A few weekends back, the Fab Four rang out in my house in all their remixed and reanimated, digitized and repackaged glory. That’s right: I was one of mooing masses who quickly ran out and bought (for the second, no, third, wait, fourth time) my favorite Beatles albums when they hit the store shelves in their latest rejiggered form. Not only that, but I also twanged my way through reviewing the new Beatles: Rock Band game—with my kids helping to fill out the plastic guitar and drum ranks. And although I’ve been a consistent fan of the group since I was a teen, that sonic onslaught of “Yeah, yeah, yeahs” and “Polythene Pams” sparked something.
(Cue flashback harp strumming.)
I was first introduced to the lads from Liverpool about the time that they were deciding to go their separate ways, with solo albums under their arms and Yoko in tow. Up to that point my musical tastes were, let’s say, a bit out of phase with the average bellbottom wearer. While my sister was collecting Beach Boys albums and getting into the Partridge Family, I was more interested in mail order copies of Beethoven’s greatest hits. OK, that’s nerdy. But I like to tell myself it was my early Renaissance phase.
Anyway, a friend of mine lent me his well-worn Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (minus the cardboard punch-out mustache, I might add), and my musical world was suddenly hit with the equivalent of a pair of defibrillator paddles. (Clear!!) Maybe it was producer George Martin’s arrangements that initially appealed to my orchestral side, but this was a far cry from the rock I had known and ignored. How could you not smile when the Pepper’s crowd cheers us into Ringo’s alter ego rendition of “A Little Help From My Friends”? Who wasn’t moved when those violas wept their way through “She’s Leaving Home”? And who could help but be swept away by the rollicking Lewis Carroll-like whimsy of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”? By the time the orchestra in “A Day in the Life” exploded with its final smashing chord, I was sold. I quickly bought the whole line of Beatles platters and listened ’til my ears bled, as the old saying goes.
And now all these years later, Paul McCartney has seen exactly what the other side of “When I’m Sixty-Four” looks like, and his stuff is still going strong. In fact, if anything, the one-two punch of the remixed albums and a very creatively made Rock Band game may be just the thing to boost his fame even further—as well as a struggling music industry that’s shriveled by almost 15% in the last year.
But it isn’t just the music biz that’s shrunk since the Beatles originally hit the scene. Everything’s shrinking. There are no more stacks of big vinyl discs to cart around (although, amazingly, that’s one section of the industry that’s growing again). Everything is condensed down into itty-bitty digital bits on teeny-tiny iPods that can almost get lost in your pocket lint. And even the earphones are wee bits of plastic you shove into your ear.
In fact, it’s that boiled down, digitally condensed trend that makes some pundits believe that today’s youth won’t bat an eye over pumped-up old-school tunes. But, in a way, I think that’s exactly why EMI and the remaining Beatles decided to inject new life into their catalogue. And why it’ll work.
For one thing, after buying a decent set of human-sized headphones and plugging in a new Beatles disc, I was wowed by how much I was missing. The crisp punch of McCartney’s limber bass movement. Harrison’s fantastically bright lead lines. This stuff sounds, well, fab. And when you listen to several albums, you hear in each finger-plucked string and backward-looped tape clip how this little British group went from its mop-top, skiffle-band, “Love Me Do” roots and grew in a mere seven-year stretch into a musical phenomena that impacted everything to come after.
Of course, as I listened closely for detail and artistic nuance, I realized something else. The Beatles have become such a basic part of my–and I think our–musical fabric, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they were also doing it in the road and getting high with Lucy in her diamond-filled sky.
It was a good reminder that even the classics need as much discernment as I usually pour into fine-tooth-combing through my daughter’s Billy Talent and OK Go tracks.
With a little lyrical filtering, though, there’s a lot here to yeah, yeah, yeah about. You may not feel the urge to empty your wallet for the whole remixed set, or go all audiophile and snag the mono box set. But who knows, you could find a few “she loves you’s” calling your name.
Just don’t forget to bring along a good set of headphones and maybe a nice cup of tea.
You know, for the boys.