Monday, September 14, 2009

Beatlemania abounds


Beatlemania abounds with the release of some computer game and more importantly a full set of remastered albums which is, by all accounts, a significant sonic improvement on the Beatleage currently available on CD.

I covet this set of remastered albums, even though I already have all the music.

I covet it with vigour and a vengeance.

As well I might. Because, after all, when the Intergalactic Cultural Police descend on Planet Earth to judge humanity’s creative worth – as surely they must – and when they erect their colossal Judging Scales, and onto the ledger marked “Damned” they pour all the non-artistic filth and waste, all the X-Factor spin-off albums and the formulaic action movies and computer-generated romantic comedies and the Dan Brown novels and Dan Brown rip-off novels and all the Fabulously Bad Poets and the witless modern art and the screaming Nickelodeon cartoons and the joke-free sitcoms and the tedious plays that go on and on and on about how awful capitalism is and all the other inevitable consequences of Sturgeon’s Law; and as all this rubbish is heaped higher and higher, a gargantuan shitpile towering into the stratosphere, then we – homo sapiens, the defendants – we will neither cringe nor wilt in shame, we shall know no fear because when the Alien Judges have built their impossible mountain of junk, an Everest on an Everest on an Everest of cynical commercial brainrotters and misconceived innovations and heroic failures, then at last the moment will come and our elected spokesman, Barack Mandela-Churchill III, President of Earth, will step serenely forward to the ledger marked “Saved”, and into it he will drop but two items: a Complete Works of Shakespeare and a remastered Beatles box set; and the combined weight of these two items will reverse the balance of the scales with such shattering force that the Damned ledger will rocket skywards, blasting the whole Mega-Everest of Boy Bands and gross-out comedies and unlistenable modern operas and TV spiritualists and Ben Elton musicals and antiques programmes and lads’ mags into Outer Space; and the Intergalactic Cultural Police will be sent spinning, awestruck and shellshocked, into the heavens with it.

Of course, we’ll then have to rebuild a whole human culture using just Shakespeare and the Beatles.

It will be enough, it will be enough.



By the way, if you’re a crank or a contrarian or you just have no understanding of The Way of Things and you’ve got some kind of theory you like to trot out about how the Beatles are overrated or were no good or about how Herman’s Hermits or someone were the real innovators in pop music… just keep it to yourself, eh? I’m really not remotely interested.

49 comments:

malty said...

There, there. it'll soon get better.

Back when the world was young (circa late fifties / early sixties) and burdz wore knickers I would return home from work, shagged out and numb, collapse into a sofa and switch on the radio. An early evening programme hosted by, I think, John Dunn, was playing, he was interviewing a group of scousers whom I thought he called The Beatties. My first impression was, bloody hell, they know no deference, they played a few songs, the world changed forever.
Fast forward to circa the early seventies, Hertfordshire, the age of Cream, Ginger Baker uber alles.
A young guy worked for me, lets call him young Terry, he had formed a group, managed by his father, quite successfull locally. The Beatles, at the Apple studios had put the word around that they would hold open house to any aspiring musicians, have a listen, then maybeeeee..
Down trots Young Terry and his mates, all starry eyed and shiny. As he walked past my office the next day I called him over, "well?" Young Terry was close to tears, Lennon had apparently, in some sort of sulk, tore them apart, calling them rubbish, never get anywhere, for weeks he was in despair and the group eventually disbanded. They were a very good group with what I and many others thought was a successful future ahead of them.
Sort of modified my opinion slightly.

Peter Burnet said...

I believe. But tell me, Father, is it a sin for a faithful member of the Church of the Beatles to secretly dream of destroying all record of Hey Jude?

Brit said...

So Lennon was the original Simon Cowell, eh? Not the nicest bloke in the world but can you imagine how many wannabees he must have had to fend off?

Watching some of the Beatley documentaries currently all over BBC 4, I'm struck by how they retained a semblance of perspective in the face of Beatlemania. In such an unreality they ought by rights to have disappeared competely up their own backsides. Lennon did a bit I suppose but avoiding doing a complete Wacko Jacko was a miracle and the others stayed resolutely Scouse. Saved ultimatelt by a sense of humour, perhaps.

martpol said...

Saying that the Beatles are overrated is a little like saying "I hate art": it's an opinion, but it makes you look silly if you say it. I know only one avid Beatles-hater, and he simply dislikes popular culture, so that's that.

Radio 2 recently held a Beatles week or weekend (either would have been fine with me) and it struck me that there is no scrap of Beatles history, no minutiae of related lore, that doesn't interest me. I could listen to Sir George Martin talk for 3 hours about how Paul and John didn't like the same thing for breakfast, and the impact of that fact on the overdubs for the White Album, and I'd be enraptured. Give 'em enough time, and the alien judges would be too.

Brit said...

Martpol:

A young ex-work colleague - a fan of thrash metal and hip-hop - did once say to me, unprovoked, apropos of nothing, that the Beatles were crap and that "none of his friends liked them". Patiently, I showed him the true depth and breadth of his ignorance and explained why he needed to replace his friends with sentient human beings. I expect he's thanking me for it now.

Ghanshyam Nair said...

Am I allowed to say 'Shakespeare is overrated'?

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

You've introduced me to that kid's playing and I don't want to play the guitar ever again. Instead, I'm off to get drunk.

martpol said...

Ghanshyam:

I'm not sure if that's acceptable, but you are allowed to say "I hate Shakespeare", if you can associate sufficient school-age trauma with his name. The trick, of course, is to rediscover him later on (via the tragedies or better comedies, but not the historicals) and bury the trauma.

Matt said...

1) Disambiguation:

Sturgeon's Law

2) I suspect there are one or two non-English items on the positive side of the ledger. Like, um, Bach?

Brit said...

1) Thanks Matt - amended (not sure how that happened)

2) Nope.

worm said...

Paul Macartney and his 'eeeh kids' peace signs makes me want to find the last super-friendly remaining group of wild pandas and pour acid into their eyeballs whilst stamping on cute kittens in my spiked running shoes.

But i'm definately a beatles not a stones man.

here's an excerpt from the rockband game - i reckon it looks pretty good

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tfM6MrMM5A&feature=player_embedded

Gaw said...

I'm not an infidel, not quite a heretic. But I do have a different devotional focus: I think George's songs are the best of them. They can bear a lot more listening before getting staid - a sign of outstanding quality.

Brit said...

Hmmmm... a bit crank/contrarianism heresy by the back door, Gaw, a bit "the best Shakespeare is Timon of Athens." In that it misses the point of what Lennon/McCartney/Martin did for what the world sounds like.

I appreciate the problem though: it's hard to form an original opinion about something so obvious and settled.

worm said...

The Beatles: Why did they let ringo write a song?

Brit said...

Indeed, Worm. I remember the first time I heard the White Album I thought 'Don't Pass Me By' was the worst Beatles song I've ever heard... then I looked at the writing credits.

Gaw said...

I wasn't seeking to be contrarian. Just going from my own experience: the only Beatles songs I can still listen to without being bored are George ones.

'Here comes the sun', 'while my guitar gently weeps', and 'something' have to be as good as anything L&M wrote. I think they're a lot more non-obvious somehow, making them more resilient to repeated listening. I think Sinatra reckoned the last of these was the best song ever written, and he knew something about songs.

Brit said...

Yes, yes, Gaw, we all have our own experience. Much of the time I'd rather listen to Supergrass than to Rubber Soul again, and I'd usually rather watch an episode of South Park than read Hamlet. It don't signify: our subjective opinions are by the by and will be buried with our bones or cremated and carried away by soft autumnul breezes into the big nothing, and still it will be the case that the Beatles happened to have Harrison's excellent songwriting as a nice but relatively unimportant bonus.

Gaw said...

I'm reassured you have the muse of history's mobile number. Unfortunately, none of us will be around to see if she misled you or not.

Brit said...

It's a curse, Gaw, I take no pride in it. But it doesn't take a visionary genius like Brit for this one ... a screech of feedback on Paperback Writer and rock, indie, heavy metal are born, Tommorrow Never Knows invents tape loops, invents psychedelia etc etc. Thousands of skinny youths have made careers out of basically making a noise like the opening bars of Ticket to Ride. They invented albums! How many have those have you got? I've got zillions, lots of them better than Beatles For Sale. More than 3000 covers of Yesterday, in this case all inferior, clog the music industry. There was only six years (six!) between Please Please Me and Revolution 9... number nine, number nine...

I can't see why one would think it matters that such and such likes this song, or doesn't like that, or prefers The Kinks or The Who. And it doesn't matter that Revolution 9 is just a load of old cobblers, or that Joe Cocker's version of With a Little Help is way better than Ringo's. The Beatles' value isn't dependent on tastes, any more than the fact that Auntie Vi prefers pictures of kittens to Guernica affects the place of Picasso in the history of art. Nary a single Beatles song would make my Desert Island Discs. My opinions, however, don't count.

malty said...

Some mention should be made, oh, OK, as you're asking, I'm telling, of the smell, the essence of the time of the Beatles.
It wasn't just about the music and any cynic with Sony Vegas can separate the tracks and talk about the rubbish instrumentals, if we use the umbrella term "media" to cover the world of entertainment and advertising and include the printed word then the impact of that time, of which the Beatles were only one part, was volcanic. Sgt Pepper jump started the graphic art scene, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds did for pop what the opening bars of Wagner's Tristan did for classical music, there was a before and an after. The Beatles gave hope, in the early sixties to a generation of spotty herberts (myself included) that was absent in the previous decade, they showed us how to say "fuck you".
This of course created not only a generation of rebellious kids but also parents, undoubtedly a major milestone.

Gaw said...

I do agree with you on their importance today. But as for tomorrow and the day after, I'm not so sure. As far as appreciation of their music is concerned 'taste' is supremely important and taste changes.

I think, for the reasons you and Malty provide, they are bound to be noted in the future for their contribution to cultural history. But I can imagine a situation where their music is discounted. People interested in history would know about them, but no-one would listen to them.

I think you're already suggesting that the songs are obvious, quite easily worked out. You get jaded by them. And why not? They're pop (even the more arty ones, now sound like pop, given how musical tastes have developed).

I think they might end up like those Victorian genre painters (e.g. Frith and his Derby Day). Incredibly popular at the time, a colourful and attractive style but really not possessing enough depth to sustain interest over generations.

Brit said...

Denier!

No the point is, Gaw, that it isn't a question of speculating about the distant future. It's already happened: virtually all today's pop roads lead back to a seven-year period of Beatley creativity, so whichever way they go in the future, that will remain objectively true.

As for whether our distant descendants will still be playing re-re-re-remastered Beatles albums or whether they'll be forgotten...who can say? But it seems foolish to bet against it. The other night Brit Jnr was exposed via BBC 4 to a comprehensive run-thru of Beatle hits. They'll be lodged in her head forever, as they were in mine and are in everyone else's and will be in her children's... that's the nature of Beatles tunes, they're unstoppably self-replicating, whether you're fed up with them by the age of 40 or not. And I don't see any worldwide console games being released for other bands, 40 years after they split up...

malty said...

Stop press, Cliff and Hank are getting back together, that is......is........well, vomit inducing.

Gaw said...

Brit, you cunningly prompted me in the direction of contrarianism. I couldn't help myself. I hope you're satisfied now.

Brit said...

Prompted? What part of "if you’ve got some kind of theory...just keep it to yourself" was the prompt?

Of course I jest, all comments are treasured, even really daft ones...

David said...

The Beatles sound just like everything else you hear today and Shakespeare is just stuffed with cliches.

Brit said...

Heh... I see what you did there, David.

Gaw said...

It was more the body language - I could sense the steam coming from your ears.

Vern said...

Weren't Gilbert & Sullivan huge in the 19th century? For aficionados only, now I'm afraid.

I'm also very doubtful that all worthwhile popular music can be traced back to the seven year Beatles period. Before the Beatles was Elvis, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams and before them a wad of country and bluesmen. The Stones & Led Zep owe nothing to the Beatles and via them a huge wad of music has descended. Kraftwerk likewise owe pretty much nothing to the Fab Four and via them another strand of music has developed. James Brown owed nothing to the Beatles and via him another strand of music evolved.

On the other hand, I do think a direct line can be traced from the artistic pretension of late Beatles to 'Tales from Topographic Oceans'.

And so on. And I'm not even trying to be contrarian.

Hey Skipper said...

Elvis was the father of rock and roll.

Paul McCartney and Wings the mortician.

Brit said...

That would have been good satire, Vern, but you blew it with "the Stones owe nothing to the Beatles". It's got to be slightly plausible.

Hey Skipper said...

Okay, snark aside.

It's already happened: virtually all today's pop roads lead back to a seven-year period of Beatley creativity, so whichever way they go in the future, that will remain objectively true.

I had never thought of it that way.

You are right -- although David wins the thread.

My absolutely favorite band ever, Pink Floyd, demonstrates the point. Regardless of the validity of my opinion, no musical roads start with them, or with any other musical act I can think of, other than the Beatles.

Vern said...

Hm, yes- I admit I never listen to the Stones' early records. I was thinking about the good ones, you know 'Let it Bleed' and all that which bypass the Beatles and draw directly upon the source.

Outa_Spaceman said...

In my youth The Beatles were my big sister's music..
I only began to truly appreciate them when I received a copy of Abbey Road free with a Rigonda Partytime Stereo by which time they were all over..
I've recently learnt to play (amongst others) the 27 number ones and am trying to convince the older members of the folk club I run that the Beatles should be considered 'folk'...
All that aside, I notice a tendency, when the Beatles are discussed, to focus on individual members rather than the group as a whole...
Individually I wouldn't want to get trapped in a lift with any of them. As a group, despite the lift being intolerably crowded, it might not be to bad..

malty said...

The other volcanic eruption that must have played some part in the Beatles beginnings was Bill Haley's rock around the clock, crude, repetitive, addictive, the establishment thought it pornographic indeed certain elements try to have it banned, again there was a before and an after.

Brit said...

Well I'd love to claim credit for these startling insights I'm giving you here, but they're rather in the public domain already.

The point you miss, Vern, is that prior to the seven-year period of Beatley creativity, pop bands weren't pop bands like Led Zep and Kraftwerk etc are, crafting Music as Art in the studio and serving up Albums as Artworks.

They were live groups, putting down 3-minute singles written by a relatively small number of professional songwriters. So even if Kraftwerk's sound didn't owe anything to Revolution 9 and Tommorrow Never Knows, the fact that they made the sound and presented it in that way, does. And even if Led Zep's sound owed nothing to Yer Blues and Helter Skelter and Everybody's Got Something to Hide, then the fact that they were a self-penned albums-only band owes everything to the Beatles.

I expect someone else would have done it eventually if Lennon/McCartney/Martin hadn't, but who knows?

Now I did warn you in the post that I wasn't remotely interested in crank/contrarian/not understanding the Way of Things theories, but I'm a tolerant man so I give you the above knowledge gratis.

Vern said...

An intriguing theory, and one not without legs but Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly (to name but a few) were all writing and recording their own songs prior to the advent of the Beatles. Johnny Cash rapidly moved from recording 3 minute singles for Sun to cranking out thematically linked albums for Columbia in the late 1950s. Roy Orbison likewise for Monument in the early 60s. When the Beatles were still banging out 'I wanna hold your hand' the Big O was composing exquisite mini symphonies, literate and lyrical, and backed by arrangements the likes of which had ne'er been heard in Nashville where they were recorded.

Nevertheless, I thank you for your tolerance.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Strewth, that kid is good playing Blackbird. I'd want to sneak Hendrix in there with the Beatles box set, but you'd have to stop me, for then some git would be sneaking in Shawaddywaddy or Bryan Adams, and we would all die.

Gaw said...

Were you playing Brer Rabbit when you wrote "if you’ve got some kind of theory...just keep it to yourself"?

If so, it worked brilliantly.

martpol said...

Vern:

You missed out the Beach Boys (although they were contemporaries, not pre-Beatles).

But Brit's point is nonetheless valid as far as it applies to the concept of the band. There were singer-songwriters beforehand, sure, but the Beatles transformed the idea of the pop band from mere commercial product to artistic and commercial phenomenon.

By the way, I'm using the word "pop" here in the loose, all-encompassing sense.

Gaw's comment that

They're pop (even the more arty ones, now sound like pop, given how musical tastes have developed)

appears to be a deliberately incendiary attempt to categorise the Beatles in the narrow sense of 'pop' as throwaway product. Utter nonsense, of course. There's nothing remotely 'pop' in that sense about most of their post-1966 output, and the vast majority of today's bands are still playing catch-up.

Of course there have been other equally innovative acts - the Velvet Underground, George Clinton, the Floyd, Kraftwerk, the Smiths, Nick Cave, Radiohead - but none which have managed to combine that with universal appeal.

malty said...

Brit, could you EMail you know who and tell him his blogs knackered.

Brit said...

Thematically-linked albums? You mean LP collections by genre artists.

When the Beatles released Please Please Me two-thirds of UK households didn't have the equipment to even play LPs. Four years later they made Sgt Pepper. It's hard to fathom it when you consider how long it takes Radiohead to put out a new album.

It's well-known that Pet Sounds was Brian Wilson's direct response to Rubber Soul. But it's really very hard to come up with a precursor to Sgt Pepper. It was designed with not playing it live in mind.

Brit said...

Malty - I've taken the direct approach and fixed it.

Brit said...

Gaw:

Were you playing Brer Rabbit when you wrote "if you’ve got some kind of theory...just keep it to yourself"?

You incorrigible old cynic, Gaw. No, I don't think I've ever had a Beatles discussion without someone piping up with a heretic theory. Vern's 'Roy Orbison Hypothesis", while untenable and eccentric enough, is very far from the maddest.

Vern said...

Digging deeper into pop archaeology for a moment we find Cash (hardly a genre artist as he blended country with gospel, folk songs, rockabilly and even r & b) releasing Ride This Train in 1960. This was a start to finish record on the theme of the expansion of the railroads into the American west, hardly targeted at teenagers. In 1964 meanwhile he released Bitter Tears, a mature, literate, angry, political record on the treatment of the American Indian, which even incorporated the occasional Indian musical theme in spite of the fact his band were primitives lacking any ability.

As for the Big O, I did hear a quote from Lennon himself at one stage elevating and acknowledging the Caruso of Wink, Texas, who drew upon (for example) the rhythm of Bolero for 'Running Scared' and who wrote songs in other timings and arrangements that were radical for pop music.

Meanwhile I neglected to mention Dylan.

I'll give you that the Beatles were the first British 'band' to compose their own songs (in America the Beach Boys were also at it, as Martpol points out). But then, they always wanted to be rockers like Chuck Berry- who penned his own hits - it was their manager who made them wear suits and silly haircuts.

I don't think they were the first to treat the studio as an instrument; surely that was Phil Spector.

They did however become very experimental, and combined a lot of what had already been done (or was even unremarkable- Marty Robbins was also releasing full albums in the 50s) in related popular genres to attain the biggest commercial impact since Elvis.

Thus much as I would like to believe in the fundamentalist, Genesis style creation story of popular music that begins with the Beatles moving upon the waters, alas I can't.

I've always felt Ringo was unfairly slagged off, however.

Brit said...

Wot, are you still at it?

It's a pity you weren't around back in the Post-Judd glory days, Vern, you'd have fitted right in.

The problem one comes up against, however, is that the fact that comments are emailed to the host effectively renders it impossible to have The Last Word.

Vern said...

No, I'm done now. I tired myself out on that last comment. Need to lie down- I (gasp, cough) feel a bit winded.

Brit said...

Well if it makes you feel better I think we can agree that Dylan, Orbison and Cash were all very influential.

worm said...

Alan Partridge: 'Ah Wings - the band the Beatles could have been'