In Praise of Fabcast, The Best Beatles Podcast Ever

Best Beatles Podcast(Credit: Fabcast)

In 2016, Fabcast entered the expansive world of Beatledom with a bold promise: “a new way of talking about The Beatles.” It was easy to be skeptical of Howie Edelson and Stephen Bard – co-hosts of the podcast, now in its third year – and their opening salvo. Considering the seemingly endless number of books, articles, academic studies, radio shows, documentaries and other commentary about the band – from the tabloidesque biographies to attempts at understanding Beatlemania as a unique moment in history to lyrical study that treats the work as literary – “bold” might be an understatement. Presenting new work on The Beatles is tantamount to the struggle undergraduates face when writing about Shakespeare: what can be said that hasn’t already been said?

Considering the vastness of the Beatles-related literature, you can easily imagine the anxiety a writer might feel when approaching the subject. It takes serious will not to be intimidated into silence. Despite all this, a slew of Beatles-related podcasts preceded Fabcast, and a scan of Apple Podcasts reveals that they continue to proliferate. When reissues and anniversaries of Beatles work and major events appear at least yearly, and when Paul is often in the news sharing the same old (but nonetheless miraculous) stories about the past, why wouldn’t Beatledom emerge with vitality in this new medium? Paul’s appearance last year on Carpool Karaoke has been viewed 39.5 million times and has spawned countless online “news” articles that simply report on his appearances on late-night TV. Such is the industry The Beatles sustains. When writing or talking about the most timeless of bands, whose work has topped the charts with each new media format, there’s always something to say, even if that thing has been said or written many times before. Careers have been made by discussing the stories we all know, revering the same important dates and years and events, and arguing about who broke up the band or why they decided to end what amounted to an astonishing and unbelievable run. (How could they end it!) But is any of this chatter interesting? Is any of it new?

Fabcast is interesting and new, both in form and content. Simply put, this rarely aligned duo results in hours of pleasurable, exciting, and inspiring listening. As one fan commented on the podcast’s Facebook page, listening to Howie and Bard talk about the Beatles feels like eavesdropping on two great friends sitting in a bar, perhaps three or four drinks in, unabashedly making conversation about the deepest of human experiences. That is to say, two intelligent, forward-thinking, encyclopedic minds talking with passion and delight about not just the music they love, but the people who created that music, from whom they “learned everything” about love, how to live, how to be in this world.

This might sound like hyperbole. Maybe it is. But such is the nature of Fabcast, where Howie and Bard embrace the real emotion that’s integral to the creation of the music they love, and necessary to really understand its lyrical, biographical, and cultural meaning. Fabcast cuts through the tabloid features and petty intraband drama and gets deep into the music, the lyrics, and the fatefully intertwined lives of its makers.

From the first moments of the debut episode – and I mean pretty much immediately – you get a sense of the candor of these humorous, vulgarly erudite voices. Howie begins discussing the ill-fated yet brilliant and productive Get Back/Let it Be sessions, articulating what anyone who’s ever listened to the tapes has surely felt: George’s playing has atrophied, a reality he attempts (unsuccessfully) to mask with a wah-wah pedal. Those early sessions were “marred by wah-wah,” Howie notes. It’s a cutting but true critique. Cue this clip of the band rehearsing “Don’t Let Me Down,” in which George’s playing is out of place and uninspired. Such noodling is a serious downgrade from his usual melodic masterpieces (“Something,” “My Sweet Lord”).

Throughout the episode, Howie cuts through the noise like the guitar on “It’s All Too Much.” He compares Beatles music to “real life” in a way that stuns each time: therapy is like surgery in that the hard work comes when you get home and have to heal, slowly getting yourself back to health. Then, abruptly, Howie says “Bard” and passes the buck to his buddy. A new voice emerges, exploring the same contours of the music from a different, slightly gentler perspective. Bard has serious musical sensibilities, relies more on poetic imagery and metaphor in his explications, and often seems to speak closely and gently to the microphone, communicating something so substantial and meaningful that you also want to lean in and feel whatever he’s feeling.

The Beatles in New York City, in 1964
The Beatles in New York City (1964)

I begin with the Get Back/Let it Be sessions because that period represents both a serious leap toward the demise of The Beatles and the beginning of a project left unfinished that still captures the attention of Beatles fans today. Howie and Bard guide listeners through its inception and failure. While the band’s previous effort, The White Album, was still number one on the charts, Paul lassoed his bandmates and put everyone to work. Workaholic that he was, the project included aspirations for the filming and release of a feature-length film, a single-LP record, and a return to live performance, preferably in someplace exotic like the Parthenon or the pyramids at Giza. Hours upon hours of footage and audio exists, chronicling the band rehearsing oldies alongside songs that would make it onto two Beatles records – Abbey Road and Let it Be – and songs that would appear on post-Beatles solo records for years to come. And despite the artistic fruitfulness of the sessions, they ended without a finished product. The following year, Let it Be was released to Paul’s chagrin: the strings irked him. The film project resulted in a poorly-edited hour and a half plodding thing, featuring a lot of bickering, wah-wah, and long faces of disinterest. It’s nonetheless a fascinating document of the group in the studio, though you’ll have to watch it bootlegged, since Apple has shelved it for decades. The group did end up fulfilling the goal of performing – on the rooftop of Apple Records and not at Giza – and rehearsal songs like “All Things Must Pass” and “Gimme Some Truth” happily found their way onto future records. But not Beatles records. Listen to Howie and Bard talk about the melodic ideas Paul throws at these songs during rehearsals, ideas that George and John discard for their solo efforts. Listen to Howie and Bard dig into why Paul had arranged the whole project, why he wanted to “get back” and what he wanted to get back to. Think about that favorite of Beatles pastimes: what could’ve been.

Over the course of several episodes, Howie and Bard devote hours of discussion to solo work like “All Things” and “Gimme,” independent of whether the germ appeared in a Beatles session or not. In fact, their attention to post-1970 Beatles work is nearly epiphanic for serious fans of music – not just music created by the four Beatles together in the 60s, but music each individual Beatle made. It’s no mistake that the podcast’s fourth episode devotes an hour to Ram, Paul McCartney’s 1971 masterpiece. Then there’s the nearly five hours Howie and Bard spend discussing 1980, a pivotal year not only because of Lennon’s death. 1980 is also the year of McCartney II and “Coming Up”; a music video for the song features Paul with his Beatles-era Höfner bass and Beatles haircut and Beatles head/brain shakes. It’s also the year of Double Fantasy, John’s return to form, and to his Buddy Holly-esque glasses and Teddy boy haircut of the early Beatles years. It’s the year John and Paul returned to the enormous fecundity of their musical dialogue and, as a result, produced some of their best work. In an interview with Billboard in 2001, Paul said:

I heard a story recently from a guy who used to record with John [Lennon] in New York, and he said that John would get lazy – but then he’d hear a song of mine where he thought, “Oh, shit, Paul’s putting it in, Paul’s working!” Apparently that was one song that got John recording again. I think John just thought, “Uh-oh, I better get working, too” [beams]. I thought that was a nice story.

Listen to these guys discuss 1980, going so deep into the psychology of John and Paul in musical conversation with one another, sending smoke signals through their records. Listen to them lament John dying “in a gutter,” exposing their own anger and immense sadness at the loss, and in doing so creating a place for someone like me – born almost a decade after Lennon’s death – to mourn through the airwaves.

Howie and Bard spend nearly three hours discussing 1974. When was the last time you heard any serious discussion about 1974 as it pertains to the Beatles? There’s also the two-plus hours devoted to Tug of War (1982), a McCartney masterpiece on par with Ram and with anything the man ever created. Their passion for the music extends all the way to deep cuts like “The Pound is Sinking,” a song Paul has never played live and in which, Howie and Bard suggest, Paul reaches the apex of his vocal prowess while singing:

I knew you for a minute
Oh, it didn’t happen
Only for a minute
Your heart just wasn’t in it anymore

As a superfan myself, immersed in Beatledom for most of my life, observations about songs like “The Pound is Sinking” send me to the record collection, relistening extra attentively to songs I’ve heard countless time with a fresh – new – perspective.  

The Beatles, despite all their success and immense output (over 300 songs recorded in about seven years), are the subject of an endless series of “what if” questions. What if they hadn’t disbanded? What if Yoko hadn’t infamously “sat on an amp” during the Get Back/Let it Be sessions? What if John and Paul had regarded George’s songs with actual interest, and what if such interest led to recording “All Things Must Pass,” “Let it Down,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” or “Art of Dying” as s group? What if they’d reunited before John died?

Even a band that achieved the monumental cannot escape speculation and conjecture about what it didn’t achieve ­– or what it could’ve achieved with one or two or five more albums. For a Beatles fan, fantasizing about some sort of reunion – and not necessarily one of those contemporary we’re-in-it-for-the-money tours, but something meaningful and substantial – is the stuff of lore, a topic of endless fantasy.

It’s a testament to both the lasting power and influence of their music and human insatiability that everything The Beatles produced as a group and beyond doesn’t satisfy the feeling we crave, all the feelings we get and need from the music. Thirteen albums as a group, plus three bona fide movies; twelve studio albums and two live albums by George Harrison; eleven studio albums by John Lennon (one posthumous and one all covers, but still, “Angel Baby” is so great) and two live; then there’s Paul McCartney’s oeuvre, which is so massive and varied – rock, pop, electronic, classical – that I’d wager most Beatles fans haven’t made their way through it all: but we crave more. As if to satiate ourselves, we ask: what if?

For many fans, imagining The Beatles’ early 70s work, when the four were still contractually intertwined by Apple Records and EMI distribution contracts, extends beyond daydream and into hobby. “What if” albums proliferate on YouTube channels, blogs, and fan and audiophile forums, just as they have in physical form since the days of reel-to-reel and cassettes. Traditionally, such albums are attempts at selecting and arranging the best tracks of 1970, ’71 or ’73 into a cohesive work. Song choices are typical and not expansive or imaginative; some try to be interesting but then pair “Mother” and “Teddy Boy” because “sequencing them back-to-back is perhaps too obvious.” From a lyrical standpoint, that is. Plus the latter was originally demoed by The Beatles, so that means it should work, right? Well, no. If you really listen to the Beatles recording, released on Anthology 3 in 1996, and consider why Lennon might be signing “do-si-do” for the final minute of the track, you’d reach a different conclusion or work too hard to conjure some new justification.

Such fantasy albums – which are, essentially, fantasies about the Beatles staying together – have even made it into the world of speculative fiction. Stephen Baxter’s short story “The Twelfth Album” imagines an alternate world in which The Beatles recorded one more album after Abbey Road; two characters find the album among apocalyptic wreckage and listen to it, enraptured.Like so many other similar efforts, “The Twelfth Album” – boringly titled God in the story – presents, unsurprisingly, a standard “what if” scenario. On the imaginary album, “Every Night,” a “deep cut” from McCartney’s first solo album, leads to “All Things Must Pass.” The story justifies this choice by noting that the latter is a “quiet” song. Sure, sequencing the songs like this identifies a quality inherent to the greatness of Beatles records, which gave considerable attention to a thoughtful and often juxtaposing ordering of tracks, such as “Octopuses Garden” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” And yet what’s exactly new here, sequencing tracks based on contrast? Surely “quiet” isn’t the only criteria for contrast.

Howie and Bard devote multiple podcast episodes to their own “fantasy” album, one which thankfully avoids the usual banality. Following the primary color theme of the Blue and Red albums of the 70s, Green[1] is a five “disc” playlist/album/box set that follows in (but really reimagines) the “Twelfth Album” tradition and attempts to prescribe a Beatlesesque sequencing to the members’ solo output from the early 70s, when each member remained under contract and split earnings as if they were making the music together as a group.

The first disc of the box set opens with “Instant Karma” and segues into “Maybe I’m Amazed,” with Howie attempting to replicate the way Beatles albums were arranged, placing “sweet and sour” next to each other. Already there’s analysis far beyond “quiet,” as “Instant Karma” is a tough listen, a rough unpolished record in which Lennon’s voice breaks down in the final moments of the coda: sour. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is Paul at his best: lush and proper organ-accompanied introduction, masterful chords often enriched with major thirds in the bass (a la Brian Wilson, Bard notes): sweet.

While Baxter’s characters imagine that McCartney hands the lead vocals of “Maybe” to Lennon and sit stunned listening as “Lennon’s raw, majestic voice wrenched at the melody, while McCartney’s melodic bass, Starr’s powerful drumming, and Harrison’s wailing guitar [drive] through the song’s complex, compulsive chromatic structure,” Howie and Bard avoid the fluff and instead  mine the track for every last bit of meaning, both lyrical and musical. “He [Paul] just moves to an entirely different key structure in the chorus,” from B flat to D major, when he sings “Maybe I’m a man.” The keys are “worlds apart, you couldn’t get any further. And when he gets you to the D the sun comes out, the skies open, the sky turns bright blue, the sun is blinding. It’s the musical equivalent of true love and passion for another human.” (Seriously, listen to this excerpt, which so perfectly captures the attitude and passion of the podcast.) But key changes and pretty melodies online work alongside the right set of words:

Maybe I’m a man
Maybe I’m a lonely man
Who’s in the middle of something
That he doesn’t really understand
And maybe I’m a man
And maybe you’re the only woman
Who could ever help me
Won’t you help me to understand?

Howie and Bard understand these words to be direct reflection of the turmoil of McCartney’s personal life, namely the dissolution of both his band and relationship with longtime best friend and fated soulmate, John Lennon. Paul’s “in the middle of something / That he doesn’t really understand” – maybe. And though breaking the cardinal rule of modern textual analysis, their interpretation is so convincing that it seems impossible that in these words lyrical content and life events are not inextricably intertwined. What other “something” could he be in the middle of in 1970?

They also alight on a line from the first verse, “You hung me on a line,” as indication of Linda “curing” McCartney during this tough time; she dried him out, as in kicking the alcohol and as in preserving his life. Again relying on biography, these lines correlate to Linda, love of his life, curing his months-long depression during the physical and transactional dissolution of The Beatles. This guy, Bard says, the way he says things, is just as poetic as anybody else. Maybe more poetic. Paul is “the other poet.”

On Green, it’s only natural that “Maybe I’m Amazed” leads into “Look at Me.” Like McCartney’s “Maybe,” in “Look at Me” Lennon wonders who he is, not only with or without The Beatles, but in general and in relation to his new relationship and marriage. The song couldn’t begin any clearer: “Look at me / who am I supposed to be?” And like “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Lennon recognizes that, at the end of the day he’s at least got a solid foundation in Yoko – “just you and me,” he makes sure to conclude the song. Fabcast’s fascinating analysis reveals how both men, however estranged, are constructing identities without one another but with their new partners. Their lives are intertwined, on parallel paths. Even while working apart, there are subtle yet unmistakable reverberations in their music. Sure, “Look at Me” is an acoustic song in the style of “Julia.” Aurally it provides a nice counterpoint to “Maybe.” But there’s so much more there.

Green continues with “That Would Be Something,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” and “Let it Down.” Freed from The Beatles’ brief – or group aesthetic – Howie and Bard note that these are songs written by men entering their thirties, experiencing love and sex as men. “That really would be something / to meet you in the fallin’ rain, momma,” Paul sings over and over as a refrain of love and lust. In “I’d Have You Anytime,” even the title speaks to maturing sensuousness I’d have you, the song is saying, anytime. “Let it down / Let it down / Let your hair hand all around me.” As Howie so succinctly points out, “She’s on top.” These songs are “hot,” but they also emerge from a period of angst and uncertainty.

Which is why they lead to “Junk,” “Isolation,” and “Every Night.” In “Every Night,” McCartney is wasting time, leaning on lampposts, struggling to get out of bed, “get out of [his] head.” But he knows that, despite all this, he wants to “stay in” and be with his new wife. She’s “sunshine” sung as a wordless chorus, a feature usually reserved for annoying earworms.

“Junk,” Bard says, presents a melody “Brahms could’ve written” alongside the song’s unique and (again thinking biographically) poignant message: “The thing that’s been discarded still [has] a voice, a thought, or a wish.”

Buy! buy!
Says the sign in the shop window.
Why? why?
Says the junk in the yard

The Fabcast hosts propose that Paul is talking to John here, amidst their unmooring breakup and John’s new musical attachment to Yoko: Why am I being discarded? Paul’s asking. Why am I the junk in the yard, being replaced by something/one new? I still have feelings, too. Why the need to buy this new thing when I’m still here? John did disregard Paul’s first solo album as, essentially, rubbish.Considered this way, the song is a deeply personal and emotional plea, confusion bordering despair housed in a pacifyingly –and deceptively – beautiful melody. So beautiful, in fact, that you could hum it all day without really thinking about why the junk in the yard has so many feelings of abandonment. Even taken literally – as in, having nothing to do wih Lennon – it’s a powerful thought experiment in our throwaway world.

In “Isolation,” Lennon sings:

People say we got it made
Don’t they know we’re so afraid
Isolation
We’re afraid to be alone
Everybody got to have a home
Isolation

Did John also feel unmoored by the dissolution of his band?

This sequencing extends far beyond “quiet” and into deep thematic and textual analysis. There’s a deep understanding of meaning, both surface and embedded, in what’s going on in these men’s lives and how their songwriting not only reflects “life” as they lived it, but that their music is still in conversation after the Beatles breakup. That the music continued to be “made next to each other, often in response to each other, and at times because of each other” supports the podcast’s  argument that this music is Beatles, which is the refreshing thesis here, and indeed throughout Fabcast. This is a new of talking and thinking about the Beatles.

The Beatles in Rome, Italy (1965)

While Green focuses on the early ’70s – the Apple Records years – some of the podcast’s most compelling listening focuses on work that, generally, Beatledom eschews or treats as minor. To Howie and Bard, Tug of War and Double Fantasy (to name a couple)are “metaphysically” Beatles music and are just as important.

These albums present work that develops along with each songwriter’s movement into and through the important maturation of domesticity and parenthood of their thirties, forties, and beyond. As the four men hatched the cloistering Beatles shell and became independent adults, their music and lyrics naturally reflected such change. “A lot of Beatledom can’t go there,” Howie suggests, “because it’s [60s Beatles relative tameness, e.g. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “Something” or simply The Beatles 1963-1969] their safe space, where they stay eleven or fourteen.” They wrote songs about death, such as “Deep Blue” (1971), “The End of the End” (2007) “Stuck Inside a Cloud” (2001), and “Little Willow” (1997). They wrote about parenthood “Put it There” (1989) and “(Just Like) Starting Over” (1980), a duo of tracks that further proves the Lennon-McCartney synergy, operating even when separated by the unbreachable gulf that is death. “Beautiful Boy” (1980) has to be one of the most poignant songs ever written from the perspective of father to son. They explored spirituality “Dear One” (1976), “Your Love is Forever” (1978), “God” (1970), and “Serve Yourself” (1980). There’s depression (John’s demoes “Memories, Memories” and “Free as a Bird”) and references to each other in “All Those Years Ago” (1981), “Call Me Back Again” (1974), “Ballroom Dancing,” and “Here Today.”

In other words, this is essential, potent, formidable music. To miss this work is to miss half or more of brilliant songwriters’ and artists’ arc, and to miss tracking the emotional maturation and musical development of three exceptional songwriters. Each individual Beatle didn’t stop making great music in 1970, when the group disbanded. In fact, some of their best compositions emerge in the wake of that event: “My Sweet Lord,” Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and “Imagine.”

The podcast’s thirteenth episode, in which preeminent Beatles scholar Mark Lewisohn joins Howie and Bard for a two-and-a-half-hour conversation, features engaging and passionate conversation about a classic 1989 McCartney collaboration with Elvis Costello, Flowers in the Dirt, that you’re pausing the podcast and listening to the album and unbelievably good demos before the episode’s over, wondering why it hasn’t been in your rotation for, basically, ever. (When I confessed to Howie that I hadn’t devoted much time to Flowers, he responded “Why?” with about ten question marks, as if I’d missed Revolver. )

In the episode titled 1974, deep (and forgotten?) cut “Mamunia” suddenly ascends to the status of masterwork, or something very close to it, with a treatment from Howie and Bard:

[There’s] maybe no better song written about rainfall and the importance [of it]. And here’s McCartney, yet again the seer, the scholar, the wise man telling us what it’s really about. And what it’s really about is rain. Because without rain, we’re all gonna die. Because we need the planet to replenish itself and for the clouds to fill the sky and pour down water so we can all stay alive. So he’s telling all these L.A. people, hey, the next time it rains, don’t complain – it’s raining for us…he’s saying: slow down and live your life. And enjoy your life, sunshine and rain.

Other critics have described “Mamunia” as a “pale rewrite of Lennon’s ‘Rain.’” Chip Madinger and Mark Easter, authors who have both written about solo Beatles work, say the song is “so lightweight it’ll float off.” But, in reality, it’s not lightweight at all. I’m siding with Howie and Bard, who actually appear to understand the song, and who are willing to devote the necessary energy to understand the song, including the purpose of its sweet, easy melody. Maybe this is the way we need to fully understand the complexities of our world, via infectious, unforgettable melody. Fabcast illuminates this lesser-known, lesser-discussed work. Even for a diehard fan like myself, I find I’m pausing each episode dozens of times to investigate references either entirely foreign to me or just out of memory’s reach; I’m listening to tracks with an entirely new appreciation.

The hosts speak about the entirety of the Beatles catalogue with such fluidity and total recall that there’s immediate authority. They don’t bother to pause and explain which video they’re referencing or how you can find it. They don’t upload links or playlists or offer any sort of footnotes. There’s no audience hand-holding, no reminders or asides to fill in any potential gaps of knowledge. Rather, the podcast moves forward with the awareness that every listener has the ability to pause – revolutionary for radio – and that the listener should be tapping pause frequently. Months pass between episodes, which Howie explains is also a conscious choice to help the listener have time to digest.

I contend that these choices in presentation are a call to action. Anyone listening should either know the music or (re)acquaint themselves with songs deep in the catalogue. “Momma Miss America,” “Out the Blue,” and “You Want Her Too” are just as important as the rest. If you don’t know them, the podcast urges, you should – for you.

The podcast’s explorations of the more familiar periods of 1964 or 66 or 68 (The Beatles’ prime years) are just as revelatory, and maybe even more so, considering how well-known the work from those years is. In the third episode, “Revolver: John and Paul and Jesus and Brian and Acid and Dylan,” Howie observes that “George comes up with the whole Indian thing [but] Lennon sings that that raga bit,” by which he means the memorable, strange midpoint of the song, the word “Rain” drawn out into something special: a raga. “That’s all you need. Yes, it is great to have all the sitar stuff. But he took it into brought it into” – Bard interjects – “their vocabulary.” Pop, rock, Beatles. This observation reprograms how you think about a song you’ve heard more times than you can count. George introduces Indian music and instrumentation to the group but doesn’t write its best piece of Indian music. Right! Because “the raga bit” in “Rain” is Beatles Indian music. This is an astonishing insight and evidence of Lennon’s artistic capabilities. Of course, it’s Ringo’s “wild” drumming during the verses and Paul’s bass in the bridge and George introducing Indian music that complete the song and make it Beatles. This is evidence of what makes The Beatles a band, feeding off one another, filtering an immensely cacophonous and unceasing world of pressures and demands and disillusion into masterful work.

Explications of “Ask Me Why,” “Yesterday,” and “No Reply” from the second episode, “1964: John Lennon’s Mother and Your First Kiss,” will change the way you think of early “bubblegum” Beatles forever. Howie and Bard make connections that seem so obvious and yet also come as revelations: in “If I Fell,” John sings, “I’ve been in love before / And I found that love was more / Than just holding hands” just a few months after the Beatles’ breakthrough hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” John undercuts his own biggest songwriting achievement only months after its success catapulted him to the pinnacle of stardom. There’s more, he’s saying, that what I previously told you. Holding hands is fine, yeah, but it’s not going to get you where you need to go.

Howie and Bard often describe John as a man who understood his purpose and, all along, had something to say. Even the early tracks, which have a Beatles gloss on them, contain deeper truths about love, marriage, and abandonment:

All of these Lennon songs [in 1964]…everybody based their teen relationships,

and their early relationships, and their vision of love and romance on it, where it’s really all about his mother who split on him. He’s singing about the most dysfunctional relationship and everyone saw it as Shakespeare and said, “That is how we love.” And what a fucked up thing that is, that everybody took that as the word, how you fall in love and how you act as a lover. And it’s based on that [abandonment] shit.

“I’ll Be Back,” “Not a Second Time,” “I’ll Cry Instead,” “If I Fell,” and many others from the early Beatles catalogue are more than simple love songs. Consider the opening lines of “I Call Your Name”:

I call your name
But you’re not there
Was I to blame for being unfair?
Oh, I can’t sleep at night
Since you’ve been gone
I never weep at night
I can’t go on

Regarding a period usually relegated to screaming girls and Beatlemania hysteria as, in fact, one of John’s most fecund artistic periods is a thrill to listen to because a closer look at these lyrics reveals a young man blaming himself for having an absent mother. Without her present he’s unable to sleep, unable to weep (okay, now listen to “Mother”), and, on account of the pain this has caused him, unable to continue on into adulthood. About “I Call Your Name,” Lennon told journalist David Sheff in 1980:

That was my song. [I wrote it] when there was no Beatles and no group. I just had it around. It was my effort as a kind of blues originally, and then I wrote the middle eight just to stick it in the album when it came out years later. The first part had been written before Hamburg even. It was one of my first attempts at a song.

McCartney suggests that the song could be about John’s father or mother, and that he didn’t “look behind it at the time, it was only later you started analyzing things.” Fabcast builds an entire episode upon this analysis, citing lyrics, interviews, and detailed biography to frame, develop, propose, and understand this music as powerfully and emotionally autobiographical. While, as I’ve said, this breaks a cardinal rule, it’s not unprecedented, both in letters and in Lennon’s often self-reflexive work. In this case, it serves as a powerful instrument of contextualizing Beatles music.

Fabcast discussions aren’t all praise. Both hosts offer choice words about McCartney’s work after the superb Flowers in the Dirt, which I’ll kindly summarize as a multi-decade series of disappointments interrupted by a few scattered gems. After Tug of War he became a “poor record-maker.” Contrary to the “revisionist” history taking place today, the hosts view as George the “third” Beatle, definitively. During the Green episode Howie says that George should never have had more than a few songs on a Beatles album. While he wrote some great music, he didn’t ever compare to Lennon or McCartney. “Not Guilty” deserved to be booted from the White Album. The rooftop performance was the only time George really came through in a live setting; much of his early guitar work, especially live, held the group back. “What kind of solo is that?” they ask, in reference to “The One After 909.”Who can forget “marred by wah-wah”?

As a body of work consisting of twenty-three episodes (and counting) and roughly 36 hours of audio, Fabcast is an immense repository of knowledge that the hosts have gathered during a lifetime of listening and interpreting and studying all things Beatles – and all things rock music. In an interview, Howie described how everything changed when he first heard the Beatles. Suddenly, at four years old, his life had focus. The music gripped him. Ram and Beatles VI played on loop as he commandeered the family turntable. Bard, too, has been a lifelong fan as he’s pursued making and performing music as a career.

Their friendship, which dates back a couple of decades to high school, began with a shared interest in – no, passion and appreciation and near-obsession for­ – all things Beatles. The two met in the 80s, when Red Rose Speedway wasn’t necessarily the coolest album to hunt for in the record shop and Somewhere in England wasn’t music you put on at a party or listened to with friends while playing soccer in the front yard. And so the bond was, in a way, a club of niche, of sharing a love for music and a phenomenon that had struck their parents’ generation more than theirs.

This bond is the quality that informs all of the analysis and talk and interpretation packed into each episode. The two hosts truly do talk like “two friends in a bar.” Their rapport lends itself to comfortable improvisation. When one struggles to finish a thought (which is rare), the other appears with the right turn of phrase. More than just a cataloguing of thought and opinion about the Beatles and their music, the podcast is a series of recordings documenting the close, unyielding friendship brought about by Beatles music. Like John and Paul – if I can be so bold – whose partnership repeatedly teaches us the significance of sustained, open collaboration, Howie and Bard apply the same formulation to their podcast. And for Beatledom at large, there is, and will always be, the immense joy of sharing this music with those you love. Isn’t this what the Carpool Karaoke thing was all about? Isn’t this why the music lives on, the discussion continues, and the podcasts proliferate? Beatles music – and I mean this in the Fabcast sense, including all the music we associate with the band, not just their work in the 1960s – has a distinct ability to arouse emotion. It comforts and excites and consoles and inspires. These are things we do with each other, and with Beatles music.

¤

Scott Lerner is a writer based in Claremont, California.