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The Beatles Go To 11: Reed Mathis’ Picks

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The Impound is asking our favorite musicians to pick their eleven favorite Beatles songs in an effort to offer Fab-u-lous insights in our shared love of the greatest rock band of all-time. This inaugural selection comes from Reed Mathis, bass wunderkind of San Francisco-based Tea Leaf Green, a true Beatles connoisseur with a positively obsessive knowledge of what went into the making of their landmark music. Here’s what Reed had to say about his choices.

[In Chronological Order]

1) “I’ll Be Back”

I adore early Beatles, but this one from their third album really stands out to me. Harmonically, melodically, and lyrically it presages a lot of their later, darker work. Also, I love the outtakes from Anthology where they first try it as a waltz! Oh, sweet, sweet process. ( STEREO MASTER) / (WALTZ DEMO)

2) “Help!”

In a 70s interview, Lennon was asked what Beatles songs he was most proud of. He answered that he thought he’d written three good Beatle songs – “Strawberry Fields”, “In My Life” and “Help!” In this one, he reveals perhaps much more than he meant to about his inner life, as much great art does. And the groove! Jeez. Home run. (MONO MASTER)

3) “The Word”

Did someone try LSD? :) Suddenly spirituality and universality creep into Lennon’s writing, along with Day-Glo harmonies and exaggerated arrangements. And, speaking as a bass player, Paul’s stuff on this one is just unreal. They’re trying to be Motown, and they’re killing it. (MONO MASTER)

4) “Tomorrow Never Knows”

In April 1966, The Beatles entered Abbey Road to begin their seventh LP. George Martin: “Who wants to go first?” John Lennon: “Well, I’ve got one…” This was the first tune they tackled. Chord progression? Drone. Groove? Breakbeat. Lyrics? Tibetan Book of the Dead. Mix? Lennon said he wanted his voice to sound like “a hundred chanting Tibetan monks”. They ended up re-wiring the Hammond Organ’s Leslie Cabinet to run Lennon’s voice through it. Sound effects? Paul recorded dozens of incidental sounds around his home, and they cut the tapes up with scissors, threw them up in the air, and re-spliced them at random. OK. That’s one way to make a masterpiece. My only complaint? I wish the outro was 10 minutes longer. (STEREO MASTER)

5) “Rain”

Again with the spiritual metaphors? Wow. Lennon’s taking a real stand. “She Loves You” it ain’t. He can show us! The recording is notable for several reasons. He tuned the guitar down a whole-step to D, but then slowed the tape down so he’s got a low C. Pretty epic. Also, it’s the first time that Paul overdubbed his bass after the fact, and rather than use a mic on his bass amp, they rewired a huge woofer to receive rather than amplify sound and used THAT as a mic. Ringo said this was his best drumming on any Beatle track. AND John took the rough mix home and put it on his reel-to-reel, but (stoned) but it on upside down, and listened to it in reverse. The next day he proudly showed his discovery to the team, and they tagged his reverse voice on to the end, thus creating for the first time in history backwards recording. You’re welcome, Mr. Hendrix. (STEREO MASTER)

6) “I’m Only Sleeping”

There’s not another song in the entire Beatles catalog like this one. Such a creative, weird form. Such a sexy, lazy groove. Such amazing singing! And, George really digs deep on the backwards guitar….someone’s got a new toy! (MONO MASTER)

7) “Penny Lane”

They finished their final tour. They took four months off. Then, they reconvened to do… what? They could do and be anything now. They decided to make a concept record with all songs about their childhoods. John’s first offering was “Strawberry Fields”. Paul’s was “Penny Lane”. Incidentally, their label demanded a single in time for Xmas, and took the only two finished songs, so these two were not a part of what was, by then, becoming Sgt. Pepper’s. This song is a quantum leap in sophistication and production. The piano you hear is actually FIVE pianos, played by John, Paul and George. The changing feel on the drums is ingenious. And the bass playing….well, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard better. I personally channel the bass playing from this tune every single night. Astounding. (MONO MASTER)

8) “Getting Better”

Another entry in the original Pepper concept of songs about childhood. A good friend of mine once said that if you were ever with someone who was having a bad LSD trip just put this song on. :) I thought of that when I learned later that the one-time Lennon was tripping in the studio (on accident, it turns out) and he was recording the backup vocals on this tune. The huge quarter-note pulse that rolls through the whole thing is the definition of ICONIC, and something that I’ve tried to get every band I’m in to pull off, with limited success. So sick. Again, the overdubbed bass has much more freedom than it would have if it had been tracked live with the band. (MONO MASTER)

9) “Within You, Without You”

George’s masterpiece. Aside from “Revolution 9,” The Beatles never ventured farther from “Love Me Do” than this, and they rarely spoke so profoundly of real truth. George Martin’s orchestration is absolutely masterful. This one’s brought me to tears on more than one occasion. And then when I heard Martin’s 2006 remix with the “Tomorrow Never Knows” drums and bass underneath, I nearly lost my shit. This song almost makes the rest of their catalog look silly. (MONO MASTER) / (2006 remix)

10) “Fool On The Hill”

This one is Paul at his absolute best. Light/heavy, simple/surreal, catchy/mystical, melodic/groovy, profound/absurd. I love how it’s basically a piano song, and all the other instruments just add a tiny touch here and there. The baritone harmonica sounds like an ancient ritual. They didn’t flirt with the guru, they married the guru. Then, yes, they divorced the guru. But, for a time, they meant it. (STEREO MASTER)

11) “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)”

I vividly remember my reaction the first time I heard this track: “THIS is the Beatles?!?!” The drums and bass on the intro are so heavy, so funky, I thought surely it was The Pharcyde. This was cut as an instrumental just days after Sgt. Pepper’s was completed. It then sat in the vault for three years. Then, at the absolute end of The Beatles career, they needed a B-side for “Let It Be”. John and Paul pulled it out, and overdubbed some AMAZING vocals, that are nothing short of pure Monty Python-esque brilliance. Also, that’s the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones on saxophone at the end. Truly a unique recording in the history of music. Paul once said this was, without hesitation, his favorite Beatle track. I concur! (STEREO MASTER)

Up next, the Impound’s own picks. It’ll be less erudite but just as heartfelt. See y’all around the virtual water cooler soon!

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