Article: Gettin’ High On Music

The BeatlesOver the past year or two, as a music critic, I have expanded the amount of music I listen to, and ultimately, my music collection. I’ve been listening to a little bit of everything over the years, but now I can especially say that I have listened to a lot of what this world has to offer, music-wise. There is still a lot that I haven’t discovered, but something I’ve begun to really dive into is the earlier decades of music, primarily listening to a lot of The Beatles, Ryan Adams (and the Cardinals), Nirvana, and others. Rather than write reviews of these artists and their many albums, I decided I would write a bit on what their music has meant to me in the past few years.

I could talk all day about the revival of The Beatles and how they were yet again, in the year 2009, number one on the Billboard charts. But what I’ll talk about instead is this: the music they made in the early 60’s is much different than the music they made closer to the end of their career, nearly 1969-1970. And that music is also different compared to the music we hear from Paul McCartney every couple to few years now, in 2009. Yes, it’s all been said before, but there’s something that changes when you’re high on the current drug (in those days, acid) or drunk, nearly about to pass out and you step into the studio to record something. Songs like “Everyone’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey”, or “Strawberry Fields Forever”, or especially such a hit as “I Am The Walrus” prove that the most random oddities can come out in the music you’re playing if you’re under the influence.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to attend a presentation on Recording The Beatles, a book that a couple of authors and sound engineers put together about the many recordings The Beatles did at Abbey Road. On record, nearly 95% of all the music that we have from The Beatles was recorded at Abbey Road, and something they continuously did in the studio was change things. Creativity was always afoot with the group in the Abbey Road studio, and they continually changed it up with every song they recorded. I’m sure at one point, they looked at each other and said, “What do you think this would sound like if we were all high?” and recorded exactly what they had set out to do. I think that’s how we might have been given The Magical Mystery Tour music and some of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band tunes. Classic, yes. But done under the influence.

The question that has always plagued me is what would these bands, artists, and songwriters sound like if they weren’t always doped up or were sober once in a while? Fortunately, we have some evidence of what a difference getting clean can have on music, and this is what fascinates me. Ryan Adams and his band the Cardinals can prove a direct difference between the days when the man was as high as a kite, and this recent decade or two where he’s begun to clean up his act. Adams’ music carries a quite different sound beginning in 2000, all the way to present, than it does prior to that. One band we don’t have the privilege of hearing what it might sound like now is Nirvana. Kurt Cobain tragically ended his life before getting clean, and we may never know what the band would sound like, or what he would have been able to accomplish without the influence of drugs and alcohol.

This post isn’t meant to be a history lesson, and it definitely isn’t a public announcement to stop doing drugs or drinking. What I challenge you to do is, the next time you’re listening to older music, back in the early decades, do some of your own digging. Is there a difference between the old music that was popular back in the day and the newer pop tunes that the same artist is putting out? I guarantee you there will likely be something different, and it’s not just age.

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