Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: 'The Beatles Through Headphones'

Only The Beatles could inspire a book like The Beatles Through Headphones, and not just because their name is right there in the title. They’re the only band that has been scrutinized at such a minute level over thousands of books, articles, and posts. Ted Montgomery’s book gets downright microscopic, noting hundreds of little squeaks, clicks, mumbled and shouted asides, gaffes, flaws, and guffaws that can only be detected by listening to their music (in stereo and in mono!) with strict attention through a good set of headphones.

The Beatles Through Headphones really earns its existence when Montgomery challenges common assumptions based on his close listens. He has convinced me that only Paul’s voice can be heard on “Eleanor Rigby”, that George is the sole singer of “You Like Me Too Much”, and Ringo the one voice of “Act Naturally” (all in multiple overdubs, of course). He is not always completely convincing, as when he matter-of-factly declares the fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself” “a regular bass played through a blown amp” when other theories are much more persistent (Paul’s playing his Epiphone Casino, not his bass; he’s running his Rickenbacker bass through a fuzz pedal) and there’s really no way to reach that conclusion from a mere headphone listen. More surprisingly, Montgomery misses some things that have been extensively detailed elsewhere, like the bits of feedback and instrumental drop outs on “I’m Looking Through You” and the fact that the mono mix of “Love You To” is noticeably longer than the stereo one. He says he cannot discern a bass in “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, apparently not realizing Lennon was playing a six-string bass with a more trebly tone than McCartney’s usual Hofner and Rickenbacker. And I’ve often read that Lennon mumbles something naughty on “Good Day Sunshine”, but have never encountered a writer willing to reveal just what he says. I was expecting Montgomery to be that writer, but he isn’t.

Montgomery ‘s swift, no-frills writing keeps the book moving (each album is allotted about six or seven pages), which is important because there occasionally isn’t much to say about these songs other than where the voices and instruments are placed in the stereo mixes. Smartly he augments his minutia with mostly astute critiques of their music, but a lot of those little details he points out can go in one eye and out the other when consuming the book cover to cover. So the best way to approach it is as a reference guide: read one of his brief entries; then listen to song it discusses. That way you’ll make the most of its unique purpose.

I’ve really been binging on The Beatles since the recent release of their Mono box set and have been planning on taking a bit of a break. Alas, The Beatles Through Headphones makes me want to listen to those albums all over again.

Get The Beatles Through Headphones on here:
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