BIGGEST BAND IN THE WORLD The Beatles

In the run-up to the
release of the remasters, some thoughts on the Fab Four’s lasting significance.

 

BY RICK ALLEN

 

The first generation of intimate Beatles associates is
almost gone. That includes their manager and tour manager, the head of their
Apple Corps, two spouses, two legitimate “fifth” Beatles (Stu Sutcliffe and Billy
Preston) and two of the immortals themselves. Beatles intimate and associate
Peter Brown is mostly silent after his rather candid book The Love You Make and John Lennon’s lifelong friend Pete Shotten
told what seems to be most of what he knew or was willing to reveal in his
equally candid memoir, as have the living ex-spouses, Patti Boyd Harrison
Clapton and Cynthia Powell Lennon Bassanini Twist Charles in their own
published remembrances. One other “fifth” Beatle “, Klaus Voorman, has
published his memoirs (Sutcliffe’s widow Astrid Kirchner contributed photos for
one of them), and at Beatles conventions and anywhere else he can find a pulpit,
ex-Beatles drummer Pete Best continues to exploit his connection to the band
that preferred Ringo Starr to him as a person and a musician.  Since Olivia Harrison and Barbara Bach weren’t
around in those storied days that leaves only Yoko Ono, Ringo and Paul
McCartney who might have anything new or tantalizing to contribute to the lore
of the lads back when they “was fab”.

 

There is probably little, then, about the world’s greatest
rock and roll band that hasn’t already been unearthed and marketed and
remarketed. Most of what’s touted as such comes from people fairly far removed
from the true circle of intimates and is usually not endorsed by the Beatles and
their heirs, so what’s usually missing is the one thing that would be really
interesting: live performance footage or, as this release shows, any of that
footage accompanied by sound. New music or enhanced quality recordings of performances
in a Liverpool or Hamburg
club? That would be something worth
looking into.

 

So what’s left?  Well,
for example, on the recently released The
Beatles – Rare And Unseen
: Unofficial
Account Of The Biggest Band In The World
(MVD Visual), very little to get
excited about – to the point of being an apt poster child for this argument. Once
again we have a bunch of people – fellow Liverpool
phenom Gerry Marsden being one of few exceptions – whose opinions mean very
little, theorizing, speculating and pontificating about the Beatles. Usually
none of it feels right and, almost
always, who cares? More important; who needs it? The legacy of the Beatles is
all already out there to be deeply and exquisitely dug; on film in the
magnificent A Hard Day’s Night, the
entertaining Help, the sometimes
painful to watch but fascinating Let It
Be
, and the ambitious but rather boring (an adjective almost never
appropriately associated with the Beatles) Magical
Mystery Tour
. And of course the magic, still palpable, joy inspiring and
musically rich is right there in the now-virtual grooves of their endlessly
repeatedly re-packaged albums. (Which are to get a key boost on September 9 – more
on that in a moment.)

 

Let the talking heads argue about everything from Aeolian
cadences to whether or not Yoko broke up the band. No true Beatles fan gives a
fig about the former. As for the latter, anyone who has ever been in a band knows
that no lover or spouse can break up a band that isn’t cracked already. When it
comes to Beatlemania as with the Viet Nam War, Stalinist Russia or the moon
landings, no one who was not there can ever really grasp what it was like. You
can read about it, see pictures and documentary footage and immerse yourself in
their music but still not feel what it was.
To strain the bounds of credulity and taste (not to mention use up the allotted
quota of analogies): making it with the world’s most lifelike blow-up doll
isn’t even a fraction as good as the worst sex with a real person.

 

The Beatle years were great heaping gobs of fun, and on
nearly a daily basis. The sourpusses who resisted it at the time are now sometimes
the most anally fanatic Beatles archivists and historians trying to make up for
their error; to themselves. The ones who didn’t ever get it grew up to be Dick
Cheney.

 

Sinatra, Elvis and Michael Jackson had the commercial
success and varying degrees of the charm and boyish lovableness the Beatles
had/have. All three in their way had the sex appeal – however brief that period
may have been for Jackson – and some of the cultural impact. Elvis had some of
the wit, as did Sinatra, but without Frank’s underlying menace and hostility. Jackson came very close
to passing beyond pop idol status into the sort of iconic status of the teddy bear
or Raggedy Ann or Santa Claus. But the Beatles – all four of them – had all of
the above and more. They were also forthright, courageous and sincere, and
unless your last two names were Milhous and Nixon you could forgive them
anything.

 

It is almost forgotten how risky it was at one time for a
popular artist to speak out against the war that was raging in what was once Indochina. The Smothers Brothers and the late Eartha Kitt
could testify to that. You think people these days have aural blinders when it
comes to the words of public figures? During the Beatle years they couldn’t
even tell the difference between the meaning of the words “more popular” and
“better than.”

 

But when it came to their feelings – at least the ones they
shared with the world – the Beatles were always true and steadfast. Even now,
when Paul and Ringo bid the world “peace and love” it rings sincere without a
trace of the bitterness or self-pity one would think might exist in two men
both of whom lost a parent early in life; one – Paul – to death (his mother)
and one – Ringo – to abandonment (his father). They were also at the
deathbed-sides of the mothers of their children and suffered through the tragic
early loss of the men who were not only their best friends – closer than brothers
– but also two of the only four people in the world who had any real
understanding and shared knowledge of what their lives were like. When they say
“peace and love” they mean it; or at the very least they mean to mean it.

 

Sure, you say. Dozens of bands have sold more seats to
shows, more records and have legions of screaming fans. Well believe you me,
even Frank and Elvis weren’t selling out ballparks, and with no home video,
cable music shows, internet and iPods, selling a million records in 1964 meant
a whole lot more than selling ten times that many does now.

 

Pale bloodless phenomena like the Jonas brothers can build
castles out of Krugerrands but nothing they have done nor will likely ever do
will be a fraction as important, lasting or just plain good as what the Beatles
did. For one reason, the Jonas brothers suck; on every level. In fact the Jonas
brothers suck so bad that one regrets having been so hard on Hanson. Forget
their lack of talent. That’s not always the mitigating factor – or the great
sin – that it would seem to be. There will never come a time when there will be
no pop artists who make it solely on their physical appeal and there will never
come a time when that appeal doesn’t completely elude most anyone outside of
the target demographic. And they seem to be rather nice, innocuous even
good-hearted fellows, their interviews bearing that out. But those same
interviews have all the interest, humor and excitement of an hour spent waiting
in the dentist’s office with nothing but bad muzak and moldy outdated copies of
Highlights magazine to occupy you. Contrast a murky session between the JoBros
and Matt Lauer with two minutes of any Beatles press conference and the
difference is as vast as that between a vintage Richard Pryor concert and an
episode of According To Jim. (In
fact, the difference between a Jonas Brothers interview and the worst episode
of According To Jim is almost as vast
as that between a Pryor concert and an episode of According To Jim with the favorable balance going to Jim.)

 

There will be a new phenomenon someday that can be equated
with Beatlemania but it won’t be the same nor should it be. Every generation
deserves its own, and the ingredients, the needs and the perceptions that
combined to make Beatlemania are mutated or even vanished, in part because of
and in spite of Beatlemania. Cool stuff comes and cool stuff goes. That’s – to
quote Earth Wind and Fire – the way of the world. But rock and roll is here to
stay, and as long as there is a way to listen to recorded music so are the
Beatles; along with watching their “official” films that’s the way to dig them.
Your feelings about them are just as
legit as anyone’s, including those of the generally uninteresting people who
hold forth in Rare And Unseen. (With
a few exceptions: Phil Collins – who had some legitimate association with the
group including an appearance in “A Hard Day’s Nights” when he was a child
actor – plus an early drummer, tour manager and a couple of others on the
perimeter have a few mildly worthy contributions.) That’s because, not being
Beatles, Beatle spouses or George Martin they, like anyone with ears and a
heart, are simply Beatles fans.

 

Just the same, one thing that the RAU film does provide is
more proof of how wrong those who dismissed the band were. Every musical snob,
reactionary and grownup who said they would never last has been proved wrong,
repeatedly. Among the most recent examples of that proof are the fact that,
four decades after their breakup the Beatles are the #2 money making musical
act of the first decade of the 21st century and the reality that
people still hope to and do make money from re-releasing and repackaging not
just legitimate Beatles product but also projects that consist mainly not of Beatles
product but of people talking about
the Beatles and that product.

 

What did doo-wop group Olympics sing? “Some folks don’t understand it; that’s why they don’t demand it.” To
those folks, even a dismissible package like Rare And Unseen is a great big nyah,
nyah, nyah, nyahhh.

 

Plus, we can’t overlook the fact that the repackaging
phenomenon is about to shift into high gear mode in exactly one month: on
September 9, EMI will be reissuing remastered editions of the entire Beatles
back catalog – in stereo and mono,
and including bonus content in the form of short documentaries on the making of
each album. That same day the hugely anticipated The Beatles – Rock Band will also be released, exposing an entire
new generation of potential Beatles fans to the Fab Four’s music. These are not
minor details, and if Apple Corps ever approves the digital distribution of
Beatles music (via iTunes or otherwise), the very notion of Beatlemania will
take on an entire new dimension that no one could have possibly foreseen in the
mid ‘60s.

 

All together now…

 

[Photo courtesy EMI;
copyright Apple Corps LTD 2009
]

 

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