“When the Rain Comes”…Creating Space for Experimentation

So… you all tune into my blog nearly every week. And, I am grateful.

There was a time when I looked at writing a weekly blog the way your kids look at homework. Then I realized that this is an amazing platform to share insights, thoughts, and great news about Colorado Academy. And, it’s an opportunity for me to share cool events, news, and history. For those parents of Seniors who are in the midst of the college process and submitting applications, this might be an instructive piece for our students to help them remember the importance of flexibility and experimentation and that there are many pathways to success.

(If you have Spotify, you will be able to follow the hyperlinks to the songs I am writing about.)

Recently, the Beatles released the 50th anniversary “Super Deluxe” edition of their album Revolver. When I was in the third grade in 1979, I saved up my allowance to buy a Beatles album. And I mean a real vinyl 33-rpm record. I was born in 1969, and by the time I was in third grade, I had heard so much Beatles in my home and on AM and FM radio that I couldn’t wait to buy their records. I went to Zip’s Record Store in Tucson with my $8.99 and went to the Beatles section. At that time, I loved all the early Beatles songs, like “She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”  But, I walked out of that store with the White Album. DEADSTOP!!!

If you know anything about this album, it is definitely not the innocent period of Beatle history. Little MD didn’t realize he was buying an album from a band that had matured greatly and had gone (and was going) through some serious tension and issues. It started off great, with “Back in the USSR” and then “Dear Prudence,” but then got progressively weirder. How does a 10-year-old process “Revolution #9” or “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”? It was a band pushing the limits of creativity. And yet, as discombobulating as the White Album was, I was captivated. And, I have never lost my curiosity and love for these amazing artists. 

Artistry and creativity are all about trying out new ideas fearlessly. The Beatles demonstrated this over and over again. They would write a song, then build on it, and then break it down. Then, they would build it up again. This comes through in the Super Deluxe release of Revolver. This album was recorded in 1966, a year before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was largely regarded as their most ambitious album. But Sgt. Pepper would not have happened without the creative experimentation of Revolver. They were experimenting in the studio, transforming their sound from pop band to one that created sonic landscapes. They were finding their creative force as they faced insanity on the road. Their last live show was in August of 1966. The recent Peter Jackson film of the “Get Back” session is amazing, but, if I ever get a time machine, I would go back to see these Revolver sessions in a minute.

There are songs as diverse as a proto-indie song like “Taxman” to “Eleanor Rigby.” The recent release shows how these songs evolve. I had not been a big fan of “Got to Get You Into My Life”(because of the overproduction of George Martin). But, listening to four evolutionary tracks, one of them with no horns, is amazing (see link above). It also reveals how they might have been competing with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which had been released earlier that year. One version sounds as if they were striving for the complexity of a song like “God Only Knows.” They certainly achieved it with the last track of studio mastery in John’s “Tomorrow Never Knows,” full of loops and sounds framed around the C chord, with one loop of a Bb major chord on organ. It was a revolutionary track created in an analog studio, and a complete break with their Fab Four early pop music.

There are two songs recorded during these sessions that were not included on the album, but released as A- and B-side singles: “Paperback Writer” and “Rain.” “Paperback Writer“ signaled a hard rock future that other bands followed, but often without the sophistication of the Beatles’ lyrics.

“Rain” is one of the best Beatles songs of all time that many don’t know about. But, these newly released tracks reveal things that even the biggest fans didn’t know about. Here’s the recently released version. Listen to the count in—the “one, two” in the first seconds of the track. Note the voice is oddly slow, sluggish, and warped. (This count in was edited out of the studio release of the song.) It sounds that way because the band slowed down their original backing track and then recorded their voices over it for the track they released. The bass and drums have an edge that has always been captivating, but this experimentation creates a fuller and richer sound and one that works better with the lyrics in terms of stirring up an image. I have a long-running debate with a CA alum who thinks that Ringo is a terrible drummer. Ringo was no Keith Moon or John Bonham, but he backed one of the world’s most revolutionary artists, and this is an incredible performance. And, if you want to experience the energy of the greatest band in the world, listen to the original backing track of Rain, which is played with a pace that is unlike any other Beatle song. Paul—a modern day Mozart—plays bass like one cannot believe. And John and George arrange guitar harmonics that are years before their time.

Students often don’t really have time to construct and deconstruct their thinking. And, that is a failing in how schools and education are oriented. There’s a lot of ground to cover in terms of content and skills; students race through curriculum. We need to find ways to create that space for experimentation; to stop and say, let’s do that over and make it better. We have that with our REDI Lab, where our students can dive into a project and go deep. And, there are other project-based learning opportunities where students can fail and succeed. But, I think we should all channel John, Paul, George, Ringo, and George Martin. This new Revolver release demonstrates the value of experimentation.