Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles for Sale Again

What an extraordinary large place The Beatles still hold in the public consciousness. They seem to be all over the place once more, forty years after they last shared a stage together, as the back catalogue is remastered and re-released.

The last time your correspondent was in London it was visible how large a role the Beatles play in British tourism. The airport shops are full of Beatles souvenirs. The tourist brochures advertise places associated with the band – Abbey Road studios, John Lennon’s flat in Marylebone, and so on. God only knows what it’s like in Liverpool, where they were actually from.

Will all this last? A lot of it has to do with the nostalgia of the rapidly aging sixties generation, which must be one of the most narcissistic in western history. They can’t let go of the notion that nobody ever did anything worthwhile before them, and that all subsequent events should be guided by them. Every couple of years there is another “British invasion” to the USA as some band or other try to recreate Beatlemania.

What makes it bizarre is that the Beatles were just a band. Some of their songs were sublime, of course, better than anything written before or since, and nobody has come close to the impact that Revolver and Sgt Pepper had as regards how different music could be.

The only band that came near the Beatles in terms of songwriting, singing and general soundscaping were ABBA. But ABBA don’t get the credit because they immediately followed the Beatles, and the songs themselves are now encrusted in that awful Mamma Mia! phenomenon which An Spailpín Fánach will never understand.

But the Sunday Times will never publish a lost interview with Bjorn Ulvaeus. Nobody rings Benny Anderson and asks him for his take on the nature of humanity. That is the level of expectation that is expected of the Beatles. All You Need Is Love is elevated from a pretty little singalong to some sort of credo, a credo that does not survive cursory, to say nothing of thorough, examination.

But it’s not really the Beatles fault that people elevate the body of work to a standard that it doesn’t deserve. And while future generations will look at each other in slack-jawed amazement at the continuing sales of records before Rubber Soul, or all that dreadful filler on the White Album, there are some songs that will never die. These are An Spailpín’s personal favourites.

01. Hey Jude, because people like to sing along.
02. Norwegian Wood, because it’s beautiful. Just how extraordinary the tune is as tune can be found out by listening to the Buddy Rich Big Band version. Marvellous.
03. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away. A gem hidden among the dreck of Help!
04. Here Comes the Sun. Distilled summer. Isn't this a lovely clip on Youtube of George Harrison at a concert for Bangladesh in the 70s, and smiling when the crowd recognised the opening bars? What a humble man he was.
05. Two of Us. Never makes the top ten lists – until now. I think it’s lovely.
06. Get Back. Rocks.
07. Yellow Submarine. Singalong summertime.
08. She's Leaving Home. Wistful and beautiful.
09. In My Life. The lyric is a bit clunky but the tune is gorgeous.
10. Helter Skelter. U2 stole this song from The Beatles. An Spailpín Fánach is stealing it back.

Nearly thirty years ago Joe Strummer was singing that “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.” Their demise was exaggerated. Perhaps the best reflection of how big the myth is in the culture came from Lloyd Cole’s piquant remark about why the Commotions broke up. “I blame Yoko,” he said.

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