Words: Simon Opie
So some band called The Beatles have recently hit iTunes and since I’ve heard so much about them I went to check them out. Here’s what I discovered:
They made 13 albums (12 if you discount the film soundtrack to 'Yellow Submarine') that I could see, which is quite a lot for a band that supposedly broke up before their time. Admittedly, albums were a lot shorter in those days. There’s not an outstanding album amongst them, in that they are all flawed – some horribly so – and for every good song there’s a really bad one. More, the drummer couldn’t write a song to save his life but he got one on many of the albums, and the other quiet guy wasn’t much better in the songwriting stakes.
The old stuff seems to be the most popular even if it’s by far the least interesting and the most rooted in its time. There’s no ‘live’ album and apparently they didn’t play that many gigs, particularly once they hit the big time. But here’s the rub – whichever way you cut it there’s some great songs in this catalogue. If there is an album masterpiece it has to be 'Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band', provided you skip the George Harrison song. It has both John Lennon and Paul McCartney at the top of their form.
But nearly every other album has at least one amazing song on it: 'Eleanor Rigby' (on 'Revolver'), 'Drive My Car' ('Rubber Soul'), 'You Never Give Me Your Money' ('Abbey Road'), 'Let It Be' ('Let It Be'), 'Helter Skelter' ('White Album'), 'Strawberry Fields Forever' ('Magical Mystery Tour'). Then there’s some superb songs like 'Paperback Writer' and 'Lady Madonna' that never made it onto an album.
So what does it all mean in the light of the digital world? Clearly, Lennon and McCartney at their peak were a terrific team (especially when Lennon mostly wrote the lyrics and McCartney mostly wrote the music) but truly great teams tend not to endure. The Beatles just happened to be the place where they found and developed their talent. Once they ceased to function as a pair then the band had no reason to continue. Probably they were actually too prolific and by today’s standards they stretched themselves too thin.
Do they merit their hallowed place in the pantheon of popular music? Well, it’s hard to separate the music from the cultural impact but on balance I’d have to say yes. Rediscovering their catalogue has only increased my respect for the talent of Lennon/McCartney and some of the songs stand any comparison you care to put up. Personally, they taught me that all you need is love, which as it happened didn’t turn out to be true but those lyrics still touch me every time I hear them.
"There's nothing you can do that can't be done. Nothing you can sing that can't be sung. Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game. It's easy."
If only........'cos I still want to be a paperback writer.
If you so wish, find The Beatles at itunes.com/thebeatles.