Why we still love it when The Beatles turn us on…


I love these kind of retrospective articles.  They keep us up to date, and they keep us in check as Beatle fans.  It’s almost as if with an article like this we get to take a walk down memory lane in our minds and really remember why we are Beatle fans.  There may be mention of “Rain” for instance, which I haven’t listened to in ages, and it sparks some kind of memory.  There is a lot of news and speculation going on, and it’s good to remember that why we are Beatle fans, and why we love the Fab Four.  We almost have to remember that it’s been a really long time since they truly were a working entity, it seems like only yesterday.  It’s like the big white elephant in the room that we cannot catch.  We simply love them, they are a part of us, but we can’t always quite pin down why.  There’s too many reasons.

All too often I think we forget that.

Here’s what we’ve read.

Another week, another month (another year, another decade), and we’re still talking about the Beatles.

Last summer the focus was Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles-themed Las Vegas show, “Love,” followed by last fall’s CD release of its mashed-up soundtrack.

Last month Apple CEO Steve Jobs got tongues wagging when he played the band’s “Lovely Rita” in his demonstration of the company’s new iPhone – seen as a groundbreaking moment due to the prolonged battle that climaxed last spring with Apple defeating a lawsuit filed by the Beatles’ company, Apple Corps, over the overlapping usage of the fruit moniker. Last week came the news that both Apples finally have reached detente and will complain no more about violated trademarks.

That set the stage for the next topic of conversation:

The Beatles’ music catalog is widely anticipated to enter the digital-downloading age and become available on Apple’s online iTunes store any day (or week or month) now – or at least as soon as the lawyers can work things out. Also expected at some point is a Beatles iPod along the lines of the popular U2 edition of 2004.

As of press time, these much-anticipated announcements had yet to be made, but there’s little question that if and when they happen, they will come amid much ceremony, celebration and hype. The music will be remarketed and relaunched for, presumably, a new generation of tech-savvy listeners.

The Beatles are so deeply imbedded in our cultural wallpaper that they’re easy to overlook, but think about this: The group hasn’t recorded anything together since 1970. Two of the four members no longer dwell among the living. The music world – and pop culture in general – has never been so fragmented.

Yet when anything is done with their songs – whether they’re used in ads (booo!) or a live show or a movie (such as Julie Taymor’s upcoming musical “Across the Universe”), or they’re remixed and rejiggered (“Love”) or made available in new formats – our collective ears perk up and we relive some aspect of Beatlemania.

For Jobs, the Beatles catalog could be seen as the ultimate Baby Boomer accessory, a musical Holy Grail to acquire and let shine. For the minority of folks who actually dislike the Beatles – or at least prefer more modern sounds – the fuss over the group may amount to insufferable nostalgia. For purists or audiophiles, the prospect of Beatles recordings becoming available in a format that’s sonically inferior to the compact disc (unless Apple also introduces a new lossless downloading standard) may be less than enticing.

Nevertheless, the `60s superstars, after all these years, remain the gold standard. They’ve really got a hold on us.

“The Beatles are one of those bands that will never lose their popularity,” said Kip McCabe, manager of Reckless Records in Lakeview, Ill., who recalls listening to the band when he was 5 years old. “The music speaks for itself.”

“The Beatles were one of the big holdouts in the digital world,” said San Francisco-based entertainment attorney and admitted Beatles fanatic Tony Berman, “and obviously the Beatles have the cachet that no other group in pop music can claim.”

That cachet is backed up by numbers. Since SoundScan (now Nielsen SoundScan) began counting album/CD sales in 1991, the Beatles have been the second-biggest-selling artists, with 53.9 million albums sold. No. 1 is Garth Brooks with 66 million albums sold, but most of those were new products, not music recorded primarily between 1962 and 1970.

That new generations keep turning on to the Beatles is evident in the blockbuster success of the 2000 singles compilation “The Beatles 1,” which, with 10.8 million copies sold, stands as the 10th best-selling album of the SoundScan era. The “Love” soundtrack has sold 1.2 million copies since its November release and is the 12th best-selling album of this young year.

“I think people know when they hear something that’s so universal that it feels like part of your DNA,” said Chicago-based writer Stuart Shea, co-author of the upcoming book “Fab Four FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Beatles … And More.” “I think that’s what the Beatles communicate to people. In a world where things are marketed by exclusion and tribalism, it’s nice to hear music that seems to exist for everybody.”

New York-based author Alan Light (“The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys”) has experienced this broad appeal firsthand as he has watched his 4-year-old son become “a crazy obsessive Beatles madman.” His own appreciation has grown as well.

“I’ve been listening to those records every single day, and I never once get tired of them,” said Light, who has written about the Beatles for Rolling Stone magazine. “That kind of exposure to them continues to demonstrate just how perfect, just how flawless, just how well-crafted on every level they are. My simple answer is they were just so much better than everybody else.”

Geoff Emerick, the groundbreaking engineer behind such classic Beatles albums as “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Abbey Road,” agreed. “(It’s) the great songs they wrote,” he said. “There’s nothing lasting anymore.”

That sense of perfection, though, leads some fans to uphold rigid standards. The “Yellow Submarine Songtrack,” released in 1999 to accompany the animated movie’s DVD, was criticized for dramatically remixing some songs. “Love” is even more controversial in the way original Beatles producer George Martin (and, more so, his son Giles, because Sir George has grown hard of hearing) throws together elements from different songs to create new ear-bending experiences.

“I can’t ever bear to listen to `Love,’” Emerick said. “You don’t touch it like that. It’s silly. You don’t go and repaint the Sistine Chapel, and you don’t go and repaint the Mona Lisa, and that’s the level those records are on and those songs are on.”

As for Beatles music becoming available online, many people will find such an announcement to be of little practical import because they’ve already imported their Beatles CDs onto iPods and MP3 players (this writer included). Meanwhile, iTunes has done OK without the imprimatur of the Beatles (or Led Zeppelin or Radiohead).

“Obviously not having the biggest band in the world available on iTunes has not held that phenomenon back,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of the concert-industry trade publication Pollstar.

Yet with younger listeners increasingly prone to downloading songs rather than buying CDs, an Apple deal should boost the band’s marketing to a new generation – one that already may be less resistant to the Beatles than other `60s war horses because the band essentially died young by breaking up at its peak.

“I take nothing away from the Stones, whom I love, and I don’t begrudge them for staying out there and working, but we will never have an image in our heads of the Beatles playing together past the age of 30,” Light said. “I think that keeps them in a certain sort of relation to younger people and younger fans who don’t have to respond to them as old men.”

Many older listeners, in the meantime, have changed their music-consuming habits, with iPods and other MP3 players replacing the compact disc as their vehicle of choice. There is a certain irony to the Beatles’ becoming part of the iTunes revolution.

Before the Beatles’ emergence, the music business focused on singles and songs, and albums were filler-laden products. It was the Beatles who came to define the modern pop-rock album as a coherent listening experience. Yet with a growing number of consumers downloading individual songs to their iPods – and often playing them back in “shuffle” mode – the album as such is increasingly seen as an anachronism.

“I’m just fascinated by the fact that we went back to a singles culture, and we string our own stuff together,” said Northwestern University journalism professor Abe Peck, author of “Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press.” “It’s actually funny because you could make your own Beatles album.”

The iPod craze also hasn’t been a friend to high-fidelity recordings such as the Beatles’. Digital downloads are compressed files that sacrifice sound quality for convenience and disc space. “Because of MP3 and iPods, the kids don’t know the quality of the sound,” Emerick said. “There’s a chunk of sound missing in those systems that the kids aren’t aware of.”

On the bright side, the preparation of the Beatles’ digital catalog reportedly has been concurrent with efforts to upgrade the band’s CDs for the first time in 20 years. Of the currently available CDs, which tend to have minimal packaging and no bonus tracks, Emerick said: “They’re atrocious. I can’t even listen to them because I know what they should sound like.”

In a sense any move to improve or broaden the Beatles catalog is big news because getting all four Beatles (or their estates) plus lawyers and record companies to agree on anything has been akin to moving a glacier with bare hands. The Beatles’ 1970 documentary “Let It Be” has never appeared on DVD despite years of reports that its release was imminent, and the 1965 movie “Help!” also is unavailable. The live album “The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” never has been issued on CD.

“The Beatles have been mistreated as far as the quality of their recordings really more than any band,” Shea said, tracing this trend back to the often-butchered U.S. versions of the band’s original albums. “Their records were chopped up, and their mixes were altered and the actual sounds the Beatles made and wanted to have heard were rarely heard at the time.”

So the idea that the group’s ahead-of-their-time recordings may surface in new – and at some point improved – versions stirs hope and excitement even among those who don’t see themselves as living in the past.

“It’s one of the last unicorns, the one that got away, the one that hasn’t been available,” Peck said. “In an online world where everything is available, why isn’t this?”



We asked readers last week to name the Beatles song they would download first if the music were available on iTunes.

Big surprise: There was no consensus, with 30 songs and “the entire side 2 of `Abbey Road’” getting votes.

The most mentions went to “I Saw Her Standing There,” followed by “Come Together.”

Some of the comments:

“I’d rather buy the remastered CDs.”

“None! I’ve already got the whole Beatles catalog on my iPod.”

“One of the biggest problems with downloading Beatles’ tunes (is) there are too many that are tied to other songs. Examples: `Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’/`With a Little Help from My Friends’ …”

“That the Beatles catalog has not been yet properly remastered borders on criminal.”

“Who doesn’t own the Beatles collection?”

“I wouldn’t download ANYTHING from iTunes!! The sound quality they use is terrible.”

Count me among those holding out for superior sound quality, which eventually should be available on remastered CDs.

But if I’m downloading one tune, I’ll pick “Rain” – wicked cool guitar (especially the backwards part), Ringo’s most dynamic drumming, plus the song doesn’t appear on any non-compilation CD, so that’s one fewer disc to buy.

Source: Popmatters


2 Responses

  1. didn’t you post this already?

  2. Darn it…I did an intro to the same article twice….well it is a good article.

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