Thursday, September 10, 2009

On the Beatles

With the release of the (finally) remastered Beatles catalog, as well the Beatles Rock Band game, there has obviously been a lot of nostalgia about the band and its music, some of it sincere, some of it hollow. Just this week, I had somebody ask me if I were a Beatles fan, something I probably hadn't been asked since about 2000 (and only then because I was meeting new friends-to-be who were total Anglophiles). My opinion of the Beatles has always been that they were one of the greatest bands ever, no question, but that their greatness has been simplified and overstated as time has gone on, ignoring all the other kinds of great (and often non-pop/rock) music out there. As for their music, I respect what came before Revolver, but, barring a few singles (hello, "Hard Day's Night"), I only really like on an emotional level the stuff they started to do with Revolver, and consider Revolver and especially Abbey Road to be two of the greatest albums ever. However, there's so much great jazz, avant-garde, blues, hip-hop, electronic music, etc. out there, that I always felt the "cult of Beatles" was, shall we say, limited, though I certainly never held that against people of my parents' generations. I mean, think about it - they went from having groups like the Everly Brothers and cheesy third-rate doo-wop knockoffs as the representation of popular music, to the Beatles. I think I'd be nostalgic about how the Beatles "saved my life" too, if I had been in those circumstances.

That said, for all the nostalgia-mongering and reminiscing of late, I think Pitchfork's review of Abbey Road really hammers home just how impressive the Beatles' production was, by reminding us of something we've really lost sight of over the years as the Beatles myth has grown. When the Beatles broke up,

George was 26 years old, Paul was 27, John was 28, and Ringo was 29. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, had come out almost exactly six and a half years earlier. So if Abbey Road had been released today, Please Please Me would date to March 2003. So think about that for a sec: Twelve studio albums and a couple of dozen singles, with a sound that went from earnest interpreters of Everly Brothers and Motown hits to mind-bending sonic explorers and with so many detours along the way-- all of it happened in that brief stretch of time. That's a weight to carry.
Six and a half years. That's more than remarkable; that's a hell of an accomplishment, one I think it's safe to say popular music and/or rock music will never see again. Of course, so much more happened, and that kind of statement can help add to the mythology. Still, if anything is going to add to the myth-making of the Beatles' status, I can't think of a better accomplishment to enter music Valhalla than to go from Please Please Me to Abbey Road in six and a half years.