Ian Macdonald

by Tom on September 8, 2003

It’s sad to read that Ian Macdonald, the music critic, has died.

Macdonald deserves the description ‘music critic’ rather than the more workaday ‘rock journalist’, in my view, simply on the strength of his extraordinary book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles and The Sixties.

I’m a second-generation Beatles fan. I’ve known all the Beatles songs for as long as I can remember, since my parents were of the first generation, yea even unto the possession of a Mono edition of ‘Please Please Me’. Still, Macdonald’s book made me listen to some of the records completely differently. He knew about, and cared about, the notes themselves, and differed from almost every other writer about rock in being able to write with confidence about the harmonic machinery that made some of the Fabs’ stuff so, well, fabulous.

The opinions about the social effects of the ‘sixties that Macdonald expresses in the book aren’t ones I’d necessarily sign up to, but they are honestly, unpretentiously, and intelligently expressed, and are in an entirely different league from the sophomoric stuff from which certain others who have written in this genre have made careers.

Anyway, here he is on ‘Good Day Sunshine’:

The summer of 1966 was particularly glorious and McCartney’s ‘Good Day Sunshine’, written one hot afternoon at Lennon’s mansion, was one of several records to capture the atmosphere. Made quickly and easily in two sessions, the song is both blissfully simple and full of the free-spirited musical jesting with which The Beatles amazed classical critics. (It was a particular favourite of Leonard Bernstein.) Stealing up through the deceptive shade of E major, it leaps joyously into the light of the dominant – dropping beats left, right, and centre – before landing, in barrelhouse 4/4 on A major. Lest this become too familiar, the second verse cuts itself short for a rolling piano excursion to D, played with aplomb (and varispeed) by George Marin, before modulating in a telescoping coda of canonic entries from all parts of the the stereo spectrum. Superbly sung by McCartney and exquisitely produced by Martin and his team, Good Day Sunshine displays The Beatles at their effortless best.



Brian Weatherson 09.08.03 at 10:18 pm

These days a mono edition of Please Please Me isn’t that hard to get, since the official CD release is in mono. (At least it was in Australia – I hope it’s the same the other side of the equator.) A mono version of Revolver or Sgt Peppers, on the other hand, is a little rarer. I have a bootleg mono Sgt Peppers, and it is interesting in many ways but the quality is too poor to make any firm judgments about whether it is preferable to the stereo version.


James Russell 09.09.03 at 9:46 am

The CD editions of the first four Beatles albums are all the mono versions. The rest are all in stereo. There is, I think, something to be said for releasing 60s music in mono rather than stereo.

As for Please Please Me, the original stereo pressing of that with the gold print on the record labels is apparently the rare one to get. Of course, the ultimate is Yesterday and Today with the butcher cover; I’ve read of a sealed copy of that going for US$20,000…


Tom Runnacles 09.09.03 at 10:25 pm

Crucial update: my mother points out that her copy of Sgt Pepper is Mono, too.

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