Beatlemania

Recently Paul McCartney came to Atlanta to perform a charity concert for our flagship park, Piedmont Park. While he is a Beatle I just could not pay all the money for the ticket, but still I headed down to the park and volunteered parking bicycles right behind the stage. I could hear pretty well.

But last week I got the chance to hear it really well, maybe better than it’s sounded before. I came into the new remastered version (stereo) of the complete Beatles catalog that was released in tandem with the new Rock Band video game. (I really want to play it so please call me if you can make this happen)

During the last two weeks of the most recent Beatles blitz, I have found that I really like talking to people about the band and the music. It’s refreshing to talk about a band that everyone knows, everyone has heard, and that composed clearly popular songs. Too often, conversations of music turn to the band you don’t know. Plus I had a whole career staring me in the face. Not to mention, one of the most fabled and influential careers in music. I reset my iPod and loaded it full (1/6 full) of Beatles.

I began by revisiting some favorite tracks in their new remastered form. However, for the first time, I was beginning to associate the tracks with the albums names that I could recite but not fully comprehend. Aside from Sgt. Peppers, I have not given single Beatles albums thorough listenings and relistenings. I thought that to get a better idea of the band’s much-talked-about evolution, I should go through the entirety of their work in chronological order. Sometime in the middle of Tuesday I made an on-the-go playlist of the 13 albums in order of release (only in reading later did I find that Abbey Road was recorded after Let It Be but released before it).

I finished tonight but continue to listen to tracks and read about them. I am constantly humming one tune or another and driving Lauren mad. Having finished their complete catalog, I have a better of idea of what Rubber Soul means as a departure for them (hint: they stopped singing exclusively about girls) and how their Indian experiences fit into the music (for example with Sexy Sadie). I’m only beginning to fully comprehend their studio processes and the innovations they contributed to. Now I’m reading through the maze of Wikipedia entries related to the band and their albums. I also need to revisit my older recordings and see the difference between these new releases and the old ones. I have been listening to them with nice headphones so I am not sure if that is why they sound so good, but the bass is really coming in clear.

This little experiment has made me want to pay more attention to the album as a collective work, and, to a larger degree, the chronology of artists’ complete collections. I would like to go through some of the careers of other artists and try to match up the music with the world around them at the time; catch up on what I originally missed in the music. With the iPod and massive collections of music at our command, it’s easy to neglect the album in totality and even easier to get lost in a single band for a day or a week at a time. Maybe it’s time we rethink the iPod into a monoculture where intense scrutiny of the music becomes possible once again.

I’m accepting suggestions for the next band to run through.

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8 thoughts on “Beatlemania

  1. when i was in college, I watched my friends nearly get into fist fights about which album of the beatles was most “significant” it was serious business for them. I always went with Revolver, just because its more tuneful than pepper but not as clean cut as rubber soul. An obvious other band (in my opinion) is The Rolling Stone, truely deep back catalog there as well. Tom Waits has a really interesting catalog, Nick Cave ditto. I am working through Nina Simone's catalog which is difficult because of how black artists recorded in the fifties and sixties. There are also some interesting companion pieces out there that are fun, like the 33 1/3 series, I bought the Swordfishtrombones one and it was great for providing perspective and context for that album.

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  2. Looks like it's not just me. Ed Ward's Review
    He starts with something that relates to a thought that has crossed my mind listening to these. That is, if The Beatles started out this way, how do we know the Jonas Brothers are gonna blow our minds in a few years?

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  3. Other good candidates for a CCR (Chronological Catalog Review) include Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Metallica.

    In thinking about this, some selection criteria emerged for me: (1) total discography greater than five albums (excludes some interesting groups such as Pharcyde and Rage); (2) obvious stylistic change between start and end of the discography (excludes good bands like Dave Matthews Band and maybe Tool); and (3) music was good for the entire discography (excludes OutKast).

    What do you think? Is 5 albums too high? Must a band's music have clearly changed over the course for it to be interesting (or do we also learn something about a band whose music doesn't change)? Do we include bands who sucked at the end (or, again, is this still informative in its own way – although depressing to listen to!)?

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  4. Hmmmm, I disagree about presupposing characteristics about the catalog to create and apply criteria. I think listing to the catalogs makes subtle changes (for example with DMB or Tool) that you may not have considered before more apparent.

    Also, the CCR juxtaposes a group's bad among the good and reminds us that in the experimentation, the bands sometimes fail. Considering the whole of a group's work lets us rethink those conceptions about whether or not they had they had a falling off. Did they sell out? For example, maybe you'll find a great track on Idlewild. Or not, and then we can say definitively that we're fans of the early stuff and have more substantial reasons for it.

    Moreover, I think diving into a collective work makes me want to learn more about the band and maybe we start to associate the music with the behind the scenes drama a bit more. So we sympathize with Big Boi and Andre because we understand what was going on with them. In this respect, revisiting them after some time is has passed is as important as listening to them in order.

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  5. But surely we have to impose some sort of criteria, or the task becomes infinitely large. Perhaps using notions conceived earlier in time (not really “preconceived”, just conceived maybe a few years ago) is unfair and should be set aside. But prior knowledge of the band is one way to limit the task.

    Do we conduct a CCR on bands we KNOW we don't like?

    Are we entitled to draw conclusions about Jeff Buckley after one album (+ a double disc of half-baked studio stuff released posthumously)?

    Must we sit through Lil Wayne's insufferable early Hot Boys material to draw conclusions about his contemporary stuff? If we're measuring change, I suppose the answer is, indeed, yes. But, I mean…blech!

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  6. I don't think the limiting factors should be criteria as much interest/motivation. And then having heard the band before is not necessarily a prerequisite. If the band is famous enough you could be motivated without ever having heard them.

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  7. My fav Beatles album is probably Help.

    I agree with the Zep and RHCP comment, Matt (as long as we can skip the most recent RHCP).

    Also – as one of the best bands from America (the best ever? – not talking about a single artist), I vote for a Wilco discography review. I can't think of an American band that has ever had a better run than Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee, and A Ghost is Born.

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