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The Rockologist: The Beatles And What A Drag It Is Getting Old

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What a drag it is getting old.

Okay, so it was actually the Stones who wrote that line. Regardless, it was still  the Beatles who actually changed my own life, for better or for worse.

Unlike my colleague Josh Hathaway, who did such a wonderful job this week talking about the Beatles in both his New Album Releases report and in his Verse Chorus Verse column, I was actually there. Never mind the fact that I was about twelve years old at the height of Beatlemania, and roughly thirteen by the time it was all falling apart…

The fact is, it still changed my life forever.

I wouldn't be writing this column right now, were it not for that fateful night in 1964 when my parents allowed me, a seven-year-old boy, to stay up far past my bedtime to watch the phenomenon that would turn America and the rest of the world on its collective, cultural, and especially musical ear on the Ed Sullivan show.

Nor would I have ever eventually fulfilled every dream I ever had as a kid (albeit briefly) of landing a cushy music biz job in L.A. as a young man in the nineties, working for the biggest record producer in the world.

The Beatles, quite literally, changed both my own life, and the rest of the world at large (well, at least the "at large" part). But you already knew that.

These days I spend a lot of time thinking about what might have been with a few different twists and turns here and there, and, yes, about what a drag it is getting old. Like that song (that isn't by the Beatles, by the way — did I mention that?) says.

But this still is, first and foremost, an article about the Beatles.

This past week, the Beatles upgraded their catalog for the first time in some twenty years, with the release of their (finally!) properly remastered catalog, along with a new boxed set available in both stereo and mono — which is as it should be — versions.

And of course, the Rock Band video game franchise also paid tribute to the greatest band of all time this week with their own Beatles edition. The less said about that, the better, at least for right now. Personally, I'd just rather talk about the Beatles and their music.

For our own part, Blogcritics has been all over this in a way that makes me really, really proud to be a part of this particular organization. In addition to Hathaway's articles, I would have to single out Kit O'Toole's excellent coverage of this week's Beatles event for accolades in that department.

But enough of the back slapping and personal glad-handling here.

For those of us who actually lived through it — however young we were (particularly in my own case) — the Beatles story was always one of infinite possibilities. For that reason, it was also one of the greatest, and one of the saddest, stories ever told. For all of the promise there, much, if not most, of it went unfulfilled.

The reason that to this day the sixties are celebrated by some, and reviled by others — yet consistently remembered, relived, retold, and dissected like no decade that has come before or since — is precisely those largely unfulfilled possibilities that they represented. Even for everything that was in fact accomplished, which is considerable.

Personally, and quite admittedly, I saw much of this through the rose-colored eyes (and the every bit as off-colored psychedelic prism glasses) of an idealistic young boy. The Beatles — and to a lesser extent, their contemporaries at the time (Dylan, the Rolling Stones, etc.) — told that story like no artists before or since ever have, and at least in my own opinion, probably ever will.

The fact that they did so largely as the innocent mop-topped boys who will forever be immortalized in history as writing — in about six short years — some of the most amazing songs of all time, makes what they did all the more remarkable. That the Beatles went from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to Sgt. Pepper during the years from 1964 to 1967 is something that I simply defy any recording artist today to duplicate. Ever.

Not possible in my own estimation.

Granted, the times had much to do with it. But the fact is, I don't believe such a feat is even possible today. Not when the recording industry exists in the present vacuum of instant access via the internet (often at the risk of the art, and how it actually sounds), and the short attention spans such instant aural gratification produces and, in fact, encourages.

The fact that the old-school record industry has acted re-actively, rather than pro-actively, to this revolution in the way that music is actually distributed — what's left of that old system is essentially just playing catch-up even at his late date — provides precious little cause to be encouraged about anything like the Beatles ever happening again.

Sorry to burst that particular bubble…

So for now at least, all we have are the memories of what could have been.

I, for one, can remember when my natural parents just couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about when it came to the Beatles. Earlier this week, I was reminded by one of them of how he once referred to the Beatles (and bands like them) as the "devil's music" — which is another story, best saved for another time.

But my response back then, as a twelve-year-old boy, remains the same now as it was then.

And I believe that time has proved me absolutely correct in that regard.

I told my Mom at the time — who, just for the record, wasn't that parent who assured me that I'd burn in hell, on the very same day he gave me the Magical Mystery Tour album for Christmas, for actually listening to it, I might add — that the Beatles would be remembered for all eternity in the same breath as people like Bach and Beethoven.

You had to be there, is all I can say.

But I believed it then. I believe it now. And I believe history has borne me out on that same, simple, indisputable fact.

So I haven't heard the new Beatles remasters yet. Can't afford 'em, one of the many casualties of the Bush-years war on working class America (again, a story best saved for later) that I unfortunately am.

But what I am expecting to get in the mail any day now is the sampler of the big, bad-ass Beatles box the record company is sending out to reviewers like yours truly.

I can't wait.

The plan is to take the twelve or so tracks there, and do a side by side comparison with the last Beatles CDs — from 1987 — that EMI put out in what were supposed to be the end-all, be-all definitive versions of these classic albums. Which, of course, they weren't.

There were complaints then, and there may well be complaints now. I mean how exactly do you re-manufacture a unique moment in history? I'm not really sure, and I am doubly sure that, even now, the recording engineers really aren't either.

Whatever…

But everything I've heard tells me this is well worth the wait. I certainly hope so.

Because if nothing else, the story of the Beatles reminds those of us who were there that it was a time of infinite possibilities, and that the Beatles provided a soundtrack that has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time for generations to come long after the Rockologist and those of my generation have doused our last roach.

I doubt very much that the Beatles ever intended it. But nothing before or since has ever come close. Like it or not, it's a matter of record.

The sad part of this story — as anybody who has seen the way the film Let It Be chronicled how that dream finally fell apart will attest — is how the story finally ended up playing out.

What a drag it is getting old, indeed.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Kit O’Toole

    Glen, this is an interesting, if sobering, look at the idealism of the 60s. I think it’s also interesting to note how the Beatles’ message continues to resonate with younger generations. Certainly the Beatles captured the zeitgeist of the 60s like no other artist, but there’s something about their sound and lyrics that has universal, timeless appeal. Thanks for a thought-provoking article, and thank you for mentioning my work, too! :)

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Backatcha’ Kit. You did some nice work on those. And thanks for the comment too.

    I agree that the Beatles music has universal appeal like few other artists I can think of. And Im thrilled that young people can still relate to it. Must be something about that idealism they represented.

    But I wrote this, like I do many of these Rockologist things, from a personal perspective.

    In many ways, the Beatles played a big role in making me this empty shell of a man you see today. Just kidding about the empty shell part, but from my high school years as a music freak, to my years working in that business, to continuing to write about it now in articles like this one, it can all be traced back to that night my folks let me stay up late to see that band from Liverpool on the Ed Sullivan show.

    The Beatles more or less made me who I am (it’s okay to blame them…LOL).

    That’s what this piece was basically about. Thanks again for commenting on it.

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    “That the Beatles went from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to Sgt. Pepper during the years from 1964 to 1967 is something that I simply defy any recording artist today to duplicate. Ever. Not possible in my own estimation. Granted, the times had much to do with it. But the fact is, I don’t believe such a feat is even possible today.”

    look, i love the beatles, and there are no valid comparisons that can be made. but as an invalid comparison, i present talk talk. you’ve never heard them? yes, you have. couldn’t escape them a few years ago. gwen stefani’s band, no doubt, covered them. “it’s my life” was the name of the record, and i’m sure you would know it if you heard it. and you can there (arrow up). the original is from their second album.

    here’s a song from their first. actually, that is quite arty in it’s own way. anyway, they were put together by producers in order to open for duran duran. talk talk followed by duran duran, get it?

    yeah, well, they revolted. that early song was recorded in 1982, i believe, but by 1988, they were doing this, and by 1991, they were doing this.

    what you are hearing on these last two tracks is the first flowering of a new genre, labeled “post-rock” by the media, even though that name sucks. either way it stuck. and any way you take it, it was an artistic awakening. much of this was improvised, but it was so incredibly beautiful. meh. the music speaks for itself.

    i’m not directly comparing the beatles to talk talk, but i think that talk talk is about the only band who has gone as far as the beatles in a career. from the pop of the day to opening doors that had rarely, if ever been thought of is quite an accomplishment.

    “You had to be there, is all I can say.”

    with the beatles? no you didn’t. they’re beyond time.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Zing…dude! I love Talk Talk. I used to have most of their records but now it’s paired down to just the Best Of Talk Talk. That song “Life’s What You Make It” just kills me. Great stuff there. Guy had a really original sounding voice too.

    That said, I wouldn’t compare them to the Beatles.

    But yeah, they were one of those bands a lot of people lump in with folks like Human League and Soft Cell (same general era)…who were actually way beyond that despite the stereotype.

    Talk, Talk…yeah, they were good.

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    life’s what you make it is great. tune.

    i was only comparing them in the idea of a band growing so fast over the course of their career.

    you need to get “spirit of eden” and “laughing stock.” two monumental albums.

    the best of does them no justice.

  • zingzing

    actually, the best of, as far as i remember, completely forgets their best stuff, other than the edit of “i believe in you,” which is only half of the song. the internet has made music free. go, go get that shit. those last two albums are unbelievable.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I know what you meant when you were referring to the fast progression. But the Beatles…that was like zero to infinity in three short years. Not to mention the way they impacted culture as a whole (a claim I don’t think TT can make, good as they were/are).

    I’ll look into some TT though. I always liked them anyway.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    By the way Zing, what is it, like 4 AM where you are? Its like 1 AM here, and I’m about two steps from bedtime.

    You on the other hand, you keep Donald Gibson hours….LOL….

    -Glen

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Don’t forget Mark Hollis’ solo album, which gets even more ethereal and loose, believe it or not, than the last of the Talk Talk albums. I saw someone talk about his career somewhere and described it in a great way, something like how it started out as typical, but very good 80s music, then went further out and out until it was nothing but a whisper.

    The striking difference between the Beatles and Talk Talk is that the Beatles were able to maintain (and, indeed, BUILD) a massive following as their career morphed. In essence, the Beatles grew up as their audience did, something a lot of artists today forget to do, opting instead to pander to the younger audiences and shun those who helped them get their start (Weezer jumps immediately to mind.)

  • zingzing

    yeah, the mark hollis solo is so diffuse, it’s almost not there at all. that’s my problem with it. i only got it within the last year or two, and i’ve listened to it several times, but i can’t drag up one bit of it into my brain.

    (and most certainly, the only way i was comparing talk talk and the beatles is in the amount of artistic growth over their careers, not in cultural impact or popularity or any of that.)

  • zingzing

    “By the way Zing, what is it, like 4 AM where you are?”

    yeah, yeah… i know it.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Apparently I got off the TT train a bit too early. You guys have convinced me I need to give their later work a second look. Thanks for the heads up.

    On a side note (or actually getting back to the main one), I was at the record shop and I heard my first taste of the Beatles remasters. I wish I could remember what the song was — but it was something from the early days. And man did have those handclaps mixed too freaking high — they basically overwhelmed the rest of the song.

    Hopefully not an omen for the rest of it….

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    i got beatles for sale (the stereo, unfortunately), and it sounds great.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Any really loud handclaps on it?

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    I got Revolver………. I’m disappointed. The wide stereo effect is still annoying.

    Interesting, Glen – I had the Beatles as evil thing going in my house when I was a kid, so I gravitated to less evil stuff like…. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. And like Mark, I didn’t really have much Beatles in my collection – a cousin left Rubber Soul (US version) on cassette at my house when she moved away. I didn’t get an appreciation for them til I was nearly 30, and then I went in whole hog and over the next few years bought EVERYTHING.

    Fooooey – yeah it’s a drag getting old. But I heard my cousin’s 23 year old stepson roll off an amazing version of I’ve Just Seen a Face at a gig this summer – he also covered some Crowded House amazingly well – maybe we’re all just a link or two or ten in the big musical chain that extends from 1965 to 2065 and beyond.

    Onwards and upwards.

  • zingzing

    jc: “I got Revolver………. I’m disappointed. The wide stereo effect is still annoying.”

    yeah, well, they didn’t remix, they just remastered. i wish they had remixed them, especially the stereo mixes. the severe stereo, what with the drums on one side and the vocals on another, etc, etc, is highly annoying.

    that said, very few people were listening to music on headphones in the 60s. almost all of the music produced during that time (especially in britain) has the same problem in stereo. i dunno what they were thinking, as it doesn’t particularly help on speakers either. separation of sounds must have meant more to them than all the interesting things you can do with stereo sound.

    i’ve heard that the mono mixes, on headphones, sound like they’re coming from a single spot in the middle of your brain. it’s sad… but the beatles were meant to be listened to on speakers, not headphones, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is interested in correcting the matter.

    that was one of the things i’d hope they’d correct, but if they had, people would have bitched as much as if they hadn’t. unfortunately, they’re the only ones who can do it. unless they give the tapes to someone else.

    the beatles have been one of the more guarded bands as far as that shit goes. but you guys did hear the 11-minute version of revolution that was leaked earlier this year, right? take 20, i believe. it’s hard to find on the internet right now, or at least i don’t want to look for it when you can look for it yourself, but it’s a goddamn treasure.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    Didn’t know about the long Revolution – it’ll show up sooner or later, like the 40 minute Sweet Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground (which some people think is overrated, if I can editorialize for a moment).

    Actually zing, anyone with a small mixing board can lessen that stereo effect by pulling the left and right channels closer together, or even running them up the middle to make mono. That’s how I’ve listened to Revolver for years. Not quite a remix, but as close as you’ll probably get.

  • Vic morton

    Hello, check out this amazing Beatlesque album. Search utube for “Crying Blue Beatles wart” and for the link to music samples for songs from the rest of the album. Enjoy.