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Thus it was that the group's chief lyricist, John Lennon, began tuning in on U.S. Folk Singer Bob Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin'); it wasn't Dylan's sullen anger about life that Lennon found appealing so much as the striving to "tell it like it is." Gradually, the Beatles' work began to tell it too. Their 1965 song, Nowhere Man ("Doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to") asked: "Isn't he a bit like you and me?" Last year's Paperback Writer cheerfully skewered the craven commercialism of the hack.
An even sharper departure from Big Beat banalities came as Tunesmith McCartney began exhibiting an unsuspected lyrical gift. In 1965, he crooned the loveliest of his ballads, Yesterday, to the accompaniment of a string octeta novel and effective backing that gave birth to an entire new genre, baroque-rock. Still another form, raga-rock, had its origins after George Harrison flipped over Indian music, studied with Indian sitar Virtuoso Ravi Shankar, and introduced a brief sitar motif on the 1965 recording Norwegian Wood. Now everybody's making with the sitar.
Copping Out, Plugging In. Meanwhile, the growing sophistication of the Beatles' outlook found expression in a series of sharply observed vignettes of English life. The most poignant was last year's Eleanor Rigby, who
Lives in a dream, waits at the window.
Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door . . .
Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear . . .
Darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there . . .
All the lonely people,
where do they all belong?
Fantasy took flight in their songs, from Yellow Submarine's childlike picture of a carefree existence beneath the waves to the vastly more complex and ominous vision in Strawberry Fields Forever of a retreat from uncertainty into a psychedelic copout:
It's getting hard to be someone . . .
It doesn't matter much to me.
Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to strawberry fields.
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about . . .
Moreover, Strawberry Fields, with its four separate meters, freewheeling modulations and titillating tonal trappings, showed that the Beatles had flowered as musicians. They learned to bend and stretch the pop-song mold, enriched their harmonic palette with modal colors, mixed in cross-rhythms, and pinched the classical devices of composers from Bach to Stockhausen. They supplemented their guitar sound with strings, baroque trumpets, even a calliope. With the help of their engineer, arranger and record producer, George Martin, they plugged into a galaxy of space-age electronic effects, achieved partly through a mixture of tapes run backward and at various speeds.
Psychic Shivers. All the successes of the past two years were a foreshadowing of Sgt. Pepper, which more than anything else dramatizes,