpm) to make it match up with the first take (A major 90 bpm). This would be a challenging request in 2018 with digital audio workstations, let alone in 1967 with analog tape. If you listen closely, you hear the edit at 0:59.

2. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”

This track showcases the Beatles at the height of psychedelia. The droning sound throughout the verses is made with an Indian instrument called a Tambura, and it sounds quite trippy combined with George’s heavily reverberated slide guitar and John’s flanged vocals. This song was quite musically complicated as well, ranging three different keys, and two tempos. Overall this song is mixed quite creatively and beautifully. John Lennon denies that the letters in the title of the song do not reference LSD… but do they?

1. “A Day in the Life”

I truly believe that “A Day in the Life” is the Beatle’s greatest recorded work and an absolutely perfect finale to the monumental “Sgt. Pepper” album. The song itself is a mixture between two separate songs John and Paul had written, and the tape is spliced in between them very seamlessly. They are bridged by what Paul calls “the wall of sound” which is heavy orchestral playing with steadily ascending notes. To achieve this sound, Paul instructed the 40-piece orchestra to start on their lowest note and slow ascend to the highest note on their instrument at their own pace. This crescendo leads to silence, followed by the most powerful chord in music history— the chord. An E major chord struck on four grand pianos simultaneously to create an incredibly powerful and shivering chord. Geoff Emerick slowly turned up the mic preamp to capture every last bit of volume of those pianos ringing out. He turned up the mics so loud you can actually start to hear the studio’s air conditioner and chairs squeaking.

It’s hard to imagine that these four mastermind musicians were only a band for 10 years, and in that time they’ve been responsible for generations of inspiration. I would not have wanted to pick up a guitar if it were not for the guitar solo in “Something” off “Abbey Road.” I would not have become an audio engineer myself if I’d never picked up a guitar.  I would never have found my own passion, if it weren’t for the passion of the Beatles, and for that reason, their music means the world to me.