My mom watched the Grammy Awards the other night. I'm trying to picture her sitting through Kanye West and Amy Winehouse, but even my imagination has its limits. What she was actually waiting for was the Beatles segment, part of the Cirque Du Soleil's Love production, to hear some Beatles songs that she knew and loved.
After my big brother had clued me in to their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles were a big touchstone in our family, Dad excepted, who I don't think ever learned all four of their names. We would ride around in our Falcon convertible after school with the radio tuned to WTOB-1380, hoping for a new song or even an old one that we could sing along with. I bought Mom Sgt. Pepper's (insert included) for Christmas the year it came out, although I think I played it more than she did. She got me the White Album (numbered, poster, photos) another Christmas, and I know I played it more than she did. (Mom was into Dusty in Memphis and the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany's, and she loved "Ode to Billie Joe".) Curtis was off at college, then in New York. Dad ignored the music--after all, he was the one who'd bought a 1960 Ford Falcon wagon that had the plate over where the radio should have been. But Mom and I loved the Beatles, and I think we still do.
So when the acrobats and the performers and the singers all came out, and the Volkswagen came flying apart, I think that it left Mom feeling unsatisfied. As much as I can understand all the hoopla about Love, I think that Mom, as a radio listener from another time, really didn't get what it had to do with the Beatles she knew and loved. I tried to explain Sir George and Giles Martin's involvement with the project, and I told her that the band and their estates had given their blessing to it, but it didn't seem to make a whit of difference to Mom. It wasn't her Beatles, even with Ringo nearby.
I guess I understand her polarization from what she knows and loves, but I also suppose I take that to the other extreme. I hear the Beatles in everything. A lot of it is simple song form that's been around since well before Palestrina, and there are thousands of great proponents who precede Lennon and McCartney. But for my generation (and my mother, apparently), their canon is understandably choked with the song form which caught our collective ear and configured our harmonic needs best when we needed it most. Their melodies and chords are the ones which informed our judgment of quality, be it Beach Boys, Beau Brummels or Left Banke contemporaneously and Big Star and beyond since then. It's why there's the Beatles, and then there's power pop as a separate entity.
But what about other stuff? It's why ABBA sounded great to us, and why the Bulgarian choir albums did too. And Mozart and Cage and the Velvet Underground. It made us susceptible to Buck Owens, Little Richard, Arthur Alexander, Carl Perkins and Meredith Willson. It taught us the value of chords passing exquisitely from one to another, a singable melody and just enough harmony (two notes do nicely, thank you), drums played on the beat with a sense of simple invention. It's a spinal column of internal musical directives we get from these guys, and for us, at least, they are timeless. (There may be some Sinatra and Elvis fans out there still who'll try to argue against it, but I think the votes have all been counted and the Beatles won.)
Hell, the other day I was driving to Winston-Salem and a cover version of the Shaggs' classic "My Pal Foot Foot" came on the radio (not the version by Deerhoof). After regaining control of the wheel, I started listening how lovingly recreated the paleorhythmic original it was. But even the crazed "Foot Foot" is likely written as Beatles-influenced pop rock. I've had a few girlfriends tell me I was nuts to listen to/endure/seem to enjoy Philosophy of the World, and I could clear a store at closing time with it, but I hear it as another stitch in the Beatle fabric, slightly pulled but attached.
I found that my eldest daughter loved her copy of 1, the Beatles hits compilation from several years ago. There, distilled for a new generation, were all the high points in a row from beginning to end. I've sung "Yellow Submarine" to all my kids and to the ones who used to come to my story time at Borders' in Metairie for all those years. The band's songs speak to so many different people in different ways, but they all seem to get through to someone. And it's why our ears perk up when we hear the songs in Target ads on television (right before we wince and shudder).
The Anthology albums' new Beatle constructions ("Real Love" and "Free As a Bird") were a little jarring. They sounded a lot like the Beatles, and the Beatles were all over the tracks; but so was Jeff Lynne, a tremendously talented musician/producer, who left his sonic footprint deep in the heart of the songs. It might have been different if it had been George Martin or Geoff Emerick at the helm, but maybe not. It was too reminiscent of the Natalie/Nat King Cole and Hank Jr./Hank Sr. duets that were plain old weird and served no purpose, save rampant commercial desires on the parts of the record companies.
Love itself is sort of difficult as well, with the mash-ups of your favorite Beatle songs. There is an obvious quality to the assemblages, but there's also a "because-we-can" aspect to it that's aggravating. We are so accustomed to where bridges and choruses fall in the originals that, when this sacrosanct layout is violated, we feel deceived and confused. And in much the same way that almost any cover of a song of theirs is bound to pale in comparison to the original, the new changes in old Beatle songs reformatted for Love do not add to the enjoyment for this listener. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
And, I would also guess, that may be some of what Mom doesn't love about Love.
On the same subject...
I received an email forwarded from Brian Kehew, the co-author of the authoritative Recording the Beatles. It was to inform the recipients of a grass-roots petition to Apple Records/EMI and the Beatles to recognize the contributions of the engineering staff that recorded all the Beatle albums and who have never received any gold or platinum record awards. To quote from Brian's email,
"In today's world - the manager, hair dresser, rehearsal space and video director all get gold records for 'the album'. (And of course, the engineers.) In those days, it was not the case, nor did people receive or expect 'points' ... However, such awards CAN be given later with permission of the artist and the label."
Only two awards have ever been given to Beatle engineers: one to Geoff Emerick for Sgt. Pepper and one to Glyn Johns for Let It Be. People like Alan Parsons and Norman "Hurricane" Smith (presently facing serious health issues) have gone unrecognized, and it's time to correct this.
Please copy this email address and send a note. If you're a musician, producer or engineer with credits of your own, please list them. Hopefully this can rectify a situation long in need of correction. Thank you.