Sunday, May 17, 2009

Number 9

click photo to enlarge
The trio of albums - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), The Beatles ("The White Album") (1968) and Abbey Road (1969) - for me, represent the summit of the Beatles' achievement. There are those who would say Rubber Soul (1965) and Revolver (1966), with hindsight, are as good or better than the later works, but, whilst they include some excellent songs, I think the subsequent recordings surpass them.

My recollections of those years is that Sgt Pepper burst upon us like something from another planet. The musicianship, invention, breadth, instrumentation, and sheer spirit of the work meant that it rarely left our turntables. In retrospect Revolver had pointed us in this direction, and other bands had dipped their toes in the pool that the Beatles plunged into, but the phrase that one critic used to described it at the time, "revolutionary popular music," wasn't an overstatement. And the question on everyone's mind in 1967 was, "How can they top that?" Well, in 1968, with The White Album they showed that there was no need to try. In that work they extended some of the ideas of Sgt Pepper, but also side-stepped into Anglo-American music's past. Affectionate Beach Boys parody (Back in the USSR), grinding blues (Yer Blues), music hall brought up to date (The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill), Noel Coward-like crooning (Wild Honey Pie), love songs, hard rock and the rest - not forgetting a clutch of George Harrison songs that are amongst his best - made it an album that revealed its subtleties only after many listens. And, just as Sgt Pepper had one song that probably didn't deserve its place on the album (Within You, Without You), so too did The White Album (Revolution 9). John Lennon's eight minutes of musique concrete influenced by Yoko Ono's regard for Stockhausen and Cage was worth a listen, maybe two, at most three. However, it sat very uneasily alongside works that bear multiple hearings. It would have been better if George Martin and Paul McCartney had got their way and left it off the album.

My mind strayed onto this subject, and I heard that EMI engineer repeating "number, 9, number 9, number 9", when I was deciding how to title the photograph above. It shows a marker (Number 9) at the end of one of the submerged groynes at Hunstanton, Norfolk, with, farther out, a distant ,small, sea-fishing boat. Its minimalistic subject, spare composition and limited colour range make this image as much of an oddity amongst my output as the track of that title is amongst the Fab Four's ouvre.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 64mm (128mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On